Peyote is a type of spineless cactus which can be found in the deserts of Mexico and the Southwestern United States. The cactus produces a number of alkaloids, most notably mescaline, which cause hallucinogenic effects in humans when ingested. Native cultures in this region of the world have historically used peyote for this purpose as part of their religious practices, and people outside of Native American culture use peyote as a recreational drug. In the United States, peyote is a Schedule I substance, meaning that it has no known medical purpose, and the use, possession, cultivation, and sale of peyote is outlawed except for Native Americans.
The formal name for this cactus is Lophophora; two genera are harvested for their mescaline, most commonly L. williamsii. The cactus grows in the form of small bulbous buttons which emerge above ground, attached to a lengthy root. The buttons periodically flower, producing pink blooms and small edible fruit. When peyote is harvested, the buttons are cut off; harvesting peyote requires a special technique to ensure that the root will be able to produce buttons again.
Peyote buttons are consumed in both dried and fresh form. People typically chew them, although they may be stewed in teas or cooked with other foods to mask the bitter taste. As with many natural hallucinogens, peyote usually causes a feeling of nausea and discomfort before the effects set in. The effects include visions, disorientation, and various physiological effects which are caused by the body as it tries to express the alkaloids in the peyote.
Among Native Americans, peyote or divine cactus is used to bring on visions which are said to connect the user with his or her ancestors. As the visions take place, the user can search for meaning, guidance, and messages to share when he or she emerges from the hallucinogenic state induced by peyote. This religious use is protected under the United States code, which protects the freedom of religion.
However, recreational use of peyote is not protected under United States code, and it can be penalized with jail time and hefty fines. Some people have attempted to work around this by joining Native American tribes; this practice is generally frowned upon.
As with any hallucinogen, there are risks to peyote. The drug can contain various impurities, depending on how it was handled and where it was grown, and the strength of the alkaloids can vary. In some cases, the drug can cause severe reactions which can be very dangerous in users who are unsupervised or unfamiliar with the drug.