Mescaline is the hallucinogenic ingredient in the drug peyote; it is the compound that causes the users of the substance to experience its psychedelic effects. According to CESAR, mescaline is an amphetamine as well as a hallucinogen, and it can be “derived from several different cacti.” The substance itself can also be synthetically manufactured in a laboratory.
Several studies have been conducted on whether or not mescaline itself is actually addictive in nature. The general consensus states it is not. However, “it may be possible,” given the fact that the full effects of mescaline on frequent, long-term users have not been studied in depth the way those caused by other drugs have.
Uses of Mescaline
Some individuals today use mescaline recreationally in order to experience “heightened sensory experiences,” altered perceptions of reality and fantasy, and vivid hallucinations. When a person has a good trip on mescaline, it can be a very enjoyable experience. However, an adverse reaction may cause fear, panic, anxiety, depression, paranoia, and terror.
This use of mescaline (whether naturally occurring in peyote or synthetically produced) is illegal. According to Columbia University, “The U.S. government classifies peyote and mescaline as Schedule I… controlled substances.” However, CESAR states that the only legal use of mescaline in the U.S. is for Native American religious ceremonies, as this practice has been going on for centuries.
While the use of mescaline by certain Native American tribes has been studied in some capacity, it is difficult to know if the drug actually causes long-term psychological effects such as cognitive issues and addiction when studying this type of use. As stated by Columbia University, “These findings cannot necessarily be generalized to those who use peyote recreationally (rather than strictly in religious ceremonies)” as the use is less frequent and the individual’s feelings about the drug are different as well.
Although the drug has not been proven to cause addictive behavior or dependence in any capacity as of yet, mescaline can cause a rather intense tolerance when used frequently. “Tolerance to peyote or mescaline typically develops rapidly with repeated daily use, generally within 3-6 days” (CESAR). In addition, a person will also usually experience cross-tolerance with other types of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, etc.
Unlike with most drugs, the tolerance caused by mescaline abuse actually may help users avoid the possibility of addiction. Because tolerance for the drug’s effects is usually very intense and is experienced extremely quickly on the heels of frequent mescaline abuse, many users take breaks from the drug in order to combat tolerance, instead of feeling as if they constantly need to take more. In most cases, their tolerances become so high so fast that it is extremely difficult to keep up with these effects by taking more and more of the drug. Therefore, most individuals stop abusing peyote and mescaline in order to allow their tolerances to mellow and they can eventually experience the hallucinogenic effects again. As previously stated, this may actually help individuals taking the drug avoid the possibility of addiction.
Why isn’t Mescaline Considered Addictive?
According to the most prevalent research on the subject, mescaline is not currently thought to be addictive because it does not cause addictive behavior. Behaviors that are associated with addiction include:
- Seeking out the drug and abusing it to the exclusion of all else
- Being unhappy unless able to take the drug
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when unable to take the drug
- Neglecting personal care and hygiene, work, school, and any other responsibilities in order to use the drug
- Experiencing financial issues as a result of drug abuse
- Continuing to abuse the drug, even when knowing that it is unhealthy, because its use has become compulsive
In all the most current research on mescaline and peyote’s effects, the substance does not seem to cause these issues in most individuals. While the use of the drug in religious ceremonies helps protect it from becoming abused too often by many of its users, even those who take it recreationally do not seem to experience compulsive use or any of the other issues listed above. However, this does not mean mescaline is completely safe to use.
Other Harmful Effects of Mescaline
The drug may cause adverse reactions (also known as a bad trip) that can end in painful emotions and frightening hallucinations. Sometimes, these bad trips can last with a person for a long time, and they may experience flashbacks to the event from time to time.
Mescaline has also been known to cause a “prolonged psychotic state” in certain users that is similar to schizophrenia. According to CESAR, “It is suggested that this may only affect those who were previously diagnosed as mentally ill.” However, it is important to take these effects into account as well when considering whether or not to use mescaline. Other harmful side effects may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
- Appetite suppression
- Coordination problems
According to the DEA, “Users may also experience euphoria, which is sometimes followed by feelings of anxiety.” It is also impossible to know if an individual will experience a good or bad trip since the circumstances of one experience do not necessarily inform another. The adverse effects caused by the drug are reason enough to consider it potentially harmful, even if there has been no conclusive evidence that mescaline itself causes addiction.
Long-term Mescaline Use: Is It Safe?
According to the NIDA, “The long-term residual psychological and cognitive effects of mescaline, peyote’s principle active ingredient, remain poorly understood.” While the drug is legal for some uses, it is illegal for others. Its use has been linked with cognitive, learning and memory problems when taken in the long term, but these results were not conclusive. Suffice it to say that the most we know is that mescaline does not seem to be addictive when used recreationally or religiously; however, the fact that this conclusion is not definite coupled with mescaline’s ability to cause other harmful side effects means that its use as a recreational drug should, in fact, be illegal and should absolutely be avoided in the long-term.