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Challenging the Stereotypes of Peyote Use



by Krystle Cole – September 4, 2009

Misconception #1: Peyote Use Can Cause Brain Damage

Many of us believe that all drugs that are illegal are bad for us. We all can remember the anti-drug propaganda commercials on television where a guy is frying an egg: this is your brain, the egg cracks in the pan, this is your brain on drugs. Sounds pretty damaging right?

In many cases, this commercial is correct. However, a recent study proved that peyote use among members of the NAC is not cognitively or psychologically damaging. Halpern et al (2005) “…administered the RMHI and a battery of nonverbal neuropsychological tests to 61 Navajo long-standing participating members of the NAC.” Then they compared this group with “…79 Navajos reporting and minimal lifetime use of peyote or any other substance, and 39 Navajos reporting at least five years of alcohol dependence, but currently sober at least two months.”

Halpern et al (2005) found that the peyote group showed no significant differences from the comparison group on all tests. Beyond this, the peyote group, was “…associated with significantly better scores on several RMHI measures.” This showed that, “…long-term use of this hallucinogenic substance, at least when ingested as a bona fide sacrament, is not associated with adverse residual psychological or cognitive effects.” In contrast, they found “…highly significant psychological deficits and a few significant neuropsychological deficits in the former alcoholic group.

Misconception #2: All Hallucinogens Cause Flashbacks and Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association (2000), in the DSM-IV-TR, explained that the “essential feature” of Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD) is “…the transient recurrence of disturbances in perception that are reminiscent of those experienced during one or more earlier Hallucinogen Intoxications.” Halpern (personal communication, July 14, 2007) explained that the termflashback is often used interchangeably with HPPD but flashback “…only describes the remembrance of the experience; HPPD refers to not just a ‘flashback’ [but] a constellation of unsettling symptoms associated with it.”

Most typically, flashbacks and HPPD are caused by use of the hallucinogen LSD. Halpern (personal communication, July 14, 2007) explained that in his ” …interview of over 1000 Navajo members of the Native American Church, not a single NAC member validated ever having symptoms of HPPD from the entheogenic (sacramental) use of mescaline-containing peyote.” Reiterating this point, Halpern et al (2005) reported that “it does not appear to produce ‘flashbacks’ (Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder) in the manner of LSD.”

Misconception #3: Peyote is Classified as a Schedule 1 Drug – It Must Be Addictive, Deadly, and Unsafe

The use of peyote is much safer than the use of many other drugs. There have only been a handful of deaths associated with the use of peyote in all of history, while many legal substances like tobacco cause 435,000 deaths each year (Jacobs,1995). Also, hospital visits because of peyote intoxication and/or overdose happen very rarely, if ever.

Peyote is also not physically addictive. The rate of tolerance increases too rapidly for a person to be able to become addicted. For example, let’s hypothetically say that someone ingested a psychoactive dose of peyote on Monday. Then on Tuesday they wanted to ingest another psychoactive dose, they would have to take at least twice as much peyote as the day before to get a similar effect. This would multiply exponentially each day, until within only a few days the peyote would have no effect. This tolerance that has built up, will dissipate just as quickly. Coming down from peyote causes no withdrawal, craving, or symptoms of addiction. This is a stark contrast to other Schedule I drugs, like heroin, that are highly addictive and produce compulsive drug-seeking behavior (Hyman and Malenka, 2001).


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). DSM-IV-TR. (pp. 253-254). Retrieved on September 1, 2009 from…

Halpern, J.H., Sherwood A.R., Hudson J.I., Yurgelun-Todd D. & Pope, H.G. (2005). Psychological and cognitive effects of long-term peyote use among Native Americans. Biological Psychiatry58;624–631.

Hyman, S.E. & Malenka, R.C. (2001). Addiction and the brain: The neurobiology of compulsion and its persistence. Neuroscience.2;696. Retrieved on September 1, 2009 from…

Jacobs, M. (1995). From the First to the Last Ash: The History, Economics, and Hazards of Tobacco. Retrieved on September 1, 2009 from…

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