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Peyote is a small, spineless cactus (Lophophora diffusa or Lophophora williamsii) native to high desert regions from north-central Mexico to southernmost Texas. It has been used in religious healing ceremonies by many indigenous peoples in that area since pre-Columbian times, usually chewed into a paste and swallowed or taken as tea. Despite active persecution by colonial Spanish missionaries and the Spanish Inquisition, it survived and remains in use among some Huichol, Tarahumara, and Cora communities. Knowledge of the plant's properties and the associated ceremonies also spread northward until an organized religion with distinct Christian elements took shape in Oklahoma in the 1880s. There it was adopted by members of the many different Native American nations being relocated to what was then known as Indian Territory. This religion, with its several variations, is now institutionalized in the Native American Church (NAC).

Psychoactive effects of peyote ingestion are attributed to mescaline, one of the many alkaloids it contains. Reported responses include euphoria, visions or mild hallucinations, vomiting, and mental clarity. It has never been shown to be addictive, or to cause genetic or other biological damage. In fact, members of the NAC report success in using it to treat alcoholism, in conjunction with membership in an NAC community. It is classified as a controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, and is illegal for recreational use. It was subject to punitive laws even for religious use in many states until full federal protection was granted in 1994.

See alsoDrugs; Drumming; Native American Church; Native American Religions; Religious Experience; Religious Freedom Restoration Act; Religious Persecution; Ritual.


Aberle, David F. The Peyote Religion among the Navaho. 1966.

Anderson, Edward F. Peyote: The Divine Cactus. 1996.

Brito, Sylvester J. The Way of a Peyote Roadman. 1989.

LaBarre, Weston. The Peyote Cult. 1938.

Slotkin, James S. The Peyote Religion: A Study in Indian-White Relations. 1956.

Stewart, Omer C. Peyote Religion: A History. 1987.

Christopher Jocks

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Peyote (or peyotl) is the common name for the cactus Lophophra williamsii or Anhalonium lewinii, which is found in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Peyote contains mescaline, a hallucinogenic substance. People who seek a psychedelic drug experience may take peyote or pure mescaline.

Peyote was one of the first psychedelic substances that people tried. The Aztecs of Mexico considered it magical and divine. Its use spread to other Native American groups, who used it to treat various illnesses, to communicate with the spirits, and as part of religious rituals. Peyote is still used by some Native Americans, and there are laws in place to protect its use by certain religious groups (such as the Native American Church and the American Indian Church) in specific religious practices. Some states require that the religious group be registered, and others require that peyote users prove that they are at least one-quarter Native American. Peyote suppliers must register with the state and provide proof that they are selling the sub- stance only for ceremonial use to approved groups.

For religious rituals involving peyote, the dried tops of the cactus—the buttons—are chewed or made into a tea. Since peyote may cause some initial nausea and vomiting, the participant may prepare for the ceremony by fasting prior to eating the buttons. Peyote is usually taken as part of a formal group experience and over an extended period of time. The peyote ceremonies may take place at night and around a communal fire to increase the hallucinogenic effects and visions.

see also Ayahuasca; Hallucinogens.

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pe·yo·te / pāˈyōtē/ • n. a small, soft, blue-green, spineless cactus (Lophophora williamsii), native to Mexico and the southern US. Also called mescal. ∎  a hallucinogenic drug prepared from this cactus, containing mescaline.

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peyote (mescal) Either of two species of cactus of the genus Laphophora that grow in the USA. The soft-stemmed L. williamsii has pink or white flowers in summer and a blue-green stem. L. diffusa has white or yellow flowers. Peyote contains many alkaloids, the principal one being mescaline, a hallucinogenic drug.

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Peyote. A hallucinogenic cactus and the basis of an inter-tribal religion among N. American Indians. It grows only in the Rio Grande valley and N. Mexico, and has long been central in local rites. Peyote brings peace and healing, resists alcoholism, and gives visions of the Peyote Spirit who is regarded either as Jesus or an Indian equivalent.

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