The Essential Guide to Mescaline
Mescaline is the primary psychoactive alkaloid in a range of psychedelic cacti, including peyote (Lophophora williamsii), San Pedro (Echinopsis pachanoi), and Peruvian torch (Echinopsis peruviana)—all of which are native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It can also be found in trace amounts in other regional plants, such as the Berlandier acacia (Senegalia berlandieri).
In its natural state, mescaline has been used for thousands of years in Native American religious ceremonies. It was also the first psychedelic to enter mainstream Western culture, predating the widespread use of LSD and psilocybin. More recently, the extracted compound has shown promise in the medical and psychotherapeutic treatment of substance abuse and depression among other conditions.
Pure mescaline is usually available as a white or brownish crystalline powder, either loose or packed into capsules. It can also be found as a liquid solution or brew. Compared to many other psychedelics, however, extracted mescaline tends to be rare in most parts of the world.
History & Stats02
Mescaline was isolated and identified by the German pharmacologist Arthur Heffter in 1897. It was first synthesized in 1918 by the Austrian chemist Ernst Späth.
But evidence suggests that mescaline-containing cacti were in use many thousands of years earlier. In fact, archaeological specimens of peyote cactus prepared for human consumption—and dated to 3780-3660 BC—contained a still-active mescaline content of around 2%. It is believed that Native American populations in Texas and New Mexico originated the ceremonial use of peyote “buttons” (cactus tops) and the practice later became more widespread—especially as an expression of pan-Indian identity from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Mescaline was the first psychedelic to come to mainstream Western attention. It was, for example, the first substance that pioneering psychonaut Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin self-experimented with in the 1950s. It was also one of two substances, alongside LSD, for which the term “psychedelic” was originally coined. In a letter to the author Aldous Huxley in 1956, psychiatrist Humphry Osmond introduced the term with a rhyme: “To fathom Hell or soar angelic / Just take a pinch of psychedelic.” Huxley had earlier suggested “phanerothyme,” from the Greek words for “manifest” and “spirit”: “To make this mundane world sublime / Take half a gram of phanerothyme.”
Osmond had been investigating mescaline’s molecular similarity to adrenaline, as well as its potential for treating mental illness and alcohol dependency. He supplied it to Huxley in 1953, who wrote The Doors of Perception about his experience the following year. In 1955, he administered mescaline to the British Member of Parliament Christopher Mayhew as part of a BBC documentary. Mayhew himself wanted his experience to reach as many people as possible, dismissing radio, which he said, “no one listens to,” in favor of national television. Unfortunately, while Mayhew described the effects in glowing, even mystical, terms, the footage was never broadcast.
Huxley’s appraisal of the drug was similarly very positive, exalting mescaline as a kind of window to the world as it is, not as it is perceived by humans “obsessed with words and notions.” It was, he said, “an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.”
Various governments were also interested in mescaline at around the same time, but for rather more self-serving reasons. After discovering the Nazis were using it as a “truth serum” in concentration camps, for example, the CIA funded Project CHATTER to pick up where they left off. This experiment was officially abandoned in 1953, six years after it started.
In the 1960s, during his time at the Dow Chemical Company in San Francisco, Sasha Shulgin synthesized various new phenethylamine compounds from the basic mescaline molecule. These included the TMAs or trimethoxyamphetamines, which have a psychedelic stimulant effect.
Peyote also became better known during the 1960s, with anthropologists documenting sacred peyote hunts with the Huichol Indians and Carlos Castaneda publishing his own experiences with peyote in The Teachings of Don Juan, which became a bestseller. Hunter S. Thompson is another name popularly associated with the history of mescaline, having written about his experiences in “First Visit with Mescalito” (Songs of the Doomed) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
According to the Global Drug Survey in 2014, only in Mexico was either mescaline or peyote (or in this case both) among the top 20 drugs for past month usage. Peyote was taken by 6.4% and mescaline by 4.4% of 643 Mexican survey respondents.
Of course, we cannot generalize current usage statistics from such limited data, but it does give us some idea of its popularity relative to other substances. Unfortunately, precise usage statistics for mescaline aren’t really available because surveys tend to lump it together with other substances like LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA. Hence, SAMHSA’s 2014 finding that 0.4% of the U.S. population used “hallucinogens” in the past month is fairly meaningless.
That said, we can trace the popularity of mescaline over time by looking at its appearance in publications and Google searches:
The number of publications related to mescaline and/or peyote peaked in the 1940s and 50s, followed by a much larger spike in the 1960s and 70s, during the “psychedelic revolution.” Interest spiked again in the 1990s, presumably due to the Mexican government’s 1991 listing of peyote as an endangered species and the 1994 amendments to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Published mentions steadily decreased over the next decade or so, possibly because of the rising popularity of other psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin.
Google searches for mescaline have also decreased since 2004, although searches for peyote have remained fairly consistent.
Mescaline is a substituted phenethylamine, a molecule based on the basic phenethylamine structure. This sets it apart (alongside MDMA, 2C-B, and others) from the tryptamine class of psychedelics, which includes psilocybin, LSD and DMT.
Mescaline binds to virtually all serotonin receptors in the brain but has a stronger affinity for the 1A and 2A/B/C receptors. It is structurally similar to LSD and is often used as a benchmark hallucinogen when comparing psychedelics.
Like nearly all hallucinogens, the psychedelic effects of mescaline are likely due to its action on serotonin 2A receptors.
Mescaline also has an affinity for the dopamine receptors, either as a selective reuptake inhibitor or as a dopamine receptor agonist.
Safety and toxicity
Because it’s an internationally controlled substance, research into the harm potential of mescaline, especially long-term, has been limited. That said, a lethal dose has never been identified—probably because it’s too high to be taken accidentally. In other words, to the best of our knowledge, nobody has ever died from a mescaline overdose.
A 2005 study into the ceremonial use of peyote among Native American populations found there to be no detrimental long-term effects. It should be noted, however, that its use in other contexts may not be as safe (remember: set and setting). Indeed, later studies have found an association between prior mental health problems and “bad trips,” although mescaline appears to present little risk of flashbacks, or hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD).
There are also some specific contraindications to be aware of (see Precautions section below).
Mescaline dosage varies, albeit only slightly, according to how the compound is extracted. For instance, 100 mg mescaline hydrochloride (HCl) is approximately equivalent to 111 mg mescaline sulfate or 85 mg mescaline freebase. These are threshold doses, given as starting points for calculating your own dosage. A more common range for mescaline HCl is 200-300 mg; anywhere between 300-500 mg is considered strong, while 500-700 mg is considered heavy.
What to expect
During this time, you are likely to see closed-eye visuals of colors and patterns, such as mosaics, arabesques, spirals, and so on transforming into visions of more definite objects like architecture, animals, and humans. At the same time, ordinary objects in your surroundings may appear more interesting, beautiful, and amazingly mystical—qualities that define the mescaline experience.
Your physical environment, as well as your own body, may distort in size and form. Some have reported the apparent loss of limbs, for instance, or the sense that hard objects like stones or walls have become soft and malleable to the touch. Other senses are also affected, sometimes to the point of synesthesia, whereby, for example, sights may be “heard” and thoughts may be “smelled.” Beautiful perfumes and music, or voices speaking strange languages, have also been reported.
For many, mescaline produces an experience of depersonalization or the dissolution of the ego; everything, including oneself, can therefore feel unified. Accompanying this may be clear and connected thought, self-realization, empathy, and euphoria. However, “bad trips” and dysphoric symptoms may be more common among people who don’t pay attention to set and setting and/or have histories of mental illness.
The subjective and physiological effects of mescaline are likely to differ somewhat from those of mescaline-containing cacti, since the latter contain a mix of other alkaloids too. Some find extracted mescaline less nauseating, for example, and perhaps more stimulating or at least clearer, mentally.
Take care to remove hazards, including sharp objects and things you might trip over, before taking mescaline. It’s also wise to ensure easy access to drinking water, as well as a toilet or bucket in case of purging. A responsible sitter is also a good idea, at least for first timers, and it is recommended to take mescaline on an empty stomach to minimize nausea and maximize absorption.
Although peyote is traditionally consumed by Huichol women during pregnancy, mescaline has been linked to fetal abnormalities and should therefore be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
It should also be avoided by anyone with a heart condition and/or high blood pressure, particularly in combination with blood pressure medications. Other drugs to avoid combining with mescaline include tramadol, immunomodulators, alcohol, and stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines. Tripsit has more information on safe drug combinations here.
“Mescaline is available in microdots, like LSD”
Genuine mescaline is rare enough on the street as it is, but it’s especially unlikely to ever be found in microdot form (tiny 2.3 mm 1.5 mm pills). This is because microdots are simply too small to hold the normal active dose of mescaline as well as the fillers and binders necessary to hold them together as pills. A 400 mg dose of mescaline only just about fits into a larger, fully packed capsule without any fillers. So if you’ve been sold a “mescaline microdot,” it’s probably LSD.
“Mescal beans contain mescaline”
Although psychoactive, the “mescal beans” of Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain laurel) do not contain mescaline. Nor indeed do mezcal tequilas made from the agave plant. But it’s understandable to assume that they do. The fact is, the term “mescal” was erroneously applied to peyote, or “mescal buttons,” in the first place; the word actually derives from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word mexcalli, meaning “agave.”
As a psychotomimetic drug (one that produces similar effects to psychosis), mescaline has been used to understand the underlying mechanisms of schizophrenia. Historically, psychiatrists have even self-administered the compound to simulate schizophrenia for themselves.
Mescaline (as peyote) is also used in traditional ceremonial contexts, e.g. by the Native American Church (NAC), to treat alcoholism. It’s interesting to note that while alcohol abuse rates among the Navajo and other Native American tribes are said to be roughly twice the U.S. average, they are significantly lower among NAC members. This correlation isn’t conclusive, of course, but it does make sense given that Osmond was able to treat alcoholics using LSD, perhaps by reliably producing “the transcendence that is repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought in drunkenness.”
Some other traditional therapeutic uses for peyote include as an antidepressant, (depression scores are also reportedly low among NAC members) and for alleviating symptoms of fever, headache, sunstroke, and arthritis. Actually the cactus is traditionally seen as something of a cure-all and is sometimes taken daily. According to some Native Americans, the proper use of peyote renders all other medicines superfluous. And while there are key differences between modern Western medicine and the medico-religious approach of Native American peyotists, clinical studies have supported mescaline’s role in pain relief, and in promoting the release of growth hormone.
Most users find mescaline personally or spiritually transformative, at least for the time that they’re on it. Some emerge with a lasting appreciation for the interconnectedness of all life in the universe, and of their role within it. Sometimes the mere thought of a separate identity can even seem “obscene.” Others feel a deep sense of gratitude and unconditional compassion for everyone and everything around them. And while these insights may seem peculiar to a Western consensus world view, they tend to reflect what Erwin Schrödinger called “the peculiarity of the scientific world view,” to which our society appears to aspire.
In the 1950s and 60s, mescaline was investigated for its psychotherapeutic potential, particularly in combination with LSD. It was found by some researchers that benefits were correlated with subjects’ willingness to engage with the experience, to face themselves and to act upon the insights received. Interestingly, some of the most significant transformations or breakthroughs came about months after the experience itself, even if the initial psychedelic therapy session seemed to be a failure. Benefits reported include a greater sense of wellbeing, inner strength, and vitality. Mescaline may also be useful for reliving or recalling repressed memories in a psychotherapeutic context.
In line with Native American ritual use of peyote, mescaline can apparently help users overcome specific problems. In one study, a group of 27 men were administered the drug and asked to think about a problem they were facing at work, some of which had persisted for months. Following this single dose of mescaline, almost every participant either solved the problem for themselves or came up with new ways to approach it. These findings support the prevailing view that mescaline and other psychedelics can enhance creativity. As the psychologist Stanley Krippner put it, “to invent something new, one cannot be completely conditioned or imprinted.” Psychedelics like mescaline tend to dissolve preconceptions and elicit fresh perspectives on reality.
Nowadays, only legitimate Native American members of the NAC are legally permitted to use mescaline in the United States—but only in the form of peyote. Otherwise, both mescaline and peyote are strictly controlled as Schedule I substances. Other mescaline-containing plants and cacti, such as San Pedro, are legal only for ornamental purposes.
Mescaline is also illegal in the UK and Canada, as well as many European countries; however, peyote and other mescaline-containing plants are generally legal to grow for ornamental purposes. The same is true in some Australian states, including Victoria and New South Wales, but not in Western Australia, Queensland, and the Northern Territory, where even San Pedro is illegal.
Can it be detected in a drug test?
Mescaline can be detected in the urine for one to four days after use, but it’s not included in either standard or extended drug screens. Virtually all labs require a specific test for the substance, so unless your employer is a real stickler and specifically worried that you’ve been frequenting peyote ceremonies, you should be fine.
Will it make me go crazy?
If you follow the 6Ss of psychedelic use and avoid taking mescaline if you have a personal or family history of mental health issues, there appears to be very little chance of long-term psychiatric difficulties.
Of course, peyote can make you feel crazy in the short term (acute psychosis), especially if you don’t follow the 6Ss. This is colloquially known as a “bad trip.”
Are there risks?
While mescaline by itself does not appear to have led directly to any fatalities, there are some potentially significant health risks to be aware of. It should be avoided if you have a history of mental illness, heart conditions, or high blood pressure, as well as by pregnant or breastfeeding women because of the risk of birth defects. For more information on taking peyote safely, see Precautions and Safety and toxicity.
How do I take it?
The most popular way to take mescaline is to weigh out your dose and pack it into capsules, then swallow on an empty stomach.
You could also dissolve the powder in bitter fruit juice, such as grapefruit, to mask the taste.
Is it legal to grow mescaline-containing cacti at home?
See Legality section above for details. In general, even where it’s legal to grow peyote, San Pedro, and other mescaline-containing plants, it is illegal to consume them and especially to extract the mescaline.
Also keep in mind that peyote has become severely endangered as a natural source of mescaline, so you might want to either avoid plants harvested from the wild or grow an alternative cactus. For reference, San Pedro contains approximately 0.3-2% mescaline (compared to peyote’s 3-6%) and Peruvian torch is thought to have a mescaline content of up to 0.8%.
Can I microdose with mescaline?
Yes! For details, check out our Essential Guide to Microdosing Mescaline.
Will it produce tolerance?
Tolerance to mescaline builds up almost immediately and takes roughly seven days of abstinence to return to baseline. There is also a cross-tolerance effect with LSD and other psychedelics. This means they will have diminished effects for up to seven days after your consumption of mescaline, and vice versa.
Generally, mescaline isn’t habit-forming. Many actually find their desire to use it diminishes with use.
Can I mix it with other drugs?
See the Precautions section above and Tripsit’s chart for details on which drugs to avoid. It’s probably best to err on the side of caution and avoid combining mescaline with any other drug, at least for the first time you take it.
That said, it appears to be relatively low risk or even positively synergistic with LSD, psilocybin, DMT, and ketamine, among other substances.
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