ANCIENT HISTORY OF PEYOTE AND MESCALINE USE
Only sparse details are known about the use of peyote and mescaline prior to the beginning of written history. Since peyote is grown mostly in what is now Mexico and the southwestern United States, it is believed that it was used primarily by local inhabitants of these regions for thousands of years before being introduced to people who lived elsewhere.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the peyote cactus has been around for at least 10,000 years. Fossils of the plant have been found in regions known to be inhabited by humans at the same time, and these fossils have been carbon dated back to approximately 8500 B.C. One recent group of archeologists and ethno-botanists found some fossilized peyote cactus in a cave near the Rio Grande in Texas, and carbon dated the fossil back to approximately 3700 B.C.2 Amazingly, the mescaline chemical contained in the cactus was still intact. Other archaeological artifacts such as stone carvings and artwork that contain references to peyote have been found and dated back to several hundred years B.C. The fact that ancient peoples thought highly enough of peyote to adorn their artwork with it suggests that they may have known about its psychedelic properties.
Soon after the Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztecs of Mexico in 1519, the Spaniards learned of their use of peyote for medical and religious practices. When the Spaniards learned that this peculiar plant suppressed fear and hunger, they became worried that it might give their subjects enough courage to stage an uprising. So, by the year 1620, the Spaniards proclaimed that peyote was evil and the work of the devil. They likened the use of peyote to witchcraft and cannibalism. Its use was outlawed, with violations sometimes punishable by death.
Although the use of peyote was banned, some Native American tribes continued to use the cactus in secret. Two of these tribes, the Tarahumara and the Huichol tribe, are credited with carrying on the use of peyote into recent history.
By the 1800s, peyote use in Mexico had been forced underground. Peyote had also found its way back to Europe. The following is a brief timeline of the history of peyote and mescaline over the last 120 years:
1887— German scientist Dr. Louis Lewin receives a sample of dried peyote buttons. Not among his priorities, the container of peyote buttons is shelved for the next nine years.
1896— Dr. Lewin's colleague, Dr. Arthur Heffter, becomes interested in the chemical ingredients in the peyote buttons and isolates mescaline as the main psychedelic chemical. The chemical is named after the Mescalero Apache tribe of Native Americans, from whom the peyote buttons were obtained.
1918—The Native American Church (NAC), proponents of peyote use during religious ceremonies, is incorporated in Oklahoma City.
1919— Chemist Dr. Ernst Spath first synthesizes mescaline from raw chemicals in his laboratory.
1945—It is reported that mescaline is used in experiments on humans in Nazi concentration camps.
1947— U.S. Navy initiates its own set of experiments involving mescaline.
1952— A Canadian doctor named Humphrey Osmond begins examining the chemical similarities between mescaline and adrenaline (epinephrine) molecules.
1953— Popular novelist Aldous Huxley first experiments with mescaline under the supervision of Dr. Osmond, taking 400 mg of the drug.
1954— Huxley, enamored with the psychedelic effects of mescaline, publishes a book called The Doors of Perception, in which he recounts in detail his experiences with the drug. The book is later re-released in 1959, with new material discussing the notion that personal insight and spiritual revelation can be obtained through the use of hallucinogens such as peyote.
1970—The United States passes the Controlled Substances Act and classifies mescaline and peyote as Schedule I controlled substances, meaning that they have no medical value, are potentially addictive, and are not considered safe. The drug remains legal in Europe and may be purchased over the counter in various European countries.
1991—University of California at Berkeley professors Alexander Shuglin and his wife publish their famous book, Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved, which documents their experimentation with over 250 hallucinogens, including ecstasy and mescaline.
1997— The U.S. military declares it will allow soldiers of Native American descent to use peyote for religious purposes. Approximately 0.5 percent of U.S. military service personnel are of Native American descent.
USE OF PEYOTE BY NATIVE AMERICANS
Of the many cultures and peoples throughout the world,
Native Americans use peyote and mescaline the most. Not only
is the use of peyote ingrained in their culture and religion, but also any member of the Native American Church can actually use peyote legally under an exception in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (a discussion of this can be found later in this chapter).
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Spanish settlers exploring the more western parts of Mexico discovered
that peyote use was deeply embedded into the daily life of the isolated Native American tribes living there. These tribes included the Cora, Huichol, and Tepecana, who lived near the west coast of Mexico near what is now Guadalajara, and the Tarahumaras, who lived not too far from the Texas-Mexico border near the town that is now called Chihuahua.
The culture of the Huichol tribe was able to survive the suppressive influence of the Spanish. Anthropologists have described in great detail the tribe's use of peyote. In the Huichol religion, natural elements such as fire, air, earth, and water, are each considered a deity, and many other aspects of nature are thought to be divine. The Huichols believe that food is bestowed upon them by the gods, and that peyote
(given to them by the gods) is useful for treating various diseases (also given to them by the gods). Huichol tribespeople make an annual pilgrimage to an area of Mexico called Wirikuta, also called "peyote land," where the peyote cactus is grown and harvested. The Huichols believe that a successful pilgrimage will ensure they receive adequate rainfall to grow their crops. This pilgrimage is approximately 300 miles, and before automobiles were invented, it used to take about 40 days to walk this distance. Once the Huichol pilgrims reach Wirikuta, a large religious ceremony and feast is held, and the peyote cacti are harvested and brought back to the Huichol homeland.
The Tarahumara tribe culture's emphasis on the importance of peyote also survived the anti-peyote sentiment of Spanish settlers. The Tarahumaras use peyote extensively for medicinal purposes and also engage in a pilgrimage to areas where peyote is grown.
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