San Pedro Trichocereus Pachanoi, Cactus, Hallucinogenic Mescaline
By Ina Woolcott
What is San Pedro?
San Pedro is a fast-growing columnar cactus who's botanical name is
Trichocereus Pachanoi, not to be confused with its close relative the
Peruvian Torch Cactus. It is native to the Andes of Peru and Ecuador, but it
is cultivated all over Peru and other places in South America. In its
natural environment San Pedro grows up to 20 feet high and is multi
branched. The cactus is light to dark green, sometimes glaucous (covered
with a bluish, greyish, or whitish waxy coating or bloom that rubs off
easily). Generally it has between 4-8 ribs. Groups of 1-4 small, yellow to
light brown, spines are located at the nodes which are evenly spaced apart
(circa 2 cm apart) along the ribs.
San Pedro contains a number of psychoactive alkaloids, including mescaline
(3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine, 0.11 - 2.3%), and also
4-hydroxy-3,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine, anhalonidine, anhalinine, tyramine,
hordenine and 3-methoxytyramine. Mescaline is an entheogen and also found in
Peyote (Lophophora Williamsii), as well as other species of the
Echinopsis genus such as Echinopsis peruviana, and
Who uses San Pedro and for What Purpose
San Pedro has a long history of traditional use. It has become the most
popular cactus in neo-shamanic rituals due to its excellent fertility and
ease of cultivation. The San Pedro cactus is used by shamanic tribes in the
Andes as a psychedelic and for complex healing rituals and more recently,
the western world. The mescaline is most commonly extracted by cutting the
cactus into slices, boiling them for 5-7 hours and then juicing it into a
green liquid. The tea is drunk during the shamanic ceremonies which usually
take place at night. Dosages vary according to the purpose of the ceremony,
although it is generally used in low doses. Sometimes the San Pedro is used
in conjunction with other psychoactive plants, such as coca, tobacco,
Brugmansia and Anadenanthera.
San Pedro is used by the Huachuma, Shamans of the Andes for guidance,
decision making, healing, spirituality enhancing experiences, shamanic
trances, to access other realms and the spirit world, and to remain in
balance with the natural world. In the mountains above the Peruvian village
Makahuasi there are ancient stone meditation huts which are still in use
today. San Pedro shamans come here from all over the Andes to recharge their
powers, sometimes in solo rituals. San Pedro has also been used throughout
history by a number of different pre-Columbine cultures and civilisations
that settled in northern Peru. San Pedro is a religious sacrament, healing
medicine, and spiritual guide who's psychedelic nature has been documented
for a minimum of around 3000 years. Its use has been a continuous tradition
in Peru all this time. In an old temple in Chavín de Huantar in the northern
highlands of Peru, a carving was found with the earliest depiction of the
cactus showing a mythological being holding the San Pedro. It belongs to the
Chavín culture (c. 1400-400 BC), and dates about 1300 BC.
Today's master shamans use San Pedro on 'mesas', (altars) erected for
healing rites to treat enchantment and bad luck. The mesa follows a
sophisticated ritual - sniff tobacco with alcohol, ingest San Pedro,
pinpoint the diseases, cleanse the evil and the ill person will get better.
This rite is performed in the early hours of Tuesdays and Fridays, these
being sacred days in the Andean religions.
Shamans who use the psychoactive plants claim that much of the knowledge and
insights gained comes directly from the plants themselves. That the plants
have plant spirits. One example is that psychedelic plants are claimed to
have taught songs (Icaro's) to those who ingest them. This has been found
with San Pedro using shamans, Ayahuasca drinkers in the Amazon, the Mazatec
who use hallucinogenic mushrooms, and the Huichol who use Peyote.
The effects of San Pedro are more pleasant than those of peyote. It tastes
only slightly bitter and the initial feeling of sickness is not as likely,
although vomiting can occur. Its effects are felt within 1-2 hours of
ingestion and can last up to 15 hours. When the experience fully takes hold
it is less overwhelming, more tranquil and not nearly as physical as that
from peyote. At first drowsiness or a dreaming state is felt accompanied by
lethargy. Then a slight dizziness is experienced, followed by a great
'vision', a clearing of all the faculties. A light numbness is felt in the
body and afterward a tranquillity. And then comes detachment, a type of
visual force, including all the senses as well as the sixth sense, the
telepathic sense of transmitting oneself across time and matter, a kind of
removal of one's thought to a distant dimension. Other potential effects
include intense sensitivity to light, for instance being able to see and
feel every ray of light. People and things may also be seen to 'radiate'.
Long lost memories may come back, being able to hear and see far off sounds
and voices. Emotions may also be experienced and gone through such as
laughing, crying, screaming, feeling pleasure, fear, love, love for
everything that is and everything that is not.
Unsurprisingly, taking their general contempt for native life and
particularly the use of psychoactive plants into account, European
missionaries were very negative when reporting the use of the San Pedro.
San Pedro has been used medicinally to treat nervous conditions, cardiac
disease, and high blood pressure.
Is it legal?
It is legal to cultivate the San Pedro cactus in most countries, but in
countries where possession of mescaline and related compounds is illegal,
cultivation for the purposes of consumption may be illegal. This is how it
is in the USA, Australia, Canada, and the UK, where it is currently legal to
cultivate San Pedro unless it is for the purposes of consumption.
Related reading: San Pedro the Cactus of Vision - Plant Spirit Shamanism of Northern Peru