Mescaline Misuse: Side Effects, Risks & Treatment

What Is Mescaline?

Peyote cactus in bloom with white flowerMescaline is a naturally occurring chemical compound that is found in a number of species of cacti, most notably the peyote cactus.

The peyote plant has played a role in Native American ceremonial and medicinal rituals for as far back as 5,700 years ago.1 This longstanding tradition of use among indigenous peoples is why mescaline is legal for use in religious contexts in tribal nations. However, the substance itself is a Schedule I drug in the United States.2

While respecting its use in tribal ceremonies, the Drug Enforcement Administration holds the position that mescaline has no acceptable medical use and presents too great a risk of physical and/or psychological abuse for it to be made available for purchase or prescription.

Like most hallucinogens, mescaline is a serotonin receptor agonist; the drug stimulates the production of the serotonin neurotransmitter, which boosts positive moods and relaxation.3 Researchers suggest that mescaline excites certain neurons in the brain, leading to the well-known psychedelic effects.

Mescaline is thought of as one of the milder hallucinogens; it is as much as 3,000 times less potent than LSD and about 30 times less potent than a similar naturally occurring psychedelic like psilocybin.3 Despite its lower potency, using mescaline does result in hallucinogenic effects.

Effects of Mescaline

Users experience very different sensory and perceptual experiences, such as:4

  • Time passing more slowly.
  • Colors appearing brighter.
  • Sounds seeming sharper.
  • “Seeing” sounds and “hearing” colors.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Feeling a sense of almost tangible connectedness to objects and the world around them.
  • Feeling weightless or extremely heavy to the point of immobility.

Changes in thought patterns may occur. A person taking mescaline might have:4

  • Difficulty focusing on an object or a single idea.
  • Thought processes that become easily and vividly derailed.
  • Drastic and unpredictable mood swings.

Taking mescaline might negatively affect those who are prone to anxiety. In such cases, the episodes of anxiety might last as long as a day or so.

In terms of the physical effects of mescaline, a user might feel:4

  • An increase in blood pressure.
  • An increase in body temperature.
  • A rapid heartbeat.
  • Rapid and shallow breathing.
  • Obvious difficulty in motor coordination (even walking in a straight line might be difficult).
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fever.
  • Chills.
  • Pupil dilation.

Is Mescaline Addictive?

Despite the bitter taste and relatively low potency, tolerance to mescaline can develop very quickly.4 This means that someone who uses mescaline no longer gets the same psychedelic effects from their usual dose, so they take more and more mescaline to try and chase the original sensation.

The returns are always diminishing, but the result is that the user becomes more and more dependent on the mescaline to achieve that sense of bliss and transcendence.

Notwithstanding the risk of a user needing greater amounts of mescaline, the plant presents no obvious withdrawal risks to users.4 Withdrawal normally occurs when a person’s body has become so accustomed to the chemical and psychological effects of a drug that it cannot function without the continued presence of the drug. Going without the drug for any period of time results in painful, distressing physical and psychological symptoms, which, if left uncontrolled, can compel the person to resume the substance abuse. The symptoms can also be dangerous in their own right.

Some researchers determined that mescaline has a relatively low potential for misuse, and that chronic use of drugs like mescaline do not increase a person’s risk for developing mental health disorders.5 Other research has even suggested that regular users of mescaline like Native Americans are at a decreased risk for developing mental health problems.6

Risks of Mescaline

In rare cases, mescaline users may be at risk of developing hallucinogen persisting perception disorder, a condition wherein the standard psychedelic effects of mescaline are present even though the drug has not been taken.7 The effects might take place when the user is doing something that requires concentration and coordination; this could interfere with job performance or academic work, or it could put lives in danger if heavy machinery or motor vehicles are involved.

Another area of risk is if pregnant women use mescaline. One report found an association between the active ingredient mescaline and fetal abnormalities.4

If you or someone you love is struggling with misuse of mescaline or another substance, call to speak with an admissions navigator. The clinical team at Oxford in Mississippi is committed to your recovery and can provide the support and addiction treatment program you need.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

The Price of Not Getting Help
When contemplating the costs of addiction treatment for yourself, child, or loved one, consider the costs, or consequences, of “things as they are now.” What would happen if the substance abuse or addiction continued? Rehab doesn't have to be expensive. We accept a variety of insurances. Learn more below.