Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 25th, 2018.
What is mescaline?
Mescaline or chemically 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine is a naturally occurring hallucinogen and psychedelic alkaloid of the phenethylamine class, obtained from the a small, spineless cactus Peyote (Lophophora williamsi). For centuries peyote has been used by natives in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States as a part of traditional religious rites. In addition to being found in that natural product, mescaline can also be manufactured in a laboratory.
Mescaline is used primarily as a recreational drug, but it can be also used as a supplement to various types of meditation and psychedelic therapy. As a drug of abuse, mescaline is classed as a hallucinogen, similar in effect to LSD. It is illegal to possess mescaline in the U.S.
Mescaline is pronounced as: MES-kuh-lin (also pronounced MES-kuh-leen)
Mescaline IUPAC name, molecular formula, class, structure
IUPAC name: 2-(3,4,5-trimethoxyphenyl)ethanamine
Mescaline belongs to the class of phenethylamines drugs
Molecular formula: C11H17NO3
What are street (informal) names for mescaline?
Street names for mescaline are: Beans, Big Chief, Blue Caps, Button, Cactus, Cactus Buttons, Cactus Head, Chief, Love Trip (combination with MDMA), Mesc, Mescal, Mescalito, Mescap, Mese, Mezc, Moon, Musk, Peyote, Topi
Mescaline and Peyote history of use
The use of peyote for hallucinogenic purposes dates back many centuries, particularly in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Peyote buttons containing psychoactive alkaloids (mescaline) were found in prehistoric Native American caves in Texas dating from 3,780 – 3,660 BC and in Mexican burial caves dating back to 1,070– 810 BC.
The Franciscan missionary, Bernardino de Sahagun documented the use of peyote by local native Indians during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The Mescalero Apaches of the Great Plains originated a peyote rite during the 19th century; the use of peyote spread to the Kiowa and Comanche tribes. They believed that God was the Great Spirit, who infused part of his being into peyote; Christ was the man who provided peyote to them when needed.
In 1888, the German toxicologist Lewin discovered the ritual use of the peyote cactus by Indian tribes in Mexico. Heffter isolated mescaline from peyote buttons along with three other tetrahydroisoquinoline compounds by 1898, and Spath synthesized mescaline in 1919. During the end of the 19th century, interest in mescaline as a mind- altering drug increased brieﬂy.
Native American Church and peyote use
In 1918, the Native American Church formed; part of the ritual of this church includes the legal use of peyote. Reports on the hallucinogenic effects of peyote appeared in the medical literature during the 1920s. In 1964, the California Supreme Court ruled in People v. Woody that individuals could not be denied the sacramental use of peyote even though state law prohibits the use of the plant.
Although federal statutes (American Indian Religious Freedom Act) exempt Native American Church members from federal prosecution of the sacramental use of peyote, litigation continues on issues of membership, equal protection, and due process. Recent US Supreme Court decisions allow states to prohibit the use of peyote for religious purposes.
What is Peyote (Lophophora williamsi)?
Peyote, mescal button, mescal or Lophophora williamsi from the family of Cactaceae (cactus) is a small spineless blue green cactus that has a diameter of about 3– 1 0 cm (∼ 1 – 4 inches) with well – deﬁned ribs and furrows, pinkish white ﬂowers, and a large, cylindrical perennial rootstock. In the center of the spherical portion of each button, tufts of light yellow hairs develop where the ﬂowers later form. The small dome – shaped heads are removed and dried as mescal or peyote buttons.
Peyote is indigenous to the dry slopes and rocky cliffs of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas as well as the Mexican plateau in northern and central Mexico.
Different forms of Peyote and mescaline use
Peyote buttons are round ﬂeshy tops from the cactus that are sliced and dried for prolonged storage. The dried mescal buttons used in religious ceremonies are transverse slices of the crown of the cactus. Forms of peyote included peeled fresh buttons, dried or ground powder, steeped tea, and dried whole buttons. Crystalized mescaline is distributed illegally in the form of a capsule or pill.
Peyote’s active ingredients
The 2 major classes of psychedelic hallucinogens are phenethylamine compounds (e.g., mescaline) and indoleamine compounds (e.g., d – lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD). Mescaline shares the phenethylamine nucleus with LSD, whereas serotonin and psilocin share the indolethylamine nucleus with LSD.
Of the more than 60 alkaloids in peyote, mescaline is the major hallucinogenic compound. Other potentially active β-phenylethylamine and isoquinoline alkaloids in peyote include anhalamine, anhalidine, anhalinine, anhalonidine, anhalonine, N-methylmescaline, pellotine, and hordenine (anhaline). However, these compounds do not share the hallucinogenic properties of mescaline.
Mescaline shares hallucinogenic properties with other phenylethylamine compounds including methamphetamine designer drugs (e.g., 3,4 – methylenedioxymethamphetamine, ecstasy).
Other sources of mescaline
In addition to peyote, several South American cactus species contain mescaline including the large columnar San Pedro cactus of Andean slopes in Ecuador, Peru, northern Chile, and Bolivia [ Echinopsis pachanoi (Britton & Rose) Friedrich & G. D. Rowley, formerly known as Trichocereus pachanoi Britton & Rose], Dona Ana or nipple beehive cactus [ Coryphantha macromeris (Engelm.) Lem.], and the candelabra – like Peruvian cactus (Trichocereus peruvianus Britton & Rose, Peruvian torch). The false peyote ( Ariocarpus retusis Scheidw.) of Mexico contains few or no hallucinogenic compounds. Several other members of the cactus family contain structurally related phenylethylamine derivatives.
Although the San Pedro cactus and peyote both contain mescaline, the latter contains other mescaline – like and tetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids (anhalonidine, anhalonine, lophophine, lophophorine, 3,4- m ethylenedioxyphenethylamine or MDPEA, N , N dimethyl – 3,4 – methylenedioxyphenethylamine or lobivine, pellotine).
Although some of these alkaloids (e.g., lophophine) may be psychoactive, the contribution of these minor alkaloids to psychomimetic effects is unclear because of their relatively low concentrations. The Dona Ana cactus also produces a variety of methylated catecholamine derivatives of which the phenylethylamine normacromerine is the most abundant.
Other β-hydroxyphenethylamine compounds include macromerine, N-formylnormacromerine, metanephrine, N-methylmetanephrine, synephrine, and N-methyltyramine. Although animal studies suggest that some of these phenethylamine compounds are psychoactive, mescaline remains the most potent hallucinogen isolated from the cactus family to date.
Amount of mescaline in Peyote and other sources
The estimated total alkaloid content of dried peyote buttons is about 3.7% compared with 0.41% for fresh peyote buttons with mescaline representing ∼ 6% of the alkaloid fraction. Each button contains about 50 – 100 mg of mescaline. In a study of 13 mescaline- containing specimens of L. williamsii, the mescaline concentration ranged from 12.7 – 48.3 mg/g.
Other Lophophora specimens did not contain detectable concentrations of mescaline. Specimens of E. pachanoi usually contain higher concentrations of mescaline than other Echinopsis species. The mescaline content of 7 specimens of E.pachanoi ranged from 0.40 – 4.7% dry weight as measured by high performance liquid chromatography with mass – selective detection in electron ionization mode.
The mescaline content of 6 specimens of the San Pedro cactus ( Echinopsis pachanoi) from Swiss ﬂower shops, shopping centers, and private collections varied from 0.11 – 2.37% dry weight as measured by high performance liquid chromatography with photodiode array detection.
How is Peyote (mescaline) used?
The primary route of exposure to peyote and mescaline is oral, rarely mescaline powder is insufﬂated. In a 12 year retrospective review of the California Poison Control System data, 31 cases of peyote or mescaline exposure were retrieved with 97% oral and 3% nasal exposures.
The Native American Church (peyote religion) is a Navajo revitalization movement that uses peyote as a sacrament and medicinal herb to treat a variety of physical and psychologic conditions. Consumption of peyote usually occurs during an all-night communal healing ritual called a peyote meeting.
A celebrant (Road Man) typically leads the participants during these rituals that often involve personal or family crises. Beginning at nightfall, the participants consume peyote in the form of a powder or a tea. The ritual includes singing, playing of musical instruments, and praying until dawn.
Mescaline mechanism of action
Mescaline acts similarly to other psychedelic agents. It binds to and activates the serotonin 5-HT2A receptor with a high affinity as a partial agonist. How activating the 5-HT2A receptor leads to psychedelia is still unknown, but it likely somehow involves excitation of neurons in the prefrontal cortex.
Mescaline is also known to bind to and activate the serotonin 5-HT2C receptor. In addition to serotonin receptor activity, mescaline also stimulates the dopamine receptors. Whether mescaline possesses dopamine receptor agonist properties or initiates the release of dopamine remains unclear. Difluoro and trifluoromescaline have shown to be more potent than their unfluorinated analogue.
Mescaline doses and potency
The clinical pattern following the administration of 5 mg mescaline/kg, 1 μg LSD, and 150 μg psilocybin/kg is similar, although the intensity and duration of the psychomimetic effects of mescaline is somewhat greater at these doses. Mescaline has the lowest potency among orally active naturally occurring hallucinogens. A typical adult mescaline dose is about 200 mg (5– 7 mg/ kg) with average doses ranging up to 500 mg.
This dose correlates to about 3 – 8 peyote buttons and initially produces nausea, tremor, and diaphoresis followed in 1– 2 hours by a dream – like state with kaleidoscopic visual illusions before sleep occurs.
In animal studies, mescaline doses exceeding 20 – 60 mg/kg produce hypotension, bradycardia, and respiratory depression. In humans, fatalities usually result from trauma secondary to distorted sensory perception rather than intoxication.
There are limited data on mescaline pharmacokinetics. The rapid onset of symptoms following the ingestion of peyote indicates that gastrointestinal absorption of mescaline begins soon after swallowing. Following the oral administration of 5– 6 mg mescaline/kg to adult volunteers, the biologic half – life of mescaline was about 6 hours with 87% of the dose of mescaline eliminated in the urine within 24 hours.
During this study, the renal excretion of unchanged mescaline accounted for 55 – 60% of the administered dose, whereas the major metabolite (3,4,5 – trimethoxyphenylacetic acid) accounted for about 27– 3 0%. N-Acetyl – β – (3,4,dimethoxy – 5 – hydroxyphenyl) ethylamine and N -acetyl mescaline were minor metabolites. Unlike some other psychoactive amphetamine derivatives (e.g., p -methoxyamphetamine, PMA), mescaline does not interact signiﬁ cantly with CYP2D6. Substrates for this isoenzyme include tricyclic antidepressants, lipophilic β -adrenoceptor blockers, and amphetamine.
The ingestion of peyote (mescaline) produces the rapid onset (< 1h) of mild gastrointestinal distress (nausea, rarely vomiting and diarrhea). Autonomic signs (mydriasis, mild tachycardia, elevated blood pressure, diaphoresis, tremor) and alteration of perception, thought, and feeling follow the gastrointestinal phase.
The bitter, acrid taste of peyote is often associated with nausea and vomiting in the novice user, particularly with large doses. Nystagmus, headache, ataxia, and hyperreﬂ exia may also occur.
After the gastrointestinal phase subsides, a sensory phase begins, manifested by vivid visual hallucinations that reach a peak about 3 – 4 hours after ingestion. Other stimulatory effects include euphoria, a general feeling of well – being, and feelings of physical power.
Auditory hallucinations are uncommon with mescaline intoxication. Although the sensorium remains clear, emotional lability, anxiety, agitation, and panic reactions predispose intoxicated patients to self – inﬂicted or accidental trauma. Rare complications associated with the use of peyote include the development of severe gastrointestinal bleeding from Mallory – Weiss tear and psychosis with sleep deprivation.
How long mescaline effects last?
Symptoms of acute peyote intoxication typically resolve ∼ 6 – 12 hours after ingestion. Peak psychologic effects occur about 1.5 – 2 hours after injection of mescaline, and most of the effects resolved within 9 hours.
Mescaline side effects
Research shows that the drug can cause headache, perspiration, hot or cold sensations, feelings of prickling or burning, dizziness, cramps, nausea, and vomiting accompanied by small increases in pulse rate and blood pressure.
In a sufﬁcient dose mescaline can impair breathing, increase body temperature, and lower pulse rate and blood pressure. Hearing may become so sensitive that ordinary noises are painful. Other senses may have abnormal reactions also.
Individuals with a personal or family history of serious mental illness may be particularly vulnerable to lengthy psychosis from mescaline, although a study of former and current users of mescaline, LSD, or psilocybin found that they scored normally on psychological tests—with the exception that persons who engaged in current hallucinogen use were more depressed and nervous and prone to risk-taking.
Mescaline’s hallucinations and perception effects
Visual hallucinations during a mescaline dose are common; auditory ones less so. Aside from visual hallucinations, users not only may have trouble recognizing faces but may see startling transformations of their own faces in a mirror, viewing the image as not only something apart from themselves but as something ominous. People may feel like their bodies are changing in shape and be unable to detect portions of their bodies. Perceptions of time and space may also change.
The NIDA also reports that some users of hallucinogens, including mescaline, can experience flashbacks, a phenomenon known as hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). Even when they are not using mescaline at the time, some people report seeing “trails” following moving objects or “halos” around people or objects.
These symptoms can become so persistent that they are sometimes mistaken for symptoms of stroke or brain tumors. Symptoms of persistent psychosis and HPPD have been reported by users even after only one exposure to mescaline. However, persistent psychosis symptoms are very rare in mescaline users and seem to occur mostly in those with a history of psychiatric problems, according to the NIDA.
The drug intoxication typically begins with euphoria, but in a laboratory setting, the euphoria often converts to nervousness and suspicion, possibly ending in depression.
Subjects have been known to say and do things they did not want to but were unable to stop themselves. Persons under the drug’s inﬂuence may be very open to suggestions, a state that could be exploited by unscrupulous persons.
Can mescaline cause serious side effects and death?
Medically related fatalities secondary to the ingestion of peyote are rare; death during peyote intoxication usually results from trauma secondary to altered perceptions. Tests of reasoning and mental focus produce low scores while people use the drug. Mescaline-related deaths are usually not caused by the chemical itself but by things people did while their judgment was impaired.
A case report associated development of botulism with the ingestion of peyote contaminated with botulism B toxin. The ceremonial tea was prepared from dried alkaline -g round peyote buttons stored in a closed jar for 2 month under refrigeration.
The latter effect was reported in a 54 – year – old Native American man, who became convinced he was hunted by animal spirits within a few hours of ingesting peyote juice during a healing ceremony. These psychotic symptoms persisted for 2 weeks with complete sleep deprivation, but resolved following trazodone therapy and sleep.
Mescaline and reproductive toxicity
There are limited data on the reproductive effects of chronic peyote use. A controlled study of members of the Navajo Native American Church, where peyote use is legal, did not detect residual psychological or cognitive effects with long – term peyote use.
Controlled studies of habitual peyote users among Mexican Indians with a long cultural tradition of religious peyote consumption detected no increased incidence of chromosomal aberration in the peripheral blood lymphocytes. Daily use of mescaline produces tolerance to the effects of mescaline as well as cross – tolerance to LSD. However, the tolerance regresses rapidly and disappears about 3– 4 days after cessation of use.
Can mescaline be used during pregnancy?
The drug will pass into the fetus of a pregnant monkey. In hamsters mescaline has caused birth defects and delayed development of bone structures, along with reducing the number of offspring in litters. Human birth defects are suspected.
Mescaline effects on study animals
After rats receive mescaline they appear to forget how to navigate a maze and also take longer to solve problems (ﬁguring out how to get past obstacles). The drug promotes ﬁghting among rats; one group of researchers described the aggression as “robust.” Debate exists about whether the drug makes rats ﬁercer or simply reduces inhibitions in stressful situations.
Aggression and wild behavior are not seen as consequences of the drug among human users, and in some circumstances mescaline makes rats lethargic. Dogs assume odd body stances after receiving the drug and act so lethargic as to be almost insensible.
Monkeys seem fascinated as they look at ordinary objects, a reaction that may indicate visual hallucinations. Monkeys ﬁrst act excitable after dosage, then lethargic. Rats, dogs, and monkeys all exhibit repetitive convulsive like movements at high doses. In monkeys a fatal dose may not kill them until three or four days have passed.
A rat experiment found evidence of tolerance, but investigators surmised that the rats might simply have been learning how to compensate for drug effects on performance as the experiment continued.
Rather than dosage effectiveness declining, the effects may have been unchanging as rats pushed through them by strength of will. Investigators running a rabbit experiment reported tolerance.
Evidence exists for tolerance in animals and humans who receive the drug daily, but such tolerance dissipates quickly once the drug is stopped; two or three days later a dose can produce the same level of effects as before. Dependence does not seem to occur.
Treatment of mescaline intoxication
Management of peyote intoxication is similar to the treatment for LSD intoxication. Placing the patient in a quiet, dark environment with calm reassurance provides the best setting.
Because of the rapid absorption of mescaline, gastrointestinal decontamination is usually unnecessary unless indicated by the concomitant ingestion of another drug within 1 hour prior to presentation. Benzodiazepines (diazepam, lorazepam) are the treatment of choice if the patient does not respond to calm, reassuring environment.
What is its legal status of mescaline in the United States?
Peyote and mescaline are Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that they have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.
How mescaline can be detected in laboratory?
Older immunoassays do not usually detect the presence of mescaline in urine drug of abuse screens. Methods for the quantitation of mescaline in biologic samples include high performance liquid chromatography with photodiode array detection, gas chromatography with nitrogen phosphorus detection after liquid – liquid extraction using butyl chloride, liquid chromatography/ tandem mass spectrometry, cation – exchange liquid chromatography, and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry in selected ion – monitoring (SIM) mode after solid phase extraction with C8 and cation exchange cartridges.
The precision (i.e., coefﬁcient of variation) for the latter method in plasma was ≤2 0%. The limit of detection for mescaline in urine using liquid chromatography/ tandem mass spectrometry was 3– 5 ng/mL with an accuracy < 3%. The use of gas chromatography/mass spectrometry in SIM mode allows the quantitation of mescaline in hair in the range of 0.08 ng/mg with interday accuracy between – 1 2.7% and 11.6%.
Mescaline addiction and abuse
Addiction to peyote is unusual. Preliminary data from studies of illicit (i.e., nonceremonial) use of peyote suggests that illicit peyote use among American Indian adolescents with serious substance abuse disorders is uncommon.
It is not thought that mescaline creates physical addiction like an opiate would, but it quickly produces a tolerance, meaning that the mescaline user who abuses the drug repeatedly would need to increase the dosage. The drug can also become psychologically addictive, meaning that a person depends on this drug to get through life and suffers adverse effects if it is withdrawn.
Why do people abuse mescaline?
Most people will experience an altered reality while using this drug and some people will enjoy this. They may see colors brighter or feel more deeply affected by music. While the drug is classed as a hallucinogen and has some similar properties, it is not usual to actually hallucinate while using the drug.
But the effects of the drug are unpredictable, varying from person to person and even from one use to the next. A person may find one use pleasant but during the next use of this drug, and may experience symptoms similar to serious mental illness. Extreme moodiness, sudden highs and lows of emotion, confusion, depression and anxiety are not unusual. The mescaline user can be confused by the bewildering and abrupt changes of emotion he (or she) experiences.
The drug often causes nausea and vomiting, and loss of appetite and inability to sleep are common. The users heart may race and he may feel dizzy, have a headache and diarrhea. He may also sweat heavily and be unable to fully coordinate body movements.
Rehab for mescaline addiction
While a person may not go through physical withdrawal after becoming dependent on this drug, it could be possible to need rehabilitation to recover from the mental effects and dependence. The drug can cause emotional instability, confusion and flashbacks, and a person may need to rebuild his ability to deal with life’s problems and issues with his own intelligence instead of an altered reality.
This is the service provided at Narconon drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. In some forty worldwide locations, the Narconon program offers a deep detoxification program that can activate the body’s ability to flush out residual toxins from mescaline abuse, helping to eliminate the drug’s lingering effects.
Life skills training includes learning how poor decisions regarding friends and acquaintances damaged their lives in the past and how to make better choices in the future. The individual learns how personal values are lost and how to restore them. When the road to an enjoyable life is wide open after the Narconon drug rehab program, the idea of altering one’s reality can be seen as dangerous and unnecessary.
Will mescaline show up on standard drug tests?
It is extremely rare for mescaline to be specifically tested for. In general this will only happen in cases where mescaline use is already suspected. Most people will never run into such a test in an employment, military, or government drug test.
How long does mescaline stay in your system?
The timetable for detecting mescaline in the system is dependent upon each individual’s metabolism, body mass, age, hydration level, physical activity, health conditions and other factors, making it almost impossible to determine an exact time mescaline will show up on a drug test.
Detection time in urine, blood, saliva and hair are following:
- Mescaline can be detected in the urine for 2-3 days
- There is some data available that indicates Mescaline can be detected in the blood for up to 24 hours.
- A saliva test can detect Mescaline for up to 1-10 days
- Mescaline, like many other drugs, can be detected with a hair follicle drug test for up to 90 days.
Mescaline researches and potential medical uses
Mescaline has been used to study mechanisms of schizophrenia, and at one time the substance was used in experimental psychotherapy. The drug encouraged self-examination in patients and helped them to see signiﬁcance in ordinary things they had barely noticed before. Such effects have also been described by persons who took the drug simply to ﬁnd out what it is like.
When mescaline was used as an experimental drug in psychotherapy, therapists reported that the substance helped people recall repressed memories. Debate existed, however, about whether the apparent memories were real and whether the recollection experience turned out to have therapeutic beneﬁt.
One experiment found that mescaline could help persons achieve creative answers to work-related problems that had resisted resolution for months. Research designed to measure whether the drug promotes creativity has found that volunteers’ feelings of increased creativity were supported in general and as a group by higher test scores on elements of creativity. “In general” and “as a group” may be important qualiﬁers about the results, however.
Users have reported expansion of color perception, but a test designed to detect such a phenomenon produced mixed results. A rabbit study found that mescaline could relieve pain. In a human experiment mescaline promoted growth hormone levels. In rats appetite may increase.
Who were/are notable mescaline abusers?
- Aldous Huxley described his experience with mescaline in the essay The Doors of Perception.
- Martin Kemp, English actor and former Spandau Ballet bassist, described in an interview experiencing mescaline at a late-night party during the height of his musical career in the 1980s: “Mescaline is the drug The Beatles wrote Rubber Soul about. It turns everything to rubber. Every step you take feels like rubber. It is a lot of fun, I have to say. But it goes on for hours – like eight hours”.
- Hunter S. Thompson wrote an extremely detailed account of his first use of mescaline in First Visit with Mescalito, appearing in his book Songs of the Doomed, as well as featuring heavily in his seminal novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
- Carlos Santana told in 1989 about his mescaline use in a Rolling Stone interview.
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