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Mescaline Addiction & Abuse

Mescaline use alone is unlikely to lead to an addiction. However, tolerance to the drug has been observed and can indicate signs of misuse.

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Illicitly produced synthetic mescaline may contain unknown harmful ingredients, like fentanyl, which poses a significant threat of overdose. While mescaline use originated from religious purposes, misuse of the hallucinogen has grown. 

What Is Mescaline?

Mescaline is the active hallucinogenic ingredient in peyote, a small cactus. For centuries, peyote has been consumed by indigenous tribes in northern Mexico, as well as in the southwestern United States, as an important part of religious ceremonies. It alters people’s sense of time, space, and themselves, and it can cause illusions and hallucinations. 

Traditionally, mescaline is extracted from the peyote plant, though it can also be produced synthetically. When taken in the right amount, it causes effects similar to drugs such as LSD, mushrooms, and PCP. 

While mescaline remains a sacred piece of indigenous Mexican culture, it has also become misused by individuals in search of its hallucinogenic and euphoric effects.

Is Mescaline Addictive?

Mescaline does not produce cravings or compulsions to constantly consume more of it. Therefore, it is generally not considered addictive. 

However, repeated mescaline use can lead to a tolerance for the substance. In such cases, individuals must consume greater quantities of mescaline in order to achieve the same desired effects. 

Increasing the amount of mescaline taken is dangerous, as an individual’s response to the greater amount of the drug can be unknown. Mescaline can lead to chemically induced mental health problems, which may require substance abuse or mental health treatment. 

How & Why People Use Mescaline

Mescaline is extracted from the top of the peyote cactus. The DEA describes a process in which disc shapes are cut off the crown of the peyote cactus. The discs, either fresh or once dry, can be chewed or soaked in water. A mind-altering liquid is then produced. 

The peyote discs, or buttons, can also be ground into a powder. The powder can be put into capsules to be swallowed or smoked with cannabis or tobacco leaves. 

How Mescaline Works 

Mescaline interacts with receptors in the brain responsible for feelings, thoughts, and perceptions. Research suggests that receptors in the brain that are usually activated by serotonin, a neurotransmitter affecting mood regulation among other bodily functions, are activated by psychedelic drugs, such as mescaline.

The prefrontal cortex, which is associated with mood, cognition, and perception, is influenced by psychedelic drugs. Communication between different areas of the brain is temporarily disrupted. One’s sense of self-awareness is actually reduced, which may explain the sense of connectedness to the world around them that individuals often feel when they take psychoactive substances like mescaline. 

The Dangers of Taking Mescaline 

As with any mind-altering substance, there are dangers associated with taking mescaline. Taking too much of the substance or taking it too often can lead to substance abuse. 

In addition to its hallucinogenic effects, mescaline can impact body functioning. Effects of taking mescaline on the body, as outlined by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), include the following:

  • Severe nausea and vomiting 
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Higher body temperature
  • Heavy sweating 
  • Headaches 
  • Weak muscles 
  • Reduced motor function 

While mescaline can induce feelings of euphoria, it can also lead to unpleasant illusions and hallucinations, as well as anxiety. Such sensations can be frightening and lead people to behave in unsafe ways and make decisions that threaten their personal safety. 

Synthetic Mescaline Use

Illegally and synthetically produced mescaline poses risks not necessarily seen in mescaline derived from the peyote cactus. Synthetically produced drugs are often contaminated with other substances, such as fentanyl, which poses a high risk of overdose and death, explains the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 

Fentanyl is odorless and colorless. People who purchase illicit drugs like synthetically produced mescaline are often unaware of the presence of fentanyl, and this can lead to life-threatening overdose.

When taken in their pure form, psychoactive drugs (like mescaline) are not known to cause overdose and death. Mescaline can become dangerous when taken in combination with other substances, such as opioids or alcohol. 

Polydrug use, or consuming multiple substances at once, is particularly dangerous, as the impacts of any given drug, and the combination of them, is highly unpredictable. An individual’s body and mind may not respond to the substances as they imagined. It can also be more difficult to treat overdose in these situations since medical personnel don’t know exactly what was taken.

Signs & Symptoms of Mescaline Use 

The short-term effects of mescaline use last approximately 12 hours and can include positive and negative changes in mood. 

Psychedelic substances like mescaline can cause changes in the brain that promote a sense of openness, says NIDA. In addition to the above listed effects of mescaline on the body, short-term signs of mescaline use include the following:

  • Increased perceptions and sense of feeling
  • Hallucinations
  • Euphoria
  • Anxiety 

Few studies have been conducted on the long-term effects of psychedelic use. So far, research has not identified any significant long-term effects in mentally healthy people. People with a predisposition for mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia, may be triggered when they use mescaline, but even so, long-term adverse effects are not evident. 

Poor mental health effects may be more likely to occur with recreational mescaline use rather than in controlled settings like religious ceremonies or scientific trials, notes NIDA. 

Is Mescaline Legal in the United States?

Mescaline and peyote are classified as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act, explains the DEA. Schedule I substances have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. They are considered unsafe and illegal throughout the United States. 

There is one exception to the illegality of mescaline and peyote. Federal law allows the religious use of peyote by members of the Native American Church. The federal government recognizes a longstanding history of the religious use of peyote as central to established religious beliefs and practices. Any use of peyote and mescaline outside of religious practice within the Native American Church is considered illegal. 

Mescaline Abuse Treatment Options

There are not currently any medications approved by the FDA for the specific treatment of mescaline and other hallucinogenic substances, explains the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Behavioral therapies may be helpful in treating mescaline misuse, but more research is needed to determine if hallucinogenic drug addictions respond well to therapy and which kinds.

Fortunately, substance use disorders, including the misuse of hallucinogens like mescaline, are treatable. A substance use disorder is a chronic condition that likely requires a range of approaches to be effectively treated and managed. Effective treatment can include the use of medications, inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation, and ongoing behavioral therapy. Treating any underlying mental health issues is also essential for the effective treatment of any substance use disorder.

Updated December 1, 2023
Resources
  1. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. (November 2016). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  2. Peyote & Mescaline. (April 2020). U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
  3. Peyote & Mescaline. (October 2013). Sutter Health.
  4. Peyote Exemption for Native American Church. (July 2014). U.S. Department of Justice.
  5. Psychedelic and Dissociative Drugs. (April 2023). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  6. Recovery Is for Everyone: Understanding Treatment of Substance Use Disorders. (September 2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  7. Pharmacokinetic and Pharmacodynamic Aspects of Peyote and Mescaline: Clinical and Forensic Repercussions. (August 2019). Current Molecular Pharmacology.
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