San Pedro is a tall thin cactus native to the Andes which contains mescaline, a psychedelic compound also found in other plants such as in the peyote cactus. Mescaline-containing plants have been used for thousands of years in traditional healing ceremonies by different indigenous cultures. San Pedro is traditionally consumed on its own or with other plants in a ceremonial brew under the guidance of a trained traditional healer who works with the plant.
There are other psychoactive compounds in the plant besides mescaline, which likely accounts for the slightly different ‘trip’ experience vs. peyote, but mescaline is thought to be the one that is responsible for the main effects. Because the level of mescaline in any one cacti varies so much, it can be unpredictable to dose, especially for recreational use. San Pedro is said to have more entheogenic effects in addition to the psychedelic ones, similar to MDMA, which is an important part of the traditional use for healing and spiritual growth and due to its reputation for increasing compassion and gratitude, has been used anecdotally in traditional use to treat conditions such as depression and PTSD.
Because of its illegal status, only preliminary studies have been done but they show promise for many conditions ranging from depression to addiction and one Harvard study on regular ceremonial use of peyote (another mescaline containing cacti) showed a decrease in addiction with no negative neuropsychiatric (ie mood or thinking problems) from regular use in a native American population. A ‘trip’ on San Pedro can last up to 10 hours, with the peak experience usually around 3 hours after ingesting the brew. It can include ‘visuals’ as well “Out-of-body” experiences for some and even synesthesia, where the senses blend together and people can ‘feel’ sights or ‘smell’ sounds. Many people describe feelings of euphoria and even mystical experiences. However, especially with higher doses, the experience can be intense and even overwhelming especially if set and setting are not appropriate, like any psychedelic.
Risks & Cautions: San Pedro is illegal in most countries, due to the active ingredient mescaline, outside of ceremonial uses in some indigenous populations. However, in some places such as the city of Oakland, California, it has been decriminalized along with all“entheogenic plants” for adult use without fear of arrest. In the South American Andes countries such as Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia San Pedro are legal. It is not addictive and no known reported overdose deaths, although with very extreme high doses it may be dangerous. As with all psychedelics, people with a history of certain mental health conditions such as psychosis should generally avoid taking it.