What are the Medical Uses of San Pedro Cactus?

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  • Written By: Marco Sumayao
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2019
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In Andean traditional medicine, San Pedro cactus, or Echinopsis pachanoi, was one of many medicinal plants believed to cure unknown illnesses. Research has shown that preparations of the cactus may be beneficial for the circulatory system, as they lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiac disease. The plant has been found to treat nervous conditions and alleviate joint problems. This plant possesses powerful antimicrobial properties as well, preventing the growth of more than a dozen strains of penicillin-resistant bacteria.

San Pedro cactus is one of many night-blooming plants native to the Andes Mountains in Peru, Chile, and Argentina, among several other areas. The light- to dark-green plants can grow quite tall, often reaching a height of 16 feet (about 5 meters). At night, the cacti can blossom, and these flowers occasionally bear red fruit.


Preparation of San Pedro cactus in traditional medicine is a lengthy process, taking as long as 24 hours on occasion. The plant is chopped up into several bits, which are then boiled until they are extremely soft. The cactus bits are mashed and strained of any liquid—the liquid is then added to the water used to boil the plant. The solution is reduced via further boiling until it produces a highly-concentrated bitter green liquid, which is then sipped by the patient. In modern times, preparation time is cut to roughly four or five hours, with roughly 1 foot (0.30) of cactus being chopped up and then processed in a blender until liquefied.

Although this plant is generally praised for its antimicrobial properties, specifically its ability to inhibit multiple strains of Staphylococcus, the plant is met with much controversy. The cactus contains high concentrations of mescaline, the same psychoactive compound found in peyote. Traditional preparations of San Pedro cactus were originally used to induce meaningful visions for Andean tribes, a practice now performed by individuals seeking to experience a drug-induced high.

This has created a gray area regarding the cultivation of San Pedro cactus. Although it is legal to grow the plant for ornamental purposes, it is considered highly illegal to grow it for consumption. Since the mescaline found in the plant has been found to lead to drug addiction and abuse, possession of any form of consumable mescaline is a criminal offense. It is, therefore, necessary to review a country's laws regarding the use of San Pedro cactus before attempting to use it for medicinal purposes.


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