Peyote (American hallucinogenic cactus): Characteristic and care

The world of cacti and succulents offers so many options that we can get lost. The American continent is one of the birth cradles of the main varieties, among which we include today’s protagonist, the peyote cactus ( Lophophora williamsii ).

However, what peyote is really known for is its content in mescaline , a hallucinogenic substance that attracts young people to feel “different things.” In fact, this cactus is not having its best days, since it is classified as a vulnerable species .


The origin of peyote , scientifically known as Lophophora williamsii is American. It is considered a species of American origin, with habitual presence in the United States and mainly in Mexico, where it is endemic.

Types of peyotes

This cactus belongs to the genus Lophophora,  a very small group (there are only 2 species), among which we find peyote and Lophophora diffusa,  very similar in size and appearance. The latter has a somewhat faster growth, but the original known to all is L. williamsii )

Common names:  peyote or jícuri.


Peyote is considered a  small cactus,  with a maximum height in adulthood of 5 cm in height and a usual diameter of 10 cm. Its geometry is spherical, with the base of the upper part slightly sunken.

Its color is green-greyish, with blue tones as it receives the sun’s rays. The suckers come out from its base, which constitutes an easy way to multiply. Their skin is free of thorns, although all plant skin has a white-looking fuzz.

As usually happens in cacti, it produces an attractive flowering that, in the case of peyote, is soft pink, flowering from early spring (March to May).

You are patient? Perfect, because if you grow your peyote from a very young age, it is a very slow growing plant .

Its flowering takes 30 years to appear. Yes, 30 years …

Now do you understand why it is classified as a vulnerable species?


The hallucinogenic properties of peyote were known for many years. In fact, it was considered a divine plant for the Huichol and Mexican tribes from all over the Mexican country. The same was true of the Navajo Indians of the United States.

Mescaline has been used for more than 5500 years by American tribes, being one of the oldest known alkaloids.

In Europe , there are writings about peyote since 1560, where its hallucinogenic effects were already mentioned when it was consumed.

Its history managed to keep its properties intact after hundreds of years, being considered in the year 1800 as an ideal medicinal plant to combat mental illnesses. .

Today, with such evolved science, we know that the properties of this cactus are based on the active principle mescaline, a powerful hallucinogen.


Although peyote can be grown indoors, it is usually planted in full sun, grown in pots or directly in the ground. Cultivated as an ornamental it is common in pots , since its little one makes it a cactus that is very easy to adapt in containers.


Peyote is used to desert climates typical of northern Mexico and southern United States. Tolerant to drought, full sun and high temperatures.

If we grow it in very cold areas, with winter frosts, it is better to arrange it in pots and place it in the sunniest place in the house during this cold season.


Lophophora williamsii  adapts well to all types of soils, with the mandatory condition that they have to offer excellent drainage .

For this reason, we speak of mixtures of substrates that include components such as sand, vermiculite or perlite .

The organic matter arranged in the soil is an advantage, but not an ideal requirement since it is usually grown in areas with low fertility.


Watering cacti is one of the most vulnerable parts and where the biggest mistakes are made by new gardeners.

Peyote roots are superficial, so an excess of water causes rapid root rot and we will completely spoil the cactus.

Very moderate waterings , spaced and with little quantity. We will only water when the substrate is completely dry, when we insert our finger and we do not notice any moisture.

As frequency of irrigation , we speak of 1 time a week or every 15 days in hot periods.


Peyote is not a cactus that is usually fertilized, although the contribution of inorganic fertilizers is not far from harmful.

In the period of greatest growth or even in flowering (spring), we can use cactus fertilizers , rich in nitrogen and micronutrients such as iron. The usual thing is to use liquid solutions that we provide along with the irrigation.


The transplant of this cactus is practically nil, except that in the first years we have it in a very small pot.

This is due to what we have commented at the beginning of the article. Its growth is extremely slow, so we will change the container when it is small. Patience.

We will carry out this operation at the beginning of spring, just before the greatest development and when the plant has more sap movement.


We have 2 usual ways is to multiply the peyote. The most common is through seeds, although another very convenient way, but in which you have to be careful, is by separating the plants . As we have commented previously, from the base there are young shoots that grow slowly.

Sowing seeds

If we have seeds available, we will plant them in a container with a mixture of 50% peat and 50% porous material (sand, perlite, vermiculite, etc.).

They are  sown in spring,  keeping the substrate with light humidity, in an environment with good lighting (if direct sun) and stable in temperatures. Irrigation will be done by spraying , since in this way we prevent the drops of water from displacing the seeds, which are very small.

Germination occurs after 30 days, approximately. We will not transplant until we see a small but well formed cactus.

Stem separation

When we have a mature peyote, with flowering, it usually emits shoots at its base, or also commonly known as suckers.

These stems will be cut from the base with a very sharp and totally aseptic knife (we will soak it with alcohol or disinfectant). From here, we will have the separate stem, but without roots.

We let the wound dry for a couple of days and plant it in a pot with the same conditions as for sowing seeds.

As we need to stimulate the emergence of new roots, it is always advisable to use a rooting hormonal cocktail, which usually comes in powder or even liquid form, and it will help us to propagate all the grafts of any plant.

Although this product sounds strange to us, it is easy to find it in specialized stores, large garden areas or even online.



The main pest of cacti is the cottony mealybug . And if not, let them tell the nopal or prickly pear .

This immobile insect feeds on the sap generated by the cactus, causing a weakening that can end up killing the plant when there is a high population of mealybugs.

Due to the characteristics of peyote, the easiest thing is to remove it with a cloth dampened in alcohol and water , rub lightly on the pest and leave our cactus pristine.


Cacti are quite resistant to disease, but not when there is poor drainage and waterlogging.

It is common to rot peyote when there is excess humidity, where we create an especially attractive environment for soil fungi such as Phytophthora , which causes root rot and the neck of the plant.

This disease has a difficult solution and requires the use of strong active materials to combat it or the use of coppers .


The active substance in peyote is known as mescaline . This compound is an alkaloid of the phenylethylamine family (amphetamine familiar?), Considered the new synthetic drugs.

This substance is not exclusive to peyote, as it is also found in the San Pedro cactus .

Peyote effects

Peyote has always been associated with its psychotomimetic hallucinogenic effects, and it is not surprising that in the 1800s it was used to appease moments of panic by people with mental problems.

The effect of peyote causes a modified effect of consciousness  or hallucinogenic effect. Its biochemical activity is based on the fact that mescaline reduces the oxidation of sodium lactate, glutamate and pyruvate at the brain level, causing a modification of consciousness, hallucinogenesis and seeing objects that do not exist.

Something similar to what happens with hallucinogenic mushrooms, but with different active ingredients.

Peyote has less hallucinogenic activity compared to LSD. It produces illusions, loss of sense of time and hallucinations, but maintains active consciousness. Its effects usually last between 8 and 10 hours .

However, it is interesting to know that in addition to mescaline, this plant contains 55 other substances with psychoactive activity , as well as more than 100 alkaloids of different nature.


Currently, the largest volume of this cactus is in Mexico. It is currently protected by the authorities since it has suffered a high exploitation to the point of dangerously reducing its population.

Logically, this intensive exploitation is based on taking advantage of its hallucinogenic effects, and is that, currently, 1 kg of peyote is worth more than 1 kg of marijuana.

Their possession is illegal in the Mexican country, and it is only allowed for ethnic groups that have historically used them and are part of them (Tarahumara, Cora and Huichol).

In Spain, its commercialization and possession is not allowed according to article 51 of Royal Legislative Decree 1/2015, both due to its toxicity and because it is a vulnerable species.

There have been cases of seizure, but there are cases of jurisprudence where it is recognized that the possession of mescaline is not allowed, but the possession of the plant is allowed, something difficult to separate. In fact, article 3 of that same Royal Decree says the following:

Plants traditionally considered medicinal and offered without reference to therapeutic, diagnostic or preventive properties may be freely sold to the public, their street sale being prohibited.

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