Peyote is part of a cactus plant. Native American folk medicine has used peyote cactus root for doctoring scalp afflictions. In folk medicine peyote has also been used against snake bite, influenza, and arthritis. Scientists have determined that peyote contains substances that might fight infections. Some Native Americans are reported to use light doses of peyote as a stimulant to maintain endurance when engaged in relentless activity permitting little nourishment or water, a practice sounding much like traditional use ofcoca. Spaniards observed such peyote usage in the Aztec empire.
Peyote’s main active component is the hallucinogenmescaline. Some other varieties of cactus also contain mescaline, although generally in much smaller amounts. Researchers suspect the peyote cactus may additionally contain chemicals similar to those appearing in the brain upon use of alcohol. In addition to causing hallucinations, peyote can change perception of time.
Psychic effects can include feeling more peaceful and connected with life; craziness of the everyday world can recede. People can use the experience to work through their concerns and may be more open to suggestions. Physical senses may seem enhanced, and barriers between them may melt, such as allowing sounds to be seen.
The religion of Peyotism (of which the Native American Church is but one variety) are only one part of the practitioners’ way of life. Observers have noted that Peyotism can be an effective way of dealing with addiction to alcohol and opiates. Traditional peyote use occurs in a group context, a social gathering of persons sharing and furthering the same beliefs and goals. A solitary user estranged from such a setting is likely to have a far different peyote experience. For instance, one element of a peyote session can be nervousness and fear, emotions that may have different impacts depending on whether a user is alone or is with a group of reassuring and supportive persons. A researcher with the Indian Health Service of the U.S. Public Health Service estimated that traditional peyote usage produced bad psychological experiences once in 70,000 doses, a safety record that the researcher attributed to the social context of traditional use. Physical damage has not been noted from traditional use
Source: The Encyclopedia of Addictive Drugs – Richard Lawrence Miller