Peyote is perhaps best known for its sacramental use in the Native American Church. Moreover, experimental writers like Aldous Huxley and Carlos Castaneda mentioned it in their books, which became literary classics. Teenagers are attracted to peyote use because it is romanticized and mythologized in popular drug culture. However, it is an illegal drug with dangerous physical and mental side effects.
Peyote Use Is On the Rise
Unfortunately, peyote has become a popular party drug, particularly in the West Coast club scene. In fact, more than 30 million people in the United States use psychedelic drugs. Peyote is classified as a psychedelic, along with mushrooms, LSD, and ketamine.
Mescaline is the psychoactive substance in the peyote cactus. However, researchers examined peyote use separately to determine the number of users overall. The results showed 6 million users of peyote and 11 million users of mescaline.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration provides more statistics. According to SAMHSA’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were 936,000 people aged 12 and older who had used hallucinogens for the first time within the previous year. This number is in addition to the other regular users.
What Is Peyote?
Indigenous to Northern Mexico, the peyote cactus produces green disc-shaped buttons that are powerfully hallucinogenic. Mescaline is a naturally occurring psychedelic alkaloid that gives peyote lasting and tremendous power. Other cacti that produce mescaline include the San Pedro cactus from the Andes, doñana from northern Mexico, and three related mescaline-bearing plants from South America.
Throughout Central and South America, ritualistic mescaline use has been a part of indigenous cultures for thousands of years. Despite such traditional usage, mescaline is a dangerous hallucinogenic.
Mescaline is part of a family of chemical compounds known as phenethylamines. This family is distinct from the other major psychedelics, such as LSD and psilocybin. Those hallucinogenic drugs belong to the indole family. Many synthetic “designer” psychedelics, such as ecstasy (MDMA), are phenethylamines.
As a powerful hallucinogenic, peyote and mescaline are Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Indeed, the hallucinogenic effects of mescaline are comparable to those of LSD, called acid, and psilocybin, or magic mushrooms. In the drug lexicon, hallucinatory experiences on these drugs are called “trips.”
The Physical Dangers of Peyote Use
The 21st century medical community clearly states that peyote is unsafe for consumption. The physical dangers of peyote use are numerous.
About the size of a half dollar, peyote buttons contain very large quantities of mescaline. Up to 6 percent of the plant’s weight is the active ingredient of the drug. Moreover, peyote buttons can contain up to 8 percent of total alkaloids. Given the high content ratio of mescaline in peyote buttons, peyote use often involves high dosing and overdosing.
Peyote use can lead to the following side effects:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Raised blood pressure and heart rate
- Warping of vision
- Migraine headaches
- Drooling and spitting
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Drowsiness and loss of consciousness
- Elevated body temperature and fever
- Intense sweating and loss of fluids
- Shivering and chills.
The Psychological Dangers of Peyote
The risks of peyote use increase when combined with the mental side effects of taking this powerful hallucinogenic drug. In many cases where peyote use results in long-term negative consequences and even death, the physical side effects fueled the mental side effects.
The phrase “a bad trip” is often used to describe the psychological dangers of peyote.
What Is a Bad Trip?
A “trip” is a period of intoxication from a hallucinogenic drug, such as peyote and mescaline.
A bad trip is a drug experience in which the user loses control. The warped perceptions can become intensely unpleasant. Although bad trips often vary a great deal, from mild to intense, they are always disturbing. Experiences during a bad trip range from overwhelming thoughts to frightening delusions. In addition, these delusions can lead to serious accidents.
The Mental Side Effects of Peyote Use
The use of hallucinogenics leads to a warping of sensory perception. As a result, the psychological side effects of peyote use include the following:
Intense hallucinations: The visual and audio distortions can be hostile and even seem demonic.
Delusional perception of reality: Perceptions of reality change—like a staircase warping, which can lead to falling.
Paranoia and antagonism: Paranoia about the experience brings on confrontations and physical altercations.
Volatile mood swings: Severe mood swings can include feelings of deep despair.
Anxiety and alienation: Intense anxiety leads to a sense of alienation, which can result in panic attacks.
Time dilation: Time seems to stop or slow down to a crawl, becoming a fearful obsession.
Unrelieved terror and fear: Overcome by the effects, the user experiences unmanageable levels of fear.
Ultimate entrapment: The user feels trapped in a place or in their body, desperately needing to escape.
Loss of identity: The sense of self is obliterated as the user loses touch with their identity.
The dangers of peyote use increase dramatically because the teenage brain and persona are not fully developed yet. Teen peyote use can result in long-lasting negative consequences.
Peyote Use: A Trigger for Mental Illness?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, frequent users may experience flashbacks, also known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). With HPPD, flashbacks, hallucinations, and other visual sensations spontaneously arise even when the person is not under the influence. HPPD is more common among people with prior mental health issues. However, everyone who uses peyote is at risk.
Moreover, some experts theorize that a breakdown brought on by peyote use can trigger an irreversible mental illness. This has not been proven. Yet hallucinogens like peyote have an anecdotal history of exacerbating pre-existing or latent psychological problems.
For example, Brian Wilson, the gifted songwriter of the Beach Boys, experimented with LSD. He describes this experimentation as the trigger for the decades of mental anguish that followed. Syd Barrett, guitar player and a founding member of Pink Floyd, was also a heavy user of hallucinogenic drugs. He suffered a mental breakdown and never recovered, spending the rest of his life in private mental wards and asylums.
Therefore, for teens with a genetic predisposition to mental disorders, the use of hallucinogenic drugs can catalyze the predisposition into a life-altering mental illness.
Does Peyote Use Lead to Addiction and Tolerance?
Many people wrongly believe that hallucinogenics do not lead to addiction and tolerance. The drug culture claims that peyote use is wholly natural because it comes from a plant, and thus is not addictive. However, this is incorrect. Cocaine comes from coca leaves and heroin comes from poppies: Both are plant-based and both are highly addictive.
Tolerance to peyote or mescaline typically develops rapidly with repeated daily use. In less than a week, a regular peyote user will develop a tolerance to the drug. Experts believe that people become psychologically addicted to the alternative state of mind.
Eight Signs of Peyote Dependence and Mescaline Addiction
- Cravings for not only the drug, but also for the hallucinatory effects
- Continuing to take the drugs despite experiencing “bad trips”
- Developing a tolerance; requiring more of the drug to produce the desired effects
- Spending large amounts of energy and/or time on using and/or recovering from peyote use
- Peyote use interfering with work, home life, or school
- Using the drug in harmful situations, like driving or while caring for children
- Experiencing negative flashbacks, yet still craving the drug
- Taking risks to obtain the drug on the Dark Web or through other means.
Protecting Teens from Peyote Use
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the effects of mescaline and peyote take 20 to 90 minutes to kick in. However, once they start, the effects can last for as long as 12 hours. No drugs or therapies can stop a hallucination once it starts.
In other words, a bad trip can seem endless to a teenager. The question is not only treatment for peyote use, but prevention as well. How can parents stop teens from using peyote before it happens?
To protect their teens from peyote use, parents need to be aware and knowledgeable. When it comes to party drug use, many teens hide it by using slang. Knowing the slang terms for peyote use can help parents uncover a teen’s true intentions.
Slang Appellations for Peyote
Peyote slang is as strange as the drug itself. Given that, it can be hard for parents to recognize when their teens are talking about peyote. Therefore, a guide to slang can prove helpful.
Here are some of the slang appellations for peyote:
- Devil’s Root
- Dumpling Cactus
- Mescal Buttons
- Aztec Party and Big Chief: both referencing peyote’s use in Native American rituals
- Media Luna: Spanish for “half moon,” for the moon-like shape of peyote buttons
- The Doors of Perception: a reference to Aldous Huxley’s 1954 book about taking mescaline
- Black Matilda: a reference to the dark spirit that resides within the peyote cactus
- Don Juan: a reference to novelist Carlos Castaneda’s famous character, a Yaqui Mexican teacher who uses peyote.
Peyote Use in Traditional Cultures
Peyote is one of the oldest psychedelic agents known. Scientists have excavated and analyzed it and believe that it is the oldest plant drug that yields a major bioactive compound. Archaeological investigations in Texas and Mexico have shown that the use of psychotropic drugs in this region goes back to around 8500 BC. Archeologists say the peyote cactus has been used in Mexico for at least 5,700 years. It then spread from Mexico to Native American groups in North America.
The drug was used for religious ceremonies. For example, the Aztecs of pre-Columbian Mexico considered the cactus and its drug magical and divine. In native cultures, peyote is seen as the incarnation of a living god—El Mescalito. Peyote religious cults believe that this living god creates visions.
Upon the colonization of the Americas in the 16th century, peyote was demonized and driven underground by the Spanish conquerors. Despite suppression, Native tribes used it as a sacramental part of pagan religious rites. In these rites, hallucinations break down the barriers between the real and the transcendent.
To prepare for such rituals, Native American shamans gather peyote from wild plants that grow in the deep desert. Next, they cut buttons from the plant, slice them open and dry them. The shamans will eat the dried buttons, and sometimes soak the buttons in water for several days and consume the liquid as a psychoactive tea. These cultures consider the tea to be a form of spiritual medicine.
Peyote Use and the Native American Church
The Native American Church was formed in 1918 to preserve the right to use peyote in a ceremonial and ritualistic context. A legally recognized religious group, the Native American Church grew to over 13,000 members by 1922. Currently, membership in the Native American Church exceeds a quarter of a million.
Until the landmark decision handed down by the US Supreme Court in Employment Division v. Smith 494 U.S. 872 (1990), only members of the Native American Church had the legal right to use mescaline-containing peyote in religious ceremonies. Subsequently, the right to use peyote spread to other practitioners.
In 1994, Congress passed H.R. 4230 to amend the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. The new law protected the use of peyote as a sacrament in traditional religious ceremonies.
The Legalization and Romanticization of Peyote
The legalization of peyote for certain religious rituals and rites is problematic for teenagers. Some teens see it as permission from a higher authority to use the drug. Indeed, drug users often grasp for any rationalization that legitimizes their desire to use illegal substances.
Ceremonial ritual peyote use in the Native American Church is very different from teen peyote use at a rave or a party. The former is well regulated and based in centuries of experienced caretaking, as well as an organized approach. Furthermore, the latter is dangerous and illegal. Thus, teens need to understand this distinction.
The romanticizing of peyote by popular deceased writers, like Aldous Huxley, Ken Kesey, and Carlos Castaneda, is problematic as well. The literary romanticizing of drug use from the 1950s to the 1980s can be a huge temptation for teenagers familiar with these writers.
Carlos Castaneda and Teen Peyote Use
The late writer Carlos Castaneda was the number-one popularizer of peyote use in American culture. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Castaneda captivated millions of readers with his “anthropological” tales of self-discovery under the influence of peyote. He claimed to have flown, grown a beak like a bird, and received incredible magical powers in his transformation into a sorcerer under the tutelage of Don Juan Matus. Don Juan Matus was a Yaqui Mexican shaman who Castaneda claimed to have met at a bus station during his years as an anthropology graduate student.
Starting with The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge in 1968, Castaneda’s 10 books, which include A Separate Reality and Tales of Power, have sold over eight million copies in 17 languages. After his death in 1988, most of his accounts were discovered to be questionable at best. In fact, Don Juan Matus never existed and was a composite of several individuals, some real and some fictional.
Sociocultural Influence on Teen Peyote Use
Popular culture plays a central role in forming the expectations of teens about what drugs they want to use. For example, Hunter S. Thompson, the famous Rolling Stone “gonzo journalist” who wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, highlighted peyote as the ultimate natural trip.
For some, this attitude opens the door to a permissive attitude in regard to peyote.
Treatment for Teen Peyote Use
Experts agree that the best teen rehabs for peyote use provide individualized programs catering to the distinctive triggers associated with teen peyote use. These programs treat the specific needs of a teen abusing peyote, mescaline, or other hallucinogenics.
Hence, Newport Academy takes a multi-layered approach, healing teen mental health and substance use disorders by addressing the underlying issues. Beyond stopping teens from using peyote, our treatment professionals want to find out why the peyote use started in the first place. Then we can address the issues that brought on this problem.
7 Facets of Our Evidence-Based Approach to Teen Treatment
- Clinical excellence with a proven history
- Medical experts to ensure health and safety
- Integrated mental healthcare and therapy
- 12-Step meetings that open the door to greater fellowship
- Holistic approaches that overcome limitations
- Tailored treatment based on individualized plans
- Family participation to promote sustainable healing.
Finally, 90 percent of adults who abuse drugs, began using drugs before their 18th birthday. Therefore, addressing substance use as early as possible is the best way to ensure that it does not become long-term and create further damage.
Teens deserve the very best outcome after committing to rehab. Newport Academy is ready and able to help teens by actively promoting a sober path of success for each adolescent who comes to us. Newport Academy is a skilled, caring treatment facility focused on the overall well-being of your teen. Contact us today.
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