Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) is a hallucinogen, or entheogen, that is traditionally dried and eaten in a ritual setting to induce spiritual visions. From earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by indigenous peoples, such as the Huichol of northern Mexico and the Navajo in the southwestern United States, as a part of traditional religious rites. In the late 1800s, the tradition began to spread northward as part of a revival of native spirituality under the auspices of what came to be known as the Native American Church.
Peyote is a small button shaped cactus 2-5 inches in diameter, which contains the hallucinogen mescaline (β-3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine), and grows in Mexico and the Southwest United States. Mescaline causes subjective effects by increasing serotonin via the activation of the 5-HT(2A) receptor.
Peyote has been used as a spiritual tool to aid people in consciousness exploration for thousands of years. In recent years it has been labeled, somewhat derogatorily, as an illegal Schedule I Hallucinogen. That said, we must keep in mind that historically it was considered a divine plant. Even though peyote use is illegal for most of us in the United States, it is legal for NAC members to use peyote within the context of specified religious ceremonies. This is because, in 1994, congress passed an amendment to the American Indian Religious Freedom Restoration Act legalizing peyote use for NAC members.
A resurgence of interest in the use of peyote was spawned in the 1970s by accounts of its use in the early works of writer Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan Matus, the pseudonym for Castaneda's instructor in the use of peyote, used the name "Mescalito" to refer to an entity that purportedly can be sensed by those using peyote to gain insight in how to live one's life. Later works of Castaneda asserted that the use of such psychotropic substances was not necessary to achieve heightened awareness and de-emphasized the use of peyote as a general means to achieve this end. Castaneda's writing has been largely discredited as serious anthropological research and is generally considered to be allegorical fiction.
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