How is Peyote Used?

Baby Peyote CactusThere are a variety of methods for consuming peyote. Once the dried tops (often referred to as the buttons) have been harvested from the roots of the cactus, users can eat them, brew them in tea or create a powder that is stored in drug capsules. The powder, also known as mescaline sulfate, remains the purest known form of mescaline, and as such, the strongest and most addictive. In addition to being consumed in capsule form, mescaline sulfate powder may also be rolled into a tobacco or marijuana leaf and smoked.

Cultural Use

While the predominant use of peyote is in Native American ceremonies, it was at the forefront of popular culture during the 1960s. This was in part thanks to the publication of The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, a book by anthropologist Carlos Castaneda that focused on peyotism. The authenticity of the book is now under serious suspicion by most researchers. Still, the book managed to bring thousands of people into the realm of peyotism.

The peyote craze has since died down but continues to hold cultural distinction in many circles. The following are just a few instances of peyote found in pop culture:

Peyote Ceremonies

For centuries, if not millenia, peyote has played an important part in the cultural heritage of dozens of Native American tribes. In these tribes, peyote is primarily consumed during special prayer ceremonies. During the cermonies, tribe members congregate in a circle inside a teepee or other shelter. The medicine man leads the other participants in songs and chants.

In the book “The Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality,” author Barbara Hagerty explains what it was like to attend a peyote ceremony. “My companions sat cross-legged on the floor, motionless, gazing at the flames with sleepy eyes dilated by the mescaline from the sacred herb peyote. Three strapping young men with long black hair moved around the circle, pounding on a water drum and singing an urgent chant, which sounded to my untrained ears like, Doo doo doo doo DOO DOO doo doo doo doo DOO DOO.”

Although Hagerty enjoyed some of the songs and chants, she found the actual peyote rather unappealing. In her book, she describes a “peyote man” carrying a “ coffee can full of dark brown sludge.” The peyote paste has a “acrid taste and lima-bean–like texture.” She is equally disgusted by the actual peyote buttons, which together feel like “a writhing mass of worms.”

During Hagerty's peyote ceremony, the drug is passed around once every two hours. The drumming and chanting continues until after midnight, at which point the participant holding the place of honor thanks the others for joining her in prayer.

Many peyote ceremonies closely resemble the one described in Hagerty's book, but no two ceremonies are exactly alike. The main differences from one ceremony to the next are in the songs and chants. Each tribe has different songs it uses in prayer and thanksgiving. Other differences between peyote ceremonies including the venue in which it is held, the number of people that attend and the amount of time they spend in a peyote-induced state.

Recreational Use

Any use of peyote outside of religious ceremonies is prohibited by federal law, but that does not prevent thousands of Americans from using peyote for personal recreation. Some recreational users enjoy consuming peyote at parties, while others prefer using it in the privacy of their own homes.

Most Native Americans frown on recreational use of peyote. The drug is meant solely for religious practice; any other usage perverts its spiritual intent. One anonymous quote looks at peyote as separate from other drugs in that it is not meant for recreational purposes: ““Compared to other hallucinogens, peyote is a very focused and concentrated fire, an inner fire that causes an increase of energy, giving spiritual insights.”

The Native American Church believes that the proper context of peyote use is essential for obtaining spiritual guidance. This means that peyote cannot be beneficial unless it is used in the appropriate environment. The Native American Church places additional restrictions on the use of peyote, such as not allowing minors to take part in the cermonies until they are personally approved by a healer.

Those who us e peyote for spiritual reasons tend to get very offended when others suggest that it is, in fact, a recreational drug. Raven Mercado of the Peyote Foundation counters these claims by explaining that peyote use is “anything but recreational. Our use of peyote is no more recreational than a Catholic going to confession.”

Sources Cited:

Hagerty, Barbara Bradley. Fingerprints of God: the Search for the Science of Spirituality. New York: Riverhead, 2009.

McCaddley, Bill. "Arizona's Peyote Foundation Raided | Cannabis Culture Magazine."Cannabis Culture Magazine | Marijuana Magazine.