As the psychedelic movement transforms and develops into a new entity, there is bound to be internal conflict and opposition. The fight to include indigenous voices in the emerging industry and ensure that native communities are honored has garnered a great deal of attention this year. This debate has been particularly heated when it comes to the inclusion of peyote in laws that aim to decriminalize natural psychedelic substances.
Peyote, a small cactus known for its mind-altering properties, holds deep cultural and spiritual significance for certain indigenous groups in the US, primarily the Native American Church. The clash of interests and beliefs within the psychedelic community regarding the status of peyote has ignited a fierce discussion.
Many of the decriminalization laws implemented across the US are only addressing naturally occurring psychedelics, including ibogaine, DMT, psilocybin, psilocin, and the compound in question— mescaline. Peyote contains the psychedelic compound mescaline, and while psychedelic advocates support legalizing the compound, some have issues with increasing access to peyote.
Peyote, scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii, has been utilized for centuries by indigenous peoples of North and Central America for its entheogenic and spiritual qualities. It is most prominently associated with the Native American Church, a religious organization with a membership that regards peyote as a sacrament. For these communities, peyote is a vital part of their religious practices, central to their ceremonies and spiritual connection.
There are concerns regarding the conservation of peyote. As demand for this cactus grows, overharvesting poses a significant threat to its survival in the wild. Some argue that allowing peyote to be included in decriminalization laws could threaten its extinction.
The cactus takes over ten years to make it from the beginning of its life cycle to when it can be consumed in ceremony. Peyote is currently listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II due to concerns about overharvesting. As a result, the cactus has become more and more difficult to find as psychedelic medicine has become more popular.
Some argue that decriminalization could exacerbate this issue by increasing demand for the cactus. Advocates for exclusion stress the importance of conserving peyote in the wild and regulating its use to prevent further depletion. Many psychedelic reform advocates argue that peyote should be excluded from decriminalization laws to ensure that the cactus is available for Native American communities to use in years to come. Others, however, disagree— causing a heated debate.
People advocating for peyote’s inclusion in decriminalization laws argue that no one should be able to claim the rights to a naturally growing plant. This is the view that the founder and former president of the non-profit Decriminalize Nature took when defending his refusal to support the exclusion of peyote from his decriminalization efforts.
Additionally, proponents of peyote’s inclusion argue that mescaline is a natural, non-addictive substance with potential therapeutic benefits. These properties are currently being used for the treatment of various mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. So, advocates say that this natural mescaline should be studied and made available for medicinal purposes. This, however, can be done without the use of peyote.
Peyote is not the only cactus that contains mescaline. Both the San Pedro and Peruvian Torch cacti contain the psychedelic ingredient that has sparked growing interest in peyote. Not only do they contain mescaline, but the San Pedro cactus is more concentrated with it than peyote, and it is much easier to access. In fact, many people around the US have this psychedelic cactus growing in their yards, and they don’t even know it since the cactus itself is not illegal.
The San Pedro cactus is simply a better option for access to natural mescaline than Peyote. As for Peruvian Torch, far less is known about its psychedelic properties than its more popular siblings, San Pedro and Peyote. In some native Peruvian tribes, it is believed that the cactus has no medicinal value and is only used in witchcraft. Though images of an old, wrinkly lady hunched over a cauldron may come to mind when you hear the term “witchcraft,” this simply means that the plant is believed to have harmful effects and, therefore, would not be used by a respectable medicine practitioner.
Though peyote isn’t the most sustainable and easy-to-access source of natural mescaline, the debate over rights to the cactus rages on. The heart of the controversy surrounding peyote’s inclusion in decriminalization laws is the clash between indigenous rights and the broader psychedelic movement. The Native American Church argues that peyote is an integral part of their spiritual practices and should be protected as a fundamental aspect of their culture.
A large part of the psychedelic community worries that decriminalizing peyote for everyone could lead to cultural appropriation within the psychedelic movement, where individuals who lack the cultural context might misuse or trivialize its use. Protecting the rights of indigenous communities to control and preserve their sacred plant is seen as a vital component of the peyote debate. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978 allows the use of peyote in religious ceremonies for Native tribes, but further decriminalization would open up use to the greater public, causing fear of widespread misuse. This, however, contradicts one of the principle beliefs of the decriminalization movement— personal autonomy.
Within the broader psychedelic movement, there is a push for the decriminalization of all psychedelics to fully enable research and their therapeutic potential. This stance often disregards the unique history of peyote. While the endangered status of peyote does put it in a unique position, the belief in personal bodily autonomy largely drives the psychedelic decriminalization movement. The argument against decriminalization of peyote also stands in contradiction to the idea that no one should be able to make nature illegal.
The arguments on both sides could go in circles all day, but that might not even be necessary. This brings things back to our earlier question— is peyote the best source of mescaline? Many people who advocate for natural psychedelics have issues with synthetic versions of the compounds. However, since there are other sources of natural mescaline that are more concentrated and abundantly available, the fervent argument over who should have the rights to the limited supply of Peyote on this earth starts to seem less important
Additionally, there are solutions to the limited supply of Peyote. Lophos—a Canadian company that recently went public— is attempting to create a bridge between these two sides. The company is working to create a sustainable and expedited growth process for the cacti. This would give the greater public access to the plant without threatening the dwindling supply.
The peyote debate within the psychedelic industry is highly polarized, with valid arguments on both sides. Many, but not all, states and cities that have passed decriminalization laws for psychedelics have decided to exclude peyote.
The reality is that peyote is significantly challenging to track down, so the threat of decriminalization causing a flood of new psychonauts into the desert to harvest is unlikely. Those seeking natural sources of mescaline are much more likely to buy a $20 San Pedro cactus at their local garden store. Nevertheless, the fervor remains high on both sides of this argument.
Ultimately, finding a balanced solution that respects the rights of indigenous groups, safeguards public health, and preserves the natural habitat of peyote is crucial. The peyote debate serves as a significant test case for the psychedelic industry’s ability to navigate these complex ethical and regulatory challenges as it continues to gain momentum in the broader field of mental health and wellness.