Mescaline is a psychedelic compound found in several types of cacti, including peyote and San Pedro cactus.
Mescaline causes colorful visual distortions, hallucinations, euphoria, and a sense of wellbeing. People usually take it as a dried cactus, a tea, or a pure powder. Mescaline is illegal in the United States, with an exception for specific Native American Church ceremonies.
Here’s a look at how mescaline works, as well as its effects, possible benefits, risks, dosage, and more.
What is Mescaline?
Mescaline is the active psychedelic compound in several species of hallucinogenic cacti. It’s best-known as part of peyote, a cactus that grows across Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
Pure mescaline is a fine white crystal that looks like table salt. It has a bitter flavor.
Some people also take mescaline as peyote, a small, round, green cactus with a bitter taste, or as a San Pedro cactus, a tall, cylindrical green cactus with fluted ribs.
Mescaline Street Names
Mescaline is also called:
- Big Chief
- San Pedro
What Does Taking Mescaline Feel Like?
Mescaline’s effects are called a “trip.” They last for 10-14 hours and may include:
- Visual hallucinations or distortions (enhanced colors, kaleidoscopic patterns, pixelation of surfaces)
- Synesthesia (mixing of the senses; for example, being able to see music or taste things you touch)
- Auditory hallucinations
- Positive mood
- Ego death (feeling connected to the world around you, loss of a separate sense of self)
- A dream-like state
- Altered sense of time
- Mystical experiences (feeling like you’re meeting God, a sense of something greater than yourself, etc.)
Mescaline is notable because it causes especially strong visual changes. You may see kaleidoscopic patterns, richer colors, and swirling or distorted surroundings. Three-dimensional surfaces may also appear flat and pixellated, which is a visual effect unique to mescaline. 1
Mescaline may cause nausea shortly after you take it; however, nausea typically passes within an hour, before you feel the psychedelic effects. 2
Mechanism of action
Like all classical psychedelics, mescaline works by altering your serotonin system. It binds to 5-HT2 receptors in your prefrontal cortex—the part of your brain just behind your forehead—turning on pathways that alter your perception of reality and your sense of self. 3
Mescaline binds especially strongly to 5-HT2c receptors, which could explain why it causes more intense visual effects than other psychedelics. 4
Coming down from mescaline
Some people may feel tired or have a slight headache after taking mescaline. However, there are no known serious or lasting physical effects from mescaline and most people experience no hangover symptoms.
How To Prepare For A Mescaline Trip
The two most important ways to prepare for mescaline are set and setting.
Set refers to your mindset—your thoughts, mood, and expectations heading into a mescaline trip. Stress, fear, or a controlling mindset may lead to an unpleasant experience (called a “bad trip”).
On the other hand, a curious and open-minded approach, and a willingness to go along with any thoughts and feelings that come up, will likely lead to a positive mescaline experience.
Setting refers to your environment when you take mescaline. Your surroundings influence how you experience psychedelics, so it’s best to take them in a safe, comfortable place, ideally with a friend, loved one, therapist, or someone else you trust. You should avoid taking mescaline or any other psychedelic in a setting that you find stressful, or around people you dislike or don’t trust.
You may also want to avoid obligations, as there’s a good chance you won’t be able to fulfill them while on mescaline, which could give you anxiety. Close your work email, arrange for childcare, and put aside everything that might demand your attention until your session is over.
How Do People Take Mescaline?
Mescaline comes in several different forms. The most common ones are:
- Mescaline powder
- Peyote cactus
- San Pedro cactus
- Cactus tea
Pure mescaline comes as a white crystal powder. It resembles fine table salt and has a bitter taste.
Some mescaline powder may be very slightly tan instead of white, which is fine. However, if the powder is yellow or dark tan, or if it burns your tongue when you taste it, it’s a sign that the mescaline was extracted poorly and contains leftover contaminants.
Peyote is a small, round, button-shaped cactus that contains about 5-10% mescaline by dry weight. You can eat peyote cactus either fresh or dried. Pieces of peyote are circular and about the size of a quarter or a half-dollar.
Because it’s a natural product, peyote cactus varies in potency and is a little more difficult to dose than pure mescaline. On the other hand, it’s unlikely to contain contaminants or be cut with other drugs, although some producers may try to pass off another type of non-psychoactive cactus as peyote.
Peyote grows slowly and is becoming vulnerable to overharvesting, partly thanks to increased interest in it as a psychedelic. For that reason, more and more people prefer to take San Pedro cactus, which provides a similar experience and grows abundantly and quickly.
San Pedro Cactus
San Pedro cactus is a widespread, fast-growing cactus that grows in the Andes region of South America. It’s also common as a garden or landscape plant in other parts of the world, including the United States.
San Pedro has a mescaline content similar to that of peyote—around 5% by dry weight. 5 San Pedro is easier to find than peyote and is legal to grow for ornamental purposes (although you can’t legally harvest it for mescaline). You can eat San Pedro cactus fresh or dried, or make tea from it.
Peyote or San Pedro cactus can be cut and steeped into a tea. This form of mescaline is common in ceremonial practices, especially in South America. As with fresh cactus, the potency of mescaline tea varies.
Mescaline capsules may contain either mescaline crystals or ground-up cactus. The capsules will contain either white or green powder, respectively.
Some people prefer capsules because you can avoid mescaline’s bitter taste.
A standard dose of pure mescaline is around 300-500 milligrams. That translates to 6-10 grams of dried cactus or 100-150 grams of fresh cactus.
Cacti are natural products and their potency varies. You may want to take a lighter dose, wait an hour, and see how you feel before taking the remainder of the dose.
Some people take small doses of psychedelics—called a microdose—for purported benefits, including better focus and a more positive mood.
There’s no formal research on microdosing mescaline, but it is possible. That said, research on other psychedelics suggests that microdosing may be mostly placebo effect and that it may not have any real benefit. 6,7
Microdosing research is still in its infancy. If you choose to microdose, you may have to experiment with different doses and see whether or not it works for you.
Mescaline may interact with the following medications:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a common class of antidepressants
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), another class of antidepressants
Research on mescaline and drug interactions is sparse. Keep in mind that it may interact with other drugs in ways that researchers don’t yet understand.
The Timeline of Mescaline
How long does Mescaline take to kick in?
You’ll feel mescaline’s effects after about 1-2 hours.
How long does Mescaline last?
Mescaline is one of the longest-lasting psychedelics. It lasts for between 10-14 hours, depending on the dose you take. 2
How long does Mescaline stay in your system?
Mescaline can be detected in your urine for 2-3 days after you take it.
What Could Go Wrong?
Any drug comes with a degree of risk. First and foremost, mescaline is illegal in most places and can come with penalties and incarceration. Aside from legal implications, the risk is almost entirely psychological.
Mescaline may cause headaches, nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting. These symptoms usually pass within an hour of you taking it, before mescaline’s psychedelic effects kick in. 2
A bad mescaline trip can be stressful. It may leave you feeling scared or anxious, and during the experience, you may feel trapped in a negative headspace and unable to get out. A bad trip can range from unpleasant to traumatic.
With that in mind, you may want to avoid mescaline if you’re in a negative mental state, a stressful or uncomfortable environment, or around people you don’t like or trust.
How to Source Mescaline
Is Mescaline Legal?
Mescaline is currently illegal in the United States, with an exception for members of the Native American Church, who use peyote for religious ceremonies. 8
Sourcing Mescaline on Your Own
We do not encourage you to break the law or put yourself in harm’s way. If you’re going to buy mescaline, do your due diligence to reduce harm. Avoid purchasing from strangers, and keep in mind that purchasing and possessing any illegal drug could get you into legal trouble.
Pure mescaline can be difficult to find and is often cut with other, more easily obtainable drugs that come in white powder form. The most common sources of mescaline are peyote and San Pedro cactus. They’re difficult to adulterate, but may be faked (i.e. replaced with a standard cactus cutting that is not psychoactive).
You can also grow San Pedro cactus easily and legally in many parts of the United States. Keep in mind that it is illegal to harvest San Pedro for the purpose of obtaining mescaline.
Some people try to join Native American Church ceremonies to take peyote legally. It’s best to avoid this if you aren’t a legitimate member of the church; members consider peyote’s ceremonial use sacred and many frown upon an outsider joining simply to experience the drug.
Mescaline Safety Tips
Mescaline usually comes in cactus form. Because cacti are natural products, levels of mescaline vary and it can be difficult to dose mescaline precisely.
For that reason, you may want to start with a smaller dose of mescaline, wait an hour to see how you feel, and then take decide whether or not to take the remaining portion of the full dose.
Also keep in mind that at the time of this article’s publication, mescaline is illegal to possess or consume in the United States. Taking it comes with a certain degree of legal risk.
Mescaline Personal Stories
“Mescaline is the most interesting thing I ever did.”
- Christopher Mayhew, British politician who took mescaline under the guidance of a psychotherapist
“How significant is the enormous heightening, under mescalin, of the perception of color! … Man’s highly developed color sense is a biological luxury—inestimably precious to him as an intellectual and spiritual being, but unnecessary to his survival as an animal. … Mescalin raises all colors to a higher power and makes the percipient aware of innumerable fine shades of difference, to which, at ordinary times, he is completely blind.”
- Aldous Huxley, writer
“Good mescaline comes on slow. The first hour is all waiting, then about halfway through the second hour you start cursing the creep who burned you, because nothing is happening…and then ZANG!”
- Hunter S. Thompson, writer
Mescaline Frequently Asked Questions
Is Mescaline Addictive?
Research has not shown mescaline to be addictive. There’s no evidence that it causes physical addiction and studies rate mescaline’s risk of abuse as very low, largely because it’s not reinforcing and does not cause withdrawal, as is the case with most psychedelics.
Can I Overdose on Mescaline?
In practice, it would be very difficult to overdose on mescaline. The estimated lethal dose of mescaline in humans is about 880 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For reference, a 150-pound person would have to consume around 60 grams of pure mescaline—about 200 standard doses—for it to be fatal.
Can I Mix Mescaline with Alcohol?
It’s best not to mix psychedelics with alcohol. While combining the two is not known to be physiologically dangerous, psychedelics already have intense and somewhat unpredictable effects when taken alone. You’re best off taking mescaline without any additional drugs or alcohol.
Can I Mix Mescaline with Other Drugs?
It’s best not to mix mescaline with other drugs. Doing so can have unpredictable effects that may be dangerous, especially if you mix mescaline with other serotonergic drugs like MDMA or cocaine. You’re better off taking mescaline on its own.
Can I Drive While on Mescaline?
No. Do not drive on mescaline or any other psychedelic. Mescaline is a strong mind-altering drug that distorts your visual and auditory perception, as well as your sense of passing time. Its effects make it quite dangerous for driving. Avoid operating a vehicle or other heavy machinery while on mescaline.
How to Microdose with Mescaline?
While there’s no formal research on microdosing mescaline, it is possible. A microdose is usually 10-20% of a full dose, which would be 30-50 milligrams of mescaline. That translates to about 1-2 grams of dried cactus or 10-15 grams of fresh cactus.
Mescaline is a long-lasting psychedelic that may cause especially prominent visual distortions, as well as euphoria and a sense of connection with something greater than yourself.
If you choose to take mescaline, be sure to do your due diligence, and understand that the legal repercussions of getting caught with it are life-altering. Know your dosage, find a source you trust, make sure you’re in a good headspace, and take mescaline in a comfortable, safe setting.
2. Dinis-Oliveira RJ, Pereira CL, da Silva DD. Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic aspects of peyote and mescaline: clinical and forensic repercussions. Curr Mol Pharmacol. 2019;12(3):184-194. doi:10.2174/1874467211666181010154139
3. Béïque J-C, Imad M, Mladenovic L, Gingrich JA, Andrade R. Mechanism of the 5-hydroxytryptamine 2A receptor-mediated facilitation of synaptic activity in prefrontal cortex. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2007;104(23):9870-9875. doi:10.1073/pnas.0700436104
4. Rickli A, Moning OD, Hoener MC, Liechti ME. Receptor interaction profiles of novel psychoactive tryptamines compared with classic hallucinogens. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2016;26(8):1327-1337. doi:10.1016/j.euroneuro.2016.05.001
5. Ogunbodede O, McCombs D, Trout K, Daley P, Terry M. New mescaline concentrations from 14 taxa/cultivars of Echinopsis spp. (Cactaceae) (“San Pedro”) and their relevance to shamanic practice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010;131(2):356-362. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2010.07.021
7. Marschall J, Fejer G, Lempe P, et al. Psilocybin microdosing does not affect emotion-related symptoms and processing: A preregistered field and lab-based study. J Psychopharmacol (Oxford). 2022;36(1):97-113. doi:10.1177/02698811211050556