Psychedelic Influence: How Peyote Impacts the Brain

Peyote effects on brain function can be concerning. This article explores how the psychoactive drug peyote affects your brain, and how we can help.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: What is Peyote?

Peyote is a small, spineless cactus native to the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. It has been recognized for its psychoactive properties for centuries. Its hallucinogenic properties are caused by the presence of mescaline.

This natural hallucinogen, used in various indigenous spiritual practices, is known to induce alterations in:

  • Sensory perception
  • Mood
  • Cognition
  • And overall brain function
peyote effects on brain

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: Why Do People Use Peyote?

According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health report, approximately 1% of the U.S. population reported having used a hallucinogen, such as peyote, in the past year as of 2020.1

Another study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that individuals using peyote scored significantly below the standard population on several scales of the Symptom Checklist-90-Revised (SCL-90-R).

These findings indicated fewer mental health issues among this group, contrary to the commonly held belief about hallucinogens.2

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: What are the Risks?

Despite such intriguing findings, it is crucial to remember that peyote use is not without risk, including peyote effects on brain functions.

Some of these effects include potential psychological distress and the relatively rare, yet persistent condition known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD).

More comprehensive and nuanced studies are needed to further understand the effects and potential therapeutic uses of this potent natural substance on brain health and function.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function

Wilderness therapy programs involve participants engaging in activities such as:

Peyote is a small, spineless cactus that contains the powerful hallucinogenic compound mescaline, among other alkaloids. It has a long history of use in Native American religious and healing rituals.

The primary psychoactive ingredient in peyote is phenethylamine. This is a class of compounds that also includes other psychoactive substances like ecstasy and various amphetamines.3

Mescaline’s effects primarily come from its interaction with serotonin receptors in the brain, specifically the 5-HT2A receptor.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: A More Detailed Look at How Peyote Affects the Brain

Peyote affects the way your brain makes, processes, and stores certain chemicals, leading to its hallucinogenic effects. Let’s examine what happens inside your brain when using peyote:

Emotional Abuse

Mescaline’s structure allows it to bind to 5-HT2A receptors, a type of serotonin receptor that is particularly implicated in hallucinogenic effects. 

When mescaline binds to these receptors, it alters their activity, leading to changes in perception, thought, and mood.

Disruption of Normal Brain Communication

The changes in 5-HT2A receptor activity can disrupt the normal communication between different regions of the brain. For example, hallucinogens like mescaline can increase communication between areas of the brain that don’t typically interact.

This could potentially explain some of the unusual perceptual experiences associated with these substances, like synesthesia (i.e., experiencing sensory input in the wrong mode, like “hearing” colors).

Increased Sensory Input

Mescaline may also increase the brain’s receptiveness to sensory input. This could contribute to the heightened perceptual sensitivity often reported during peyote trips, such as intensified colors and sounds.

In addition to these effects, mescaline also has some affinity for other serotonin receptor subtypes and may interact to a lesser extent with dopamine and norepinephrine receptors. This could potentially contribute to some of the other psychological effects of peyote.

These may include:

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: Short-Term Effects

Several short-term effects of peyote on brain function exist, including:

  • Pupil dilation: This is a common effect of many hallucinogens and can make users more sensitive to light.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure: This can be due to mescaline’s stimulant effects.
  • Nausea or vomiting: This is quite common, especially during the onset of the experience.
  • Increased body temperature: This is another potential stimulant effect.
  • Over-stimulation of the central nervous system: In extreme cases, this could potentially lead to seizures, but this is relatively rare with mescaline compared to some other psychoactive substances.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: Psychological Effects

Peyote can have significant psychological effects on the brain as well. These can include:

  • Visual hallucinations: Individuals often report seeing geometric patterns, intensified colors, and distortions or transformations of objects. In higher doses, these can progress to fully immersive “visions.”
  • Altered perception of time: Users may feel as though time is slowing down or speeding up.
  • Mood changes: These can be variable and include euphoria, anxiety, or changes in emotional sensitivity.
  • Altered thought processes: This can include changes in introspection, associations between ideas, or philosophical or spiritual insights.
  • Changes in self-perception: This can range from altered body image to experiences of ego dissolution or “merging” with the environment.
  • Impaired concentration, memory, and motor control: These effects are typically mild, but can be more pronounced at higher doses.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: What are the Long-Term Peyote Effects on the Brain?

The long-term peyote effects on the brain include effects on neuroplasticity and neurotransmitter systems as well as cognitive abilities.


Hallucinogens, including peyote, are thought to promote neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections. 

This is a relatively new area of research, and more work is needed to understand the potential implications.

Neurotransmitter Systems

In terms of neurotransmitter systems, we know that mescaline interacts primarily with the serotonin system. To a lesser extent, it also interacts with the dopamine and norepinephrine systems. 

However, it’s not clear what the long-term effects of these relationships might be.

Some research suggests that repeated use of hallucinogens could lead to the downregulation of certain serotonin receptors. However, this phenomenon has not been specifically studied in peyote users.

Cognitive Abilities

There’s some evidence that long-term use of certain hallucinogens can lead to persistent perceptual changes. This is a condition known as Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD).4

This disorder is characterized by recurring flashbacks to hallucinogenic experiences, even without recent use of the drug. However, HPPD seems to be relatively rare and is not well understood.

Dependency and Addiction

Peyote and mescaline are not considered to be physically addictive in the same way that substances like alcohol, opioids, or nicotine are. However, it is possible to develop a psychological dependence on the experiences that peyote provides.

Also, tolerance to the effects of peyote can develop with repeated use. Higher doses are then needed to achieve the same effects.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: Potential Medical Benefits of Peyote

There is an increased interest in researching the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic substances like psilocybin, LSD, and ayahuasca, primarily in the context of mental health disorders.

However, the specific medical applications of peyote are less extensively studied, likely due to regulatory, ethical, and practical constraints.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: How can Peyote be Beneficial?

Psychedelic substances in general, including mescaline, appear to induce a hyperconnected state in the brain. When taken, brain regions that don’t typically communicate with one another start doing so.

This may result in increased flexibility of thought patterns and a temporary dissolution of ingrained mental habits. In some cases, it can potentially help patients to gain new perspectives on their problems.

Potential Benefits

Based on preliminary research on the therapeutic use of psychedelics, some of the potential benefits may help with the following:

  • Depression and Anxiety: Psychedelics, under professional guidance, might help patients with depression and anxiety confront and process difficult emotions. Early studies have shown promise in this area, but more research is needed.
  • Addiction: There’s some evidence that psychedelics could help treat substance use disorders. The theory is that the altered states of consciousness induced by these substances can help break the cycle of addiction, potentially by promoting insight, emotional breakthroughs, or changes in self-perception. However, more research is needed to understand how these effects might relate to peyote specifically.
  • End-of-life Psychological Distress: Some studies have shown that psychedelic-assisted therapy can help reduce anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening illnesses. Again, more research is needed to explore if peyote or mescaline could have similar benefits.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: Peyote Used with Other Methods

It’s important to emphasize that in studies of psychedelic-assisted therapy, the substances are not used alone. They are used as part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes psychotherapy and careful medical supervision.

It’s also important to remember that these substances can have serious risks, especially when used outside of a controlled setting or without professional guidance.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: Social Considerations of Peyote

Peyote has been used for thousands of years by various indigenous groups in Mexico and the southwestern United States as a part of their spiritual and healing practices. 

Understanding this cultural and historical context is important when interpreting the effects of peyote on the brain.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: Peyote Use in Spiritual Practices

In these contexts, the hallucinations and altered states of consciousness induced by peyote are often interpreted in a spiritual or religious context. They might be seen as visions or revelations, rather than as symptoms of a drug-induced state.

This interpretation can potentially change the nature of the experience and might help to explain why many people who use peyote in these contexts report positive outcomes, despite the potential risks associated with the substance.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: Controversy Surrounding Peyote Use

Today, there’s an ongoing debate in many societies about the use of psychoactive substances like peyote. Some argue for the right to use these substances as part of religious or spiritual practices, or for potential therapeutic benefits, while others emphasize the potential risks and societal harms.

In the United States, the use of peyote is generally prohibited. However, it is legal in certain religious contexts due to protections for indigenous religious practices. The American Indian Church, for example, is allowed to use peyote as a sacrament in its ceremonies.

Therapeutic Controversy

There’s also ongoing discussion about the potential for substances like peyote to be used therapeutically, for example in the treatment of mental health disorders.

However, this is a rapidly evolving field of research, and the use of peyote for these purposes is generally not legal outside of specific research.

Peyote Effects on Brain Function: The Impact of Societal Considerations on Peyote Use

Overall, the cultural and historical context of peyote use, as well as societal considerations, can significantly influence the interpretation of its effects on the brain, and these factors should be considered when discussing the use of this substance.

peyote effects on brain

peyote effects on brain function: how choice house can help

Choice House is a well-known substance use treatment center based in Boulder, Colorado, offering a range of services aimed at helping men overcome substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions.

What We Offer

We provide comprehensive recovery programs, which include residential treatment, outpatient programs, and sober living homes. At Choice House, you can expect the following treatment options:

Assessment and Personalized Treatment Plans

Initial assessments provide an understanding of the individual’s substance use, mental health status, and personal history. This information is used to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to their specific needs.

Residential Treatment

This typically involves a stay at our treatment facility where individuals receive round-the-clock care, participate in various therapeutic activities, and learn the skills necessary to maintain long-term sobriety.

Outpatient Programs

Our outpatient programs allow individuals to live at home while attending regular therapy sessions. This often follows a residential treatment program but can also be a standalone treatment option for those with less severe substance use disorders.

Various Therapy Modalities

We offer a variety of therapies, including:

These therapies can help individuals better understand their substance use, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and repair damaged relationships.

Aftercare Planning and Relapse Prevention

Following the initial treatment phase, we help patients to develop an aftercare plan to support ongoing recovery. This might include continued outpatient therapy, support group meetings, and strategies to manage triggers and prevent relapse.

Sober Living

We offer sober living homes where individuals in recovery can live in a substance-free environment, often after completing a residential or outpatient program. This can provide a supportive step in the transition back to everyday life.

We’re Ready to Help

We provide critical support for those seeking to overcome substance use disorders. We offer the tools and resources necessary for recovery. 

Our team of expert clinicians understands peyote effects on the brain. We use this knowledge to thoughtfully guide you through treatment.

Start Your Journey Today

Every individual’s journey is different, and our individualized treatment options are designed to address your unique needs. Our team is ready to help lead you on the path to restoring your health and developing a greater hope for tomorrow.

If you or someone you love is battling negative peyote effects on the brain, reach out  to us today.

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Don’t let addiction or co-occurring mental health conditions keep you from leading the happy, healthy, and empowered life you deserve. Contact Choice House today and embrace recovery.

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