It occurs naturally in the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), the San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) and in the Peruvian torch (Echinopsis peruviana), and as well in a number of other members of the Cactaceae plant family. It is also found in small amounts in certain members of the Fabaceae (bean) family, including Acacia berlandieri.
History And Usage
Peyote has been used for at least 5700 years by Native Americans in Mexico. Europeans noted use of peyote in Native American religious ceremonies upon early contact, notably by the Huichols in Mexico. Other mescaline-containing cacti such as the San Pedro have a long history of use in South America, from Peru to Ecuador.
In traditional peyote preparations, the top of the cactus is cut at ground level, leaving the large tap roots to grow new ‘Heads’. These ‘Heads’ are then dried to make disk-shaped buttons. Buttons are chewed to produce the effects or soaked in water for an intoxicating drink. However, the taste of the cactus is bitter, so contemporary users will often grind it into a powder and pour it in capsules to avoid having to taste it. The usual human dosage is 200–400 milligrams of mescaline sulfate or 178–356 milligrams of mescaline hydrochloride. The average 76 mm (3.0 in) button contains about 25 mg mescaline.
Mescaline was first isolated and identified in 1897 by the German chemist Arthur Heffter and first synthesized in 1919 by Ernst Späth.
In 1955, English politician Christopher Mayhew took part in an experiment for BBC’s Panorama, in which he ingested 400 mg of mescaline under the supervision of psychiatrist Humphry Osmond. Though the recording was deemed too controversial and ultimately omitted from the show, Mayhew praised the experience, calling it “the most interesting thing I ever did”.
Mescaline has a wide array of suggested medical usage, including treatment of alcoholism and depression.However, its status as a Schedule I controlled substance in the Convention on Psychotropic Substances limits availability of the drug to researchers. Because of this, very few studies concerning mescaline’s activity and potential therapeutic effects in humans have been conducted since the early 1970s.
Biosynthesis Of Mescaline
Mescaline is biosynthesized from tyrosine or a hydroxylated phenylalanine. In Lophophora williamsii, dopamine converts into mescaline in a biosynthetic pathway involving m-O-methylation and aromatic hydroxylation.
Tyrosine and phenylalanine serve as the metabolic precursors to synthesis of mescaline. Tyrosine can undergo either a decarboxylation via tyrosine decarboxylase to generate tyramine and subsequently undergo an oxidation at carbon 3 by a monophenol hydroxylase or first be hydroxylated by tyrosine hydroxylase to form L-DOPA and decarboxylated by DOPA decarboxylase. These create dopamine which then experiences methylation by a catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) by an S-adenosyl methionine (SAM) dependent mechanism. The resulting intermediate is then oxidized again by a hydroxylase enzyme, likely monophenol hydroxylase again, at carbon 5, and methylated by COMT. The product, methylated at the two meta positions with respect to the alkyl substituent, experiences a final methylation at the 4 carbon by a guaiacol-O-methyltransferase which also operates by a SAM dependent mechanism. This final methylation step results in the production of mescaline.
Phenylalanine serves as a precursor by first being converted to L-tyrosine by L-amino acid hydroxylase. Once converted, it follows the same pathway as described above.
Tolerance builds with repeated usage, lasting for a few days. Mescaline causes cross-tolerance with other serotonergic psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin.
About half the initial dosage is excreted after 6 hours, but some studies suggest that it is not metabolized at all before excretion. Mescaline appears to not be subject to metabolism by CYP2D6 and between 20% and 50% of mescaline is excreted in the urine unchanged, and the rest being excreted as the carboxylic acid form of mescaline, a likely result of MAO degradation.The LD50 of mescaline has been measured in various animals: 212 mg/kg i.p. (mice), 132 mg/kg i.p. (rats), and 328 mg/kg i.p. (guinea pigs).
Behavioral And Non-Behavioral Effects
Mescaline induces a psychedelic state similar to those produced by LSD and psilocybin, but with unique characteristics. Subjective effects may include altered thinking processes, an altered sense of time and self-awareness, and closed and open-eye visual phenomena.
Prominence of color is distinctive, appearing brilliant and intense. Recurring visual patterns observed during the mescaline experience include stripes, checkerboards, angular spikes, multicolored dots, and very simple fractals which turn very complex. Aldous Huxley described these self transforming amorphous shapes as like animated stained glass illuminated from light coming through the eyelids. Like LSD, mescaline induces distortions of form and kaleidoscopic experiences but which manifest more clearly with eyes closed and under low lighting conditions; however, all of these visual descriptions are purely subjective.
As with LSD, synesthesia can occur especially with the help of music.An unusual but unique characteristic of mescaline use is the “geometricization” of three-dimensional objects. The object can appear flattened and distorted, similar to the presentation of a Cubist painting.
Mescaline elicits a pattern of sympathetic arousal, with the peripheral nervous system being a major target for this substance. Effects typically begin 1–2 hours after ingestion, and may last 12–18 hours depending on dosage.
Method Of Action
Mescaline is produced when products of natural mammalian catecholamine-based neuronal signalling such as dopamine and serotonin are subjected to additional metabolism via methylation, and mescaline’s hallucinogenic properties stem from its structural similarities with these two neurotransmitters. In plants, this compound may be the end product of a pathway utilizing catecholamines as a method of stress response, similar to how animals may release compounds such as cortisol when stressed. The in vivo function of catecholamines have not been investigated, but they may function as antioxidants, as developmental signals, and as integral cell wall components that resist degradation from pathogens. The deactivation of catecholamines via methylation produces alkaloids such as mescaline.
Mescaline acts similarly to other psychedelic agents. It binds to and activates the serotonin 5-HT2A receptor with a high affinity. How activating the 5-HT2A receptor leads to psychedelia is still unknown, but it likely somehow involves excitation of neurons in the prefrontal cortex. Mescaline is also known to bind to and activate the serotonin 5-HT2C receptor.
Difluoromescaline and trifluoromescaline are more potent than mescaline, as is its amphetamine homologue trimethoxyamphetamine.
A normal dosage of mescaline is anywhere between 200–300 milligrams, which translates to 6–12 “buttons” of peyote.Heavier dosages typically include anything surpassing 300 mg.
In the United States, mescaline was made illegal in 1970 by the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. The drug was prohibited internationally by the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substancesand is categorized as a Schedule I hallucinogen by the CSA. Mescaline is legal only for certain religious groups (such as the Native American Church) and in scientific and medical research. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Oregon could bar the use of mescaline in Native American religious ceremonies. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 1993 allowed the use of peyote in religious ceremony but in 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the RFRA was unconstitutional when applied against states. However, in a subsequent case, the Court held that the government had not carried the burden under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of showing a compelling interest that allowed no exception to the ban on the use of the drug to accommodate a sincere religious practice. Thus, the current state of the law is that, while the federal government may not restrict use of peyote in ceremony, individual states do have a right to restrict its use. Many states, including the state of Utah, have legalized peyote usage with “sincere religious intent”, or within a religious organization, regardless of race.
While mescaline containing cacti of the genus Echinopsis are technically controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, they are commonly sold publicly as ornamental plants.
In the United Kingdom, mescaline in purified powder form is a Class A drug. However, dried cactus can be bought and sold legally.
In Australia the peyote cacti and mescaline are strictly illegal, however San Pedro and other mescaline-containing plants are legal for ornamental/gardening purposes. In Canada and Germany, mescaline in raw form and dried mescaline-containing cacti are considered an illegal drug. However, anyone may grow and use peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, as well as San Pedro and San Peruvianus without restriction, as it is specifically exempt from legislation. In Canada, mescaline is classified as a schedule III drug under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, whereas peyote is exempt.