Mescaline, or 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine, is a psychedelic hallucinogen that grows naturally in certain cacti plants. These plants — the San Pedro cactus, the Peruvian torch cactus, the peyote cactus, and members of the Fabaceae family — are native to the Southwest United States, Mexico, and South America. Mescaline can also be produced synthetically in capsule form. In the indigenous Nahuatl language of Central Mexico, “peyote” means “divine messenger.” The plant has been included in Native American ceremonial and medicinal rituals for thousands of years. It remains legal in some tribal nations for religious purposes, but mescaline is a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States. The DEA declared1 that it has no acceptable medical use and a high risk of physical and/or psychological abuse. Read on to learn more about mescaline side effects and abuse.

In the U.S., Native American religious groups recognize mescaline use as a religious sacrament. This is the only case in which it is exempt from classification in the U.S. as a Schedule I controlled drug. Even so, many people use mescaline illegally as a recreational drug to experience euphoria and hallucinations. In some cases, people also use it for deeper meditation practices or religious purposes.

People become fascinated with the altered states of consciousness, hallucinations, and natural origins of psychedelic drugs and often don’t consider them as dangerous as other substances. But many psychedelics, like mescaline, still have many adverse side effects and serious potential for abuse.

When derived naturally, people find mescaline in small protrusions that grow on the outside of the cactus, called “buttons.” They cut off the button-shaped seeds and dry them to eat them or slice and boil them to drink as tea. The taste is extremely bitter, so another option is to dry the buttons and grind them into an off-white powder, which is then put into pill capsules or sprinkled onto tobacco and smoked. It’s also possible to inject liquid mescaline intravenously, but this is not a common method.

Mescaline is also manufactured through chemical synthesis. This produces mescaline sulfate, the pure form of the drug, which appears as a white, crystalline material. It is a fairly rare drug because it is hard to find the peyote cactus or other cacti from which mescaline is derived. As a result, people often sell hallucinogens like PCP under the name of mescaline.

People use mescaline recreationally to experience euphoria and hallucinations. The hallucinogenic dose is about 0.3 to 0.5 grams and can last up to 12 hours. However, the effects will vary for each person and also depend on the plant and the method of extraction, etc.

History of Mescaline Use

For centuries, mescaline was used as a medicine for various physical maladies. It was also used as a mind-expanding drug with spiritual properties. In Mexico, the Aztecs and other groups considered it a gift from the gods. They used it frequently, and Europeans first came across the peyote plants after Spain conquered Mexico at the beginning of the 16th century. Missionaries tried to suppress it, but its use spread from Mexico into North America and on to Native American groups who also believed it had religious value.

How Mescaline Works

Mescaline is a serotonin receptor agonist. This means that the drug stimulates the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that our brains also produce naturally. It boosts positive moods and promotes relaxation. Researchers believe that mescaline revs up the production of serotonin in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which causes hallucinations and other effects. It selectively binds to and activates the 5-hydroxytryptamine 2A receptor, which excites neurons and leads to prominent hallucinogenic effects. Mescaline also stimulates dopamine receptors. But it is not clear if mescaline acts as a dopamine receptor agonist or if it initiates the release of dopamine.

Mescaline Side Effects

As stated above, people usually take the buttons off a cactus containing mescaline and dry them to either chew or soak in water and drink like tea. It can also be smoked, injected, or swallowed in tablet or powder form.

The effects of mescaline usually begin about 1-2 hours after taking it. It has many varied effects, and each user will experience them differently, but here are some of the more pronounced ones.

Altered Sensory and Perceptual Experiences

Mescaline makes people perceive colors and sounds much differently than normal. Many people report that colors seem brighter and they have superhuman hearing. Sometimes people have vivid hallucinations, seeing and hearing things that aren’t there. Other effects include an altered sense of time, with time seeming to move much more slowly; altered perception of space with a blurring together of self and others/objects; crossed perceptual experiences such as “hearing color” or “seeing touch,” often called synesthesia; and a distorted sense of self, often feeling they are floating or sinking.

Altered Thought Patterns

Mescaline use can disrupt a person’s thought patterns, causing them to have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time. One can have the sense that they have no control over thought patterns, so they often sound very confusing to people not on the drug. A person might experience drastic and volatile mood swings. It can also cause anxiety or a “bad trip.”

Issues with Judgment

Individuals might experience obvious problems with judgment and problem-solving skills. This can be seriously risky. It can cause poor decision-making or a lack of inhibitions, leading a person to behave in unusual ways. Some might put themselves in dangerous situations. People might feel like they are having a mind-expanding experience, but they still have to deal with these issues.

Dangerous Hallucinations

One of the worst side effects of mescaline abuse is that the delusions it brings seem so real. An individual who takes mescaline might see and hear things that don’t exist but believe that they are absolutely real. This can put them and those around them in real danger. Mixed with the belief that they are “awakening” or elevating their consciousness, they can easily decide or agree to do things that aren’t safe. It can also lead to panic, paranoia, and psychosis. People have been known to harm themselves while taking hallucinogens.

Physical Effects

There are also many physical effects of taking mescaline. These include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • A rise in body temperature
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Diminished appetite
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Changes in breathing
  • Motor reflex impairment
  • Dilated pupils

GI Troubles

Cacti containing mescaline can induce severe nausea and vomiting. This is an important part of traditional Native American ceremonies because they consider it a cleansing ritual or spiritual aid. Still, it can lead to extreme sickness and dehydration.

People taking prescription medications might also be at risk when taking mescaline. There are no reliable studies to determine the effects of various drug interactions, but some can be severe. Some prescription medications affect the brain and influence serotonin levels. These, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, cause dangerous results when mixed with mescaline. Other drugs affect the heart or circulatory system. They tend to have stimulant effects, leading to elevated blood pressure, rapid pulse, and other dangerous outcomes.

Mescaline use can be seriously unpredictable. The effects depend on so many different things. Factors include:

  • Whether the person has taken hallucinogenic drugs in the past.
  • The person’s body chemistry and metabolism.
  • The person’s emotional state upon taking the drug.

Some people report feeling total euphoria, a sense of profound peace, and nothing but pleasant sensations. In others, it can cause anxiety, confusion, depression, and paranoia, even leading to prolonged psychosis.

A “bad trip” on mescaline often includes horrifying hallucinations, which may inflict lasting trauma on a person.

If you believe a loved one is suffering from Mescaline addiction or abuse, this guide can help you better understand their struggle and how to get help.

Additional Adverse Mescaline Side Effects

In addition to some of the desired effects, there are other adverse effects of mescaline abuse, including:


Agitation is a state of anxiety or nervous excitement. People taking mescaline can experience this feeling out of nowhere. Sometimes they are excessively worried about things like getting arrested or going crazy. These worries can add to the general anxiety.

Agitation can also cause panic or panic attacks, which is common in people who have taken hallucinogens. This can lead to dangerous agitated behavior, like believing a person can fly, running off into unsafe areas with traffic, etc.

Disturbing Hallucinations

Hallucinations are one of the desired effects of taking mescaline, but they can also be incredibly disturbing. Hearing or seeing things that have no basis in reality can lead a person to engage in dangerous activities or carry out dangerous commands. Even when people know these hallucinations aren’t real, they can still be very troubling and frightening.


Tachycardia refers to a rapid heart rate of over 100 beats per minute. This isn’t always problematic on its own, but when a person is high on drugs, it can often create anxiety. This can increase the heart rate even more. If a person believes they are going to have a heart attack, they may start having a panic attack.

Is Mescaline Addictive?

Even with all these potential effects, mescaline is one of the milder hallucinogens that people take. People take it for hallucinogenic effects, just like LSD. But LSD is approximately 4,000 times more potent than mescaline in producing altered states of consciousness. Mescaline has the lowest potency of all naturally occurring hallucinogens. It is 30 times less potent than psilocybin. People prefer it to other hallucinogens because it lasts for much longer than other substances.

Despite its terrible taste and low potency, people can develop a tolerance to mescaline very quickly. Tolerance is increased resistance to a substance so that more and more of the substance is needed to achieve the same effects. The more times a person takes the drug, the closer they will get to the original experience. But they will never have quite the same experience as the first time. Chasing this original state causes a growing dependency. An individual needs to have more and more mescaline to find the pleasurable sensations they once experienced.

Another issue is that many illegal products are labeled as peyote or mescaline that are actually other hallucinogens, such as LSD or PCP. Sometimes drug traffickers will sell mescaline and Ecstasy in combination. These practices are dangerous because a user doesn’t have any way of knowing what drug they are ingesting. This can lead to a person unknowingly taking deadly amounts of different substances.

Mescaline doesn’t have any immediate withdrawal symptoms, even with regular use. Withdrawal happens when the body both develops a tolerance and becomes physically dependent on a substance. It causes many physical and psychological effects once a person has stopped using a substance. With mescaline, a person might have mild symptoms after they stop using the drug, such as depression and anxiety. But, in general, no serious withdrawal syndrome develops.

Even though mescaline isn’t terribly abused, many younger people still acquire and use the drug illegally. About 5-10% of high school seniors say they have tried mescaline at least once. And while the risk for abuse and addiction is low, it still has considerable risks. Pregnant women using mescaline during their pregnancy might cause birth abnormalities.

Because the most common reactions to taking the drug at high doses are nausea and vomiting, it is very rare for individuals to overdose on it. However, in rare cases, severe toxicity, negative physical effects, and even death may occur from a mescaline overdose.

A few people who use mescaline regularly risk developing hallucinogen-induced persistent perception disorder. This is commonly known as having flashbacks, where people can feel as though they are high on mescaline even though they haven’t taken the drug. This can be extremely disorienting and disturbing when it happens. It can also happen while a person is at work or school, with other people, or when they could put lives in danger, such as driving.

As with most psychedelics, the substance itself is not as dangerous as its psychological effects on users. The potency of hallucinogens, including mescaline, can cause people to act in unsafe and dangerous ways. This puts their physical and psychological well-being at risk.

Treatment for Mescaline Side Effects and Abuse

Treatment for substance abuse and addiction is key to taking back control of your life. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, the addiction professionals at Windward Way Recovery can help. Mescaline is neither safe nor legal. Even though the drug might not be addictive, long-term use can overtake a person’s life — and lead to experimentation with other drugs. These other drugs can have greater risks of addiction and overdose.

There are no current FDA-approved medications to treat mescaline abuse. The best path is to discontinue use and seek behavioral support and treatment. People can become addicted to certain behaviors and feelings that mescaline induces. Behavioral therapy can help you get to the root of addiction and learn healthier ways to cope.

We are deeply committed to providing comprehensive recovery treatment plans for our patients. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse and ready to get on the path to recovery, contact Windward Way Recovery today.

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