Dry whiskey, divine cactus, divine herb, medicine of God, flesh of God, devil's root, diabolical root, Indian dope, dumpling cactus, turnip cactus, cactus pudding, white mule, moon, "P," challote, the bad seed, tuna de tierra (Spanish for "earth cactus").
These are some of the nicknames given to the peyote cactus (scientific name Lophophora williamsii), a spineless cactus plant that grows in desert regions of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The peyote cactus is often round-shaped and speckled with numerous little "bumps," "crowns," or "crests." (The scientific name Lophophora is derived from two separate Greek words meaning, "I bear crest.") These bumps can be cut off, dried in the sun into little discs (called "buttons"), usually between 1 and 4 inches in diameter, and eaten to give the user an intense psychological experience and hallucinations. Peyote cacti can also be adorned with light red or white flowers. Peyote cacti are very slow growing, taking up to 30 years from seedling to blooming of flowers.
The peyote cactus grows wild in certain regions near the Rio Grande River, which divides the United States from Mexico. The cactus is found mostly near the river in portions of Texas and northeastern Mexico (see Figure 2.3). In some areas, up to 60,000 peyote cacti can be located in a single acre of land.
Plants that are consumed for their psychological effects contain many different chemicals. It is usually just a few of these chemicals, however, that produce the mind-altering effects. Tobacco and marijuana smoke, for example, contain several thousand different chemicals each, but it is only one substance (nicotine for tobacco, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, for marijuana) that is thought to be the main psy-choactive ingredient. The same is true for the peyote cactus. Of
all the chemicals found in peyote, the chemical mescaline is primarily responsible for the hallucinogenic properties of this plant. And still, there are more than 50 other potentially bioac-tive substances that may also contribute to the effects of peyote.
While the terms peyote and mescaline are often used interchangeably, even in this book, peyote refers specifically to the peyote cactus while mescaline refers to the main hallucinogenic chemical found in the peyote cactus. Also, mescaline should not be confused with mescal (or mescale), the name of both a tequila-like liquor and a toxic hallucinogenic bean grown in Texas. Neither the liquor nor the bean contains the psychedelic chemical mescaline.
Although possessing, selling, or smuggling the drug peyote is generally illegal in the United States, growing or cultivating the peyote cactus is not.
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Among the evils which a vitiated appetite has fastened upon mankind, those that arise from the use of Tobacco hold a prominent place, and call loudly for reform. We pity the poor Chinese, who stupifies body and mind with opium, and the wretched Hindoo, who is under a similar slavery to his favorite plant, the Betel but we present the humiliating spectacle of an enlightened and christian nation, wasting annually more than twenty-five millions of dollars, and destroying the health and the lives of thousands, by a practice not at all less degrading than that of the Chinese or Hindoo.