The indigenous communities often incorporate psychedelics into their lives as sacrament, medicine, or a means of communication. Ritual consumption seems to protect against addiction problems, soul salvation, and communication with ancestors. The use of Peyote (see figure 1.) has two important historical moments: the creation of rituals to promote rain and its use for healing purposes. This is why I decided to write this text, merging existing information and offering my opinion on what it means to use a psychotropic like Peyote for healing.

Figure 1. Cactus Peyote , Image taken from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=500120

The guardians of this cactus are the Huicholes, whose ethnic distribution encompasses three states of the Mexican Republic: Nayarit, Jalisco, and Durango. Although this plant is used for medicinal purposes, its primary use was related to the agricultural cycle. In rituals called "mitotes," songs and dances are prepared for several nights, where the mara'akate dialogue with different deities and narrate stories of creation and ancestral journeys. Their language is related to Nahuatl, Pima, Yaqui, Pueblo, Cora, and Tepehuano, which confers the sacredness of their community through stories, myths, and ceremonies that encompass the deer, Peyote, and corn.

Figure 2. Huicholes and typical clothing used in rituals image taken from: https://clubvelas.velasresorts.com/es/la-herencia-cultural-huichol/

In Mexico, another community called Tarahumaras, like the Huicholes, uses Peyote to treat illnesses of the soul, which can be of allochthonous origin (usually treated by doctors or herbalists called mara'akame or autochthonous (sent by deities or through witchcraft). To heal the illness of the soul, these communities undertake pilgrimages to the five directions of the universe:

1. Wirikuta, in the desert of San Luis Potosí, where Peyote is collected and represents the eastern cardinal point.

2. Haramara, in the Pacific Ocean in San Blas, Nayarit, associated with the west, representing the night, the feminine, and fertility.

3. Xapawiyemete or Scorpion Lagoon in Jalisco, southern cardinal point representing the transition from night to day.

4. Hauxamanaka, Cerro Gordo, Durango, associated with the transition from day to night.

5. Tea'akata, a place located at the bottom of deep ravines in Huichol territory, associated with Tatewari, which means Our Grandfather Fire, and which represents, along with Tamatsi Kauyumari, the first healer. The Huicholes believe that it is here where all the forces of the universe generated in the mentioned directions come together (See Figure 3).

Figure 3. the beginning of a ritual

Peyote ceremonies or rituals stand out because there is little or no conversation among participants. Connection is made through rhythmic singing, aiming to alleviate the anxiety that may arise from the hallucinatory effects of Peyote, considered an essential factor for success in the healing or spiritual process. As a third distinction, rituals are usually performed in low light or darkness. The Peyote ceremony differs slightly in this: to receive visions, one stares at the fire (at night). This culture has allowed the economy to grow due to mystical tourism, where people seeking to connect with the spirit and perform the ritual describe the experience as authentic, powerful, and uncontaminated.

I believe that the prevalence of these practices is necessary for communities not to lose their traditions, as currently, it is the adults who know and guide the entire ritual. Additionally, it has allowed for the study of multiple ethnobotanical, pharmacological, and literary works. Here are some of the works carried out thanks to the knowledge of the Yaquis and Huichol:

  • The Teachings of Don Juan- Carlos Castañeda
    • The Peyote Cult -Weston La Barre
      • In the Magical Land of Peyote by Fernando Benítez
        • Huichol Mithology by Robert M. Zingg
          • The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
            • The documentary Huicholes: The Last Guardians of Peyote

              Let's talk about its pharmacology

              Around 58 alkaloids have been identified from this plant; Mescaline, pellotine, anhalodinine, and hordenine are the most important. Climatic conditions, light availability, and drying time influence the composition of components. Alkaloids like pellotine, anhalodinine, and hordenine have no pharmacological activity by themselves; they only enhance the effects of mescaline.

              Mescaline

              Here I'll discuss interesting technical aspects about its effect on the brain.

              It has been shown that mescaline is an agonist of serotonin 2A/C receptors (5HT2A/C), with higher affinity for the 5HT2A receptor, and it also has activity on other receptors, including α1A/2A adrenergic and D1/2/3 dopaminergic receptors, which likely explains its distinctive behavioral profile. Activation of these receptors alters locomotor responses and produces psychedelic effects, such as observing colors and visual effects, as well as associating colors with certain flavors. It has been suggested that mescaline could be used in combination with therapy for the treatment of alcohol and other drug addictions, as well as to reduce the effects of anxiety and depression.

              Structural formula of Mescaline

              My reflection

              When I entered secondary school and studied literature, I learned to research in detail and rigorously topics of my interest. This, coupled with my passion for psychotropic plants, led me to learn about this cactus. This has led me to understand the appreciation and respect that these communities have for nature and everything around them. Being a witch and a guide from my perspective is to understand what our Mother Earth wants to tell us, to listen when she asks for help, and to accept humbly what she offers us. This connection with nature precedes the consumption of peyote. And the knowledge acquired is inherited for generations until it reaches the power to connect with our ancestors and deities.

              Through reading the cited books, I was able to delve with the authors into this territory foreign to me, to understand their way of thinking, and to understand the psychedelic journey that the plant grants you. On the other hand, I believe that these plants are chosen by the gods, so it is not by chance that you attend such a ceremony without being predestined. Furthermore, I find impressive the artistic way of expressing their experiences in their clothing, in their weavings, and in their crafts, where one can vividly appreciate the encounter with spirits and deities, the feeling of moving from darkness to light, and of praying for the people. In Mexico, the consumption of hallucinogens is an inheritance from our pre-Columbian cultures where they narrated that consciousness expanded thanks to trance states provoked by psychoactive substances. Therefore, instead of condemning and prohibiting their consumption, they should be considered as alternatives to treatments related to imbalances in the functioning of our brain and, of course, our soul. When we can align our soul and mind, our body does not have to become ill, much less suffer from psychiatric illnesses triggered by stress, depression, and/or anxiety. I want to clarify that my opinion is not an invitation to consume these psychotropics, but rather an appreciation of the cultures that, over many years, have managed to imprint their tradition, respect, and love for what these plants grant to the soul and ethnicities.

              References

              Doesburg-van Kleffens M, Zimmermann-Klemd AM, Gründemann C. An Overview on the Hallucinogenic Peyote and Its Alkaloid Mescaline: The Importance of Context, Ceremony and Culture. Molecules. 2023 Dec 5;28(24):7942. doi: 10.3390/molecules28247942. PMID: 38138432; PMCID: PMC10746114.

              Ioanna A. Vamvakopoulou, Kelly A.D. Narine, Ian Campbell, Jason R.B. Dyck, David J. Nutt,Mescaline: The forgotten psychedelic,Neuropharmacology, Volume 222,2023,109294,ISSN 0028-3908, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2022.109294 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390822003537)

              Bonfiglioli, Cario, & Gutiérrez del Ángel, Arturo. (2012). Peyote, enfermedad y regeneración de la vida entre huicholes y tarahumaras. Cuicuilco, 19(53), 195-227. Recuperado en 04 de marzo de 2024, de http://www.scielo.org.mx/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0185-16592012000100010&lng=es&tlng=es.

              Alfonso Romaniello (2023) Quimeras ceremoniales: Antropología histórica de las relaciones entre Wixaritari y Mestizos en torno al peyote [Tesis de Doctorado en Ciencias Sociales] https://ciesas.repositorioinstitucional.mx/jspui/bitstream/1015/1595/1/TE%20R.%202023%20Alfonso%20Romaniello.pdf

              Mescaline. (2022, junio 20). UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics. https://psychedelics.berkeley.edu/substance/mescaline/