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This book, which covers Visions and hallucinations, explains what causes them and summarises how many hallucinations have been caused by each event or activity. It also provides specific help with questions people have asked us, such as ‘Is my medication giving me hallucinations?’.

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Category: Actions


Involuntary and voluntary

Introduction and description

San Pedro cactus

Mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine) is an alkaloid that occurs naturally in the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), the San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) and the Peruvian Torch cactus (Echinopsis peruviana), and in a number of other members of the Cactaceae. Mescaline is also found in some other species of genus Echinopsis (i.e. Echinopsis lageniformis and Echinopsis scopulicola).  It is also found in small amounts in certain members of the Fabaceae (bean family), including Acacia berlandieri.

Mescaline was first isolated and identified in 1897 by the German Arthur Heffter and first synthesized in 1919 by Ernst Späth.

The use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies has been noted since the earliest European contact, notably by the Huichols in Mexico, but other cacti such as the San Pedro have been used in different regions, from Peru to Ecuador.

Peyote buttons dried

Mescaline has a wide array of medical usages, including treatment of alcoholism and depression. However, its status as a Schedule I controlled substance in the Convention on Psychotropic Substances limits availability of the drug to doctors, psychiatrists and researchers. Because of this, very few studies concerning mescaline's activity, long term side effects and potential therapeutic effects in humans have been conducted since the early 1970s.

Hallucinations produced by mescaline are somewhat different from those of LSD. Hallucinations are consistent with actual experience, but are typically intensifications of the stimulus properties of objects and sounds. Prominence of colour is distinctive, appearing brilliant and intense. Unlike LSD, mescaline does not induce distortions of form or kaleidoscopic experiences. However, like LSD, synaesthesia can occur.   Perception recall is not unknown.

Effects last for up to 12 hours.


Well known users

Mescaline has been used by quite a number of well known people.  Aldous Huxley [see below] experimented with the use of mescaline. So did Aleister Crowley as reported in his diary, as well as the famous sex psychologist Havelock Ellis.  Hunter S. Thompson wrote an extremely detailed account of his first use of mescaline in First Visit with Mescalito, appearing in his book Songs of the Doomed.  Dr Alexander Shulgin said he was first inspired to explore psychedelic compounds by a mescaline experience.  According to Paul Strathern's book Sartre in 90 Minutes, Jean-Paul Sartre experimented with mescaline, and his description of ultimate reality (in La Nausee) as "viscous and obscene" was written under mescaline's influence.  Carlos Santana told in 1989 about his mescaline use in a Rolling Stone interview.

Other mescaline containing plants

Apart from the plants mentioned above, a number of other plants also contain mescaline.  There are a number that are simply known to contain the chemical, without much more being known about the rest of the plant.  The following is a list of them.  Details are from Christian Rasch’s Encyclopaedia:

  • Eriosyce Islaya - Eriosyce is a genus of cacti native to Chile and Rasch states that Eriosyce islaya contains mescaline
  • Gymnocalycium -, commonly called chin cactus, is a genus of about 70 South American species of cacti. The genus name Gymnocalycium (from Greek, "naked calyx") refers to the flower buds bearing no hair or spines.  According to Ratsch at least two contain mescaline:
    • G. gibbosum
    • G. leeanum
  • Myrtillocactus- geometrizans  - commonly known as Bilberry Cactus, Whortleberry Cactus or Blue Candle is a species of cactus in the genus Myrtillocactus  native to central and northern Mexico.  Ratsch lists it as containing mescaline
  • Pereskiopsis scandens - contain mescaline according to Ratsch.  Pereskiopsis is from  the Greek -opsis, "looking", because of its resemblance with the genus Pereskia.  It is a genus of cacti
  • Polaskia  chende spp – a peculiar form of cactus
  • Pachycereus [syn Pterocereus] is a genus of 9–12 species of large cacti native to Mexico and just into southern Arizona, USA.  Pachycereus comes from the ancient Greek "pakhus" meaning "thick" and the Latin "cereus" meaning "torch".  According to Rasch:
    •  Plerocereusgaumeri and other spp contain mescaline
    •  Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum is also hallucinogenic, but the alkaloid may not be mescaline
  • Stenocereus - Stenocereus (Gk. stenos, narrow , L. cereus ,candle) is a genus of columnar or tree-like cacti from the Baja California Peninsula and other parts of Mexico, Arizona in the United States,  Costa Rica, Guatemala and Venezuela. A close relative is the peculiar chinoa or chende cactus, Polaskia chende [see above].  Varieties containing mescaline identified by Rasch are:
    • S. beneckei
    • S. eruca
    • S. stellatus
    • S. treleasei
    • spp
  • Stetsonia coryne - The toothpick cactus is a species of cactus and the sole species of its genus (Stetsonia). The plant originates from the low northwest deserts of Argentina and Bolivia.

Echinopsis lageniformis

Echinopsis variant

Structure and receptor activity

Mescaline is a chemical in the phenethylamine family [and thus in the same family as amphetamines].
The receptor activity of mescaline is hugely complex and a separate section has been provided in the Science section to go into the detail of what is known and more importantly, not known - Mescaline Receptor activity.


The chemical mescaline comes as a white to off white crystal or powder.  It is ingested.  Dose and amount are body weight dependent therefore I advise you to look at EROWID experience vault for examples.  The following shows one of the ways this chemical may have been obtained

Edward F. Anderson's Peyote: The Divine Cactus):

"Applied chemists" within the drug cult have devised ingenious methods of extracting pure mescaline from dried or fresh plant material. The basic process varies somewhat but a typical one is as follows: the plant material is first boiled to extract the alkaloids; this extract is then made basic by the addition of sodium hydroxide (lye). Next benzene (try methylenechloride) is added to further separate the alkaloids. The aqueous and benzene portions are allowed to separate following a gentle shaking. Dilute sulfuric acid (hydrochloric works as well) is next added in small quantities to the benzene portion and the solution is again shaken. The mixture is allowed to stand, and the process is repeated several more times with the addition of a more dilute acid every time. A white precipitate will soon settle and can easily be dried. This is mescaline sulfate (or hydrochloride) and further steps can make it quite pure

The PIKHAL EROWID entry provides further details.

Peace Love♥&Flower Children by Healing Lotus
We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.

So there you go.

How it works

Despite the enormously complex analysis that I have undertaken of the receptor activity, the truth is that no one really knows how mescaline 'works'.

Peruvian Torch cactus

From what one can see of the receptor activity it attacks so many parts of the body that functionally the body has to divert all its energy to handling the onslaught and as a consequence the reasoning function and intellect take a back seat and it works simply by knocking out the intellect, forget all the receptor stuff.

For more details see the generic description of How spiritual experience works.

It is worth pointing out that the plants themselves are far more subtle in their action than mescaline, but the main drawback of the plants is that, being mainly slow growing cacti, they are in very short supply.


Lots of experiences on EROWID to help.


Illegal - In the US, mescaline was made illegal in 1970 by the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.  It was prohibited internationally by the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and is categorized as a Schedule I hallucinogen by the CSA. Mescaline is only legal for certain religious groups (such as the Native American Church) and in 'scientific and medical research'.

Duration of experience - The duration of the mescaline experience – 12 hours is not abnormal for the effects – is very long.  And you must be fit and healthy – no liver problems, no heart problems and you must not be pregnant.

It is possible to die from mescaline use………..   “The death of an individual under the influence of mescaline is presented. Concentrations of the drug were 9.7, 70.8, and 1163 micrograms/mL or micrograms/g in blood, liver, and urine respectively” – [Ref: J Anal Toxicol.1985 Jul-Aug;9(4):183-4. “A mescaline associated fatality” - Reynolds PC, Jindrich EJ].

References and further reading


  • Meyler’s Side Effects of Drugs – Elsevier publishing
  • Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances – Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Plants and Venomous Animals pub. Wiley
  • The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants – Christian Rasch
  • Meyler’s Side Effects of Psychiatric drugs – Elsevier publishing

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