Mescaline: Therapeutic use, Treatment. Mescaline rehab.
Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 5:24 pm
ENTHEOGEN: A term from the Greek meaning “God-facilitating substance.” Some scholars prefer this term to hallucinogenic when applied to plants such as the peyote cactus that are used in religious practices.
HALLUCINOGENS: Agroup of drugs that induces sensory distortions and hallucinations.
PEYOTE: A hallucinogenic cactus, usually L. williamsii, from which mescaline is derived.
PODAREA: Raised segmented cushion-part of the peyote cactus.
TOLERANCE: A condition in which higher and higher doses of a drug are needed to produce the original effect or high experienced.
TRICHOMES: Tuft of hairs in the center of the peyote cactus.
TRIP: A common term for a drug experience.
Mescaline is said to be the oldest known hallucinogenic drug. Before drugs were manufactured in a lab, cooked up in someone’s basement, or stolen from a medicine cabinet for illegal and abusive use, they were found in plants. Often, drugs in plants were discovered quite accidentally.
Foraging for food, early humans used trial and error to determine which plants were edible and, unfortunately, which were deadly. However, some plants that were neither food nor poison had another entirely surprising effect. These plants produced an intoxicated, or drunken, state or caused the user to have visions or hear voices of people who were not there. To the ancients, these waking dreams (which are called hallucinations — distortions of perception that seem real but are not) were voices from their gods or the spirit world.
Such plants — now classified as psychoactive or hallucinogenic — became a centerpiece for sacred rituals, a means to explain the unexplainable, and a mainstay of medicine bags. How a primitive people or another culture might use a drug as part of their worship rituals differs greatly from its use as a recreational or street drug where very often it is misused and abused.
Mescaline (peyote) is one such drug that has a cultural history dating from before the time of Christ as well as a separate history as a street drug. It is derived mainly from two members of the Cactaceae family — the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii) and the San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi).
L. williamsii is a gray-green or blue-green cactus that grows close to the ground. It looks like a small, segmented cushion. These cushion-like segments are called podarea and they surround a wooly center of tufted hairs called trichomes. L. williamsii does not have prickly spines as do other cacti. (Other genus and species names of the peyote cactus are Lophophora echinata var. dif-fusa and Echinocactus williamsii.) The peyote cactus is indigenous (grows naturally) to the area ranging from southern Texas to San Luis Potosi in southern Mexico. Another Lophophora species is Lophophora difusa. This yellow-green cactus is fleshier, without a well-defined podarea. It grows only in the dry, central area of Quere-taro, Mexico.
The San Pedro cactus (T pachanoi), unlike L. williamsii, has spines and grows in a large column, sometimes as high as 20 ft (12.5 m). This common cactus is often used as an ornamental plant, and originated in the mountains of Ecuador and Peru. Other cacti of the Trichocereus family also contain hallucinogenic compounds. The San Pedro cactus is also known as Echinop-sis pachanoi, Cereus pachanoi, Cereus rosei, Echinopsis peruvianus, and T. peruvianus.
The derivation of the name peyote is uncertain. The Nahuatl word, pi-youtl, means “silk cocoon” or “caterpillar cocoon,” due to the plant’s appearance. The Mexican word, piule, has a more simple meaning of “hallucinogenic plant.” Both are generally regarded as its possible predecessor.
Today though, in academic literature as well as street usage, the drug is referred to as both mescaline and peyote (regardless from which cactus it is actually extracted), often with both words having the same meaning. However, in the strictest sense, mescaline refers to the hallucinogenic crystalline extract of the peyote cactus, a form that is rare.
Mescaline is one of 40-60 alkaloids (nitrogen-containing organic compounds) that are found in these psychoactive cacti. Depending on its maturity, the typical peyote cactus has about a 4% mescaline content. Extremely slow growing, a cactus can take more than four years to grow a dime-sized top section, or “button,” the part that is cut off and eaten. A plant is not considered mature until it is 13 years old. A cactus that is the size of a baseball is estimated to be about 30 years old. Native American and Mexican Indians call these plants “Father or Grandfather Peyote,” and they are highly revered.
Found only in the New World, there is evidence that peyote was used before the time of Christ. Some of the most solid archeological data suggest that the drug was taken by the Aztecs 3,000 years ago. An archeological find in Coahuila, Mexico, of a skeleton with a beaded necklace of dried peyote buttons is 1,000 years old. In Peru, a carving of a San Pedro cactus on a stone tablet dates back to 1300 B.C. Dried peyote buttons found in the Shumla Cave in Texas are said to date from 5000 B.C.
The writings of Fray Bernardino Sahagun (1499-1590), a Spanish missionary who lived with and studied the Indians of Mexico, provide the earliest documented information about peyote. He writes that the Chichimecas and the Toltec Indians probably used peyote as early as 300 B.C.
Dr. Francisco Hernandez, King Philip IPs personal physician, gave the first physical description of the cactus plant. Along with describing its psychoactive qualities, he also wrote about its medicinal uses, namely, to relive painful joints.
However, the newcomers to the New World were not accepting of the well-established peyote cults. Campaigns were quickly undertaken to make peyote illegal. When Mexico outlawed it in 1720, the ritual was so entrenched that the practice continued in secret. In fact, the Huichol Indians of Mexico still perform a peyote ritual that is probably very similar to that performed in the days before colonization.
In the same century, there is evidence of peyote use in the United States. The first recorded use of peyote is 1760. By the time of the Civil War (1860-1864), Native Americans were familiar with the plant and had a strong ritual surrounding its use. It was about 1880 that the peyote ceremony of the Kiowa and Comanche tribes first drew public attention. These Plains Indian tribes incorporated aspects of the Mexican peyote worship into their vision-quest ritual. The Plains Indians probably learned about the hallucinogenic cactus when they crossed the border into northern Mexico during various raids on the Mescalero Indians.
Experts suggest that the peyote ritual was embraced by the Native Americans because they saw it as a way to preserve their cultural heritage at a time when their way of life was slipping away. It was during this time that they were relocated to reservations. Tribal missionaries spread word of the beneficial effects of the peyote ritual on moral. In 1918, the Native American Church (NAC) was founded and further formalized the ritual use of peyote. It also set off a long history of debate over First Amendment rights and the use of a controlled substance by members of a church. In 1920, the church had more than 13,000 members comprising 30 tribes. By 2002, there were more than 250,000 members.
But there is another side to peyote — its use as a recreational or street drug. In 1897, Arthur Heffter, a German chemist, was the first to identify mescaline as the chemical responsible for peyote’s hallucinogenic effects. It was the first hallucinogenic compound synthesized. At the time, the science community wanted to know what chemical would cause hallucinations in otherwise normal individuals who were not suffering from a psychosis or brain disorder.
In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, hallucinogenic substances were viewed as possible tools for understanding and treating psychiatric and other mental disorders. Tribal medicine men, or shamans, have always maintained it was an effective medicine to treat a number of ailments including alcoholism. However, peyote did not really catch on as a drug to be explored in the recreational arena until 1953 when the English novelist Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) wrote The Doors of Perception where he recounted his experiences with the peyote.
In the 1960s and 1970s, serious research involving mescaline and LSD continued and it was hoped that their use in psychotherapy would be established. Timothy Leary (1920-96), a Harvard professor best known for his lifelong experiments with LSD, also studied mescaline. He is best known for giving the motto “Turn on, tune in, and drop out,” to the hippie generation of the 1960s.
As academic interest in psychedelics flourished, street use became common, especially on college campuses. Opponents of psychedelic research said it failed to show that it had a viable use in psychotherapy, and growing street use demonstrated that the drugs had the potential for abuse and were dangerous. Users began reporting that some of their “trips,” as the experience under the influence of the drug is called, were bad trips, causing them and the medical community concern. Flashbacks — recurrences of the trip even without the drug — were also reported. Organizations such as the National Clearinghouse or Alcohol and Drug Information cautions that using hallucinogens, including mescaline, in large quantities may cause convulsions, blood vessel damage in the brain, or even irreversible brain damage.
In 1929, New Mexico was the first state to outlaw peyote, and in 1967 the federal government banned it all together. In 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act made peyote, mescaline, and every other hallucinogen a Schedule I drug, defined as having no known medical use. Money for research dried up and the tide turned against hallucinogens’ popularity as a street drug. Street use of peyote and mescaline was virtually nonexistent at the close of the twentieth century.
The federal government exempted the NAC from the ban on peyote if it is used as part of a bona fide religious ceremony. This point remains a center of legal controversy in states that want to limit its use or outlaw it completely.
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