San Pedro Cactus (Echinopsis Pachanoi) – Uses, Legality And More

San Pedro Cactus (Echinopsis Pachanoi) – Uses, Legality And More

San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi) is an entheogenic cactus with association to the shamanic ceremonies of ancient Andean cultures. These days, its popularity has increased due to the psychedelic effects and healing potential of mescaline, an alkaloid present in the plant.

What Is The San Pedro Cactus?

San Pedro is a large columnar cactus of the Cereus family.

This fast-growing cactus is native to the Andes mountains in South America. It grows naturally in dry landscapes at altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 meters above the sea level, mainly in Peru and Ecuador, but also in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Chile.

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San Pedro can reach up to 20 feet in height and six feet in width. Stems are green or blue-green and they usually become darker with age. The flowers, fragrant, white and thick, bloom at night time. Their edible fruits, called Pitahaya, are sweet and red-skinned.

Is The San Pedro Cactus Psychedelic?

San Pedro contains highly variable concentrations of mescaline, a strong psychedelic compound that acts on serotonin and dopamine receptors producing several psychedelic and hallucinogenic effects.

Effects include experiencing different senses of time and self-awareness, facilitated introspection, alterations in the thinking processes and perception.

Due to its hallucinatory properties, San Pedro has been a tradition for almost 3,500 years by Andean folk cultures in healing ceremonies. In fact, it is a central component of the shamanic ceremonies of many indigenous groups in the region. South American cultures that significantly embraced San Pedro include those of the Chimu, the Moche and the Chavin.

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How Does Someone Use And Consume San Pedro?

In a traditional setting, people consume San Pedro in the context of a healing ceremony guided by a qualified healer called curandero, who is considered a facilitator able to activate the therapeutic effects of the cactus.

The ceremonial uses of San Pedro by traditional Andean cultures are based on the medicinal properties of the cactus. Originally, San Pedro was used to treat a number of ailments. This includes cutaneous infections, general pain, and snake bites — due to its diuretic and antimicrobial properties.

Furthermore, it is considered by these cultures to be a powerful agent of spiritual healing and change because it has a series of therapeutic effects linked to the presence of mescaline, which is being studied today for its ability to alleviate some mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

As part of the ceremony, Curanderos invoke spirits of Andean and Christian cosmology. In addition to San Pedro, participants consume flower essences made with alcohol and inhale tobacco. Sometimes, ceremonies may include other substances too, such as Brugmansia flowers, ayahuasca and coca.

Can You Eat San Pedro Cactus Raw?

Yes, it is possible to eat San Pedro Cactus raw.

First you will need to remove all the cacti spikes. Then remove the hard, waxy skin. The skin contains no alkaloids or hallucinogens, but it can be difficult to chew and digest. Then remove the fleshy sections from the rest of the cactus and cut those into smaller pieces to make it easier to consume.

As for taste, many people who have eaten San Pedro Cactus raw suggest swallowing it as quickly as possible. Or mixing it with lemon juice or another flavor enhancer due to its pungent taste.

It’s hard to know how much San Pedro to eat. San Pedro can have different levels of psychedelic compounds in them. One rule of thumb is that one dose of San Pedro means eating one foot of a cactus. One foot often gets you a typically strong effect. Since it’s so bitter, it’s hard to eat enough San Pedro to really feel the effects. Nausea is likely.

Brewing San Pedro

An easier way to consume San Pedro cactus is to brew it. A few gulps of liquid is more digestible than one foot of cactus. Here’s one brew method:

  1. Take one foot of a San Pedro cactus.
  2. Slice the San Pedro like a cucumber into thin coins.
  3. Cut those coins into smaller pieces.
  4. Add some of the coins to a blender. Add an equal amount of water. Add something acidic.
  5. Blend it until it’s a liquid. Pour the liquid into a big pot.
  6. Repeat until you’ve gotten the entire foot-long section of cactus into the pot.
  7. Cook on low heat, stirring often, for half an hour.
  8. Increase the heat slightly until the brew simmers.
  9. Simmer for three or so hours, until the brew becomes a thick goo. Keep an eye on the pot to keep it from burning. Add water if the San Pedro gets thick too early.
  10. Strain the goop through a cloth into a bowl. Squeeze out all the liquid.
  11. Transfer the liquid to a cup.

Congratulations. You’ve made one dose of San Pedro.

Dosing, though, is tricky. Different cacti have different mescaline contents. You may have to use trial and error. One foot’s worth of one cactus is not equal to one foot of another cactus. Start with six inches worth of tea and see how it effects you. The next time, adjust your dose up or down.

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A Breakdown of San Pedro Cactus Dosages

If you’re brewing your cactus into a tea, how much cactus should you brew?

“The rule of thumb is a foot of cactus is a dose–but it’s not as simple as that,” says Max Montrose, a cactus enthusiast and educator. “You have to read the plant.” Look at width: a fat cactus will contain more medicine than a skinny one. Look at color: a younger, fresher shoot that as a blue tint will be strong. An older, yellower cactus will be weaker.

All that said, here’s the standard way of thinking about dosages:

Desired effectHow much San Pedro cactus to eat or brew into a tea
StrongOne and a half feet of a typical, 5-6 inch wide San Pedro cactus
Typical One foot of a typical, 5-6 inch wide San Pedro cactus
MildSix inches of a typical, 5-6 inch wide San Pedro cactus

Is San Pedro Legal In The United States?

While it’s illegal to extract mescaline from San Pedro, it is legal to grow it as an ornamental plant. Mescaline itself is an illegal Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This means that, according to U.S. law, its medical or recreational use is not currently acceptable in the country. This is because it has a high potential for abuse. Therefore, only academic researchers working on special DEA licenses are legally able to manipulate the substance.

Thus, for the general population, it is legal to grow San Pedro as long as there is no intent to consume, prepare or sell it as a psychedelic substance.

Keeper Trout, an independent scholar, author and archivist covering psychoactive plants and their therapeutic uses, says that the reason San Pedro is not entirely illegal in the U.S. is because the predominant variant of San Pedro in North America is really weak in mescaline, and therefore it’s not considered to be a problematic substance.

The San Pedro cacti that grow in the United States have lower levels of mescaline than those in their natural South American habitat.

In Trout’s opinion, “the USDA has worked really hard trying to keep the good San Pedros out of North America. They seize the seed shipments. They restrict the amount of cuttings that can be imported into the U.S. And I suspect that if we had had the better ones all the time, it would be illegal.”

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Are San Pedro And Peyote The Same?

San Pedro and Peyote are two different kinds of cacti.

Peyote is a small spineless cactus that grows naturally in North America, from Mexico to Texas. According to Trout, who has published 11 books and numerous articles on psychedelic plants and cacti “they both contain mescaline, but they actually make it through different biosynthetic routes.”

Trout also currently serves as acting president of the Cactus Conservation Institute.

Cactus classified as San Pedro can vary greatly as “there are several plants that fall into that designation. Some are really potent and powerful and other ones are really weak,” he says. Peyote, on the other hand, has more than 60 alkaloids in it and some of them are very psychoactive.

“So, if you ingest Peyote,” says Trout, “it is a stronger and more robust experience than San Pedro. When you ingest San Pedro, it is very similar to ingesting pure mescaline. And it can vary depending on what other alkaloids are there, because some of them can interfere with the activity of the mescaline”.

Peyote is the main sacrament of the Native American Church, a religion that teaches a combination of Christian and Native American beliefs.

Trout indicates that there is a difference between traditional ceremonies with San Pedro and Peyote:

“When you go to a Peyote ceremony, you are interacting with a religious group and you are interacting in a religious ceremony. Actually, one of the most important elements of peyote ceremonies is bringing people together and renewing the bonds they have with each other and with the medicine. San Pedro shamans have their own religion. They don’t care what your religion is. They don’t want you to join their religion, you are there for healing, you are enlisting their services as a healer.”

Ethical And Sustainability Concerns

Recently, several concerns have risen around the ethics and sustainability of Peyote use.

Supplies of naturally-growing peyote are nowadays limited and the plant is threatened because in its ceremonial use, the cactus must be harvested from nature, and human-cultivated peyote is not accepted by many Native American practitioners.

San Pedro, on the other hand, is a more available source of naturally-produced mescaline. This is because it grows quicker and spreads more widely in its natural habitat.

Adds Trout:

“The majority of the Native American Church is very much opposed to cultivation because it is believed to show no faith in the ability of the Peyote to take care of itself. Whereas San Pedro are huge fast-growing plants. There is no shortage of San Pedro on the planet and there never will be,” says Trout.

“San Pedro is infinitely renewable, Peyote is not. Peyote grows slowly and it has a lot of people ingesting it right now. So, there’s a lot of wild harvest and almost no planting.”

That is why many people consider that Peyote should only be for indigenous traditional practices. On the other hand, San Pedro could be a solution to this problem as a more sustainable alternative source of mescaline.

How to Identify San Pedro Cactus

There are a number of ways to identify a San Pedro Cactus. First, count the ribs — or the columns that run vertically up and down the cacti. An SPC should have 6-8 ribs.

Second, San Pedro Cacti usually have no arms and smaller spikes at the top. They can grow quite large (up to 20 feet tall), but look for the white flowers that tend to bloom at night and usually in July.

If your cactus checks all these boxes, there’s a good chance you have a San Pedro Cactus.

Where to Buy San Pedro Cactus?

Due to its legality, you can purchase San Pedro Cactus online and in many local garden centers. You can go online and search “Buy San Pedro Cactus” or even search some of its synonyms such as “Echinopsis pachanoi” to know you’re getting the real thing.

But, remember, while it is legal to grow San Pedro Cactus, it is not legal to extract mescaline from the plant.

How Long For San Pedro Cactus To Grow?

If deciding to buy San Pedro Cactus seedlings instead of a pre-existing plant, then it can take a year for it to reach a foot in height. And then up to 2-4 additional years to reach full maturity. A lot of this depends on whether you are growing your cactus indoors or outdoors, how nutrient-rich your soil is (San Pedro’s like very nutrient-rich soil) and if it is getting enough light.

The San Pedro Cactus thrives in direct sunlight. But, ironically, the San Pedro Cactus seedlings can burn in direct sun.

A well-maintained SPC will produce beautiful white flowers that tend to bloom in July. Another interesting fact is that San Pedro Cactus flowerings tend to bloom at night and can reach over nine inches in diameter.

How To Replant San Pedro Cactus

There are a few steps you need to take if you want to use San Pedro Cactus cuttings and use them to replant a new cactus plant.

The first thing to do is find a healthy and mature San Pedro Cactus. The ideal height is at least 18 inches tall. Then, wipe your knife with rubbing alcohol to sterilize it and protect your plant.

Next, cut off the top six inches of your plant (try not to cut off more than a third.) Cuttings that are at least six inches tall work the best. In fact, they actually grow faster than the plant they come from.

Next, place your cutting in a cool, dark place until the bottom has dried over. This should take a couple of weeks. Then, dip the bottom that has dried over in rooting hormone and place it in a 60-degree soil and cover the bottom so it stands on its own.

Water the soil (but not too much) and add a little fertilizer from time to time.

Natan Ponieman

View all posts by Natan Ponieman

Natan Ponieman is a writer, journalist and filmmaker covering psychedelics as they intersect with finance, culture, science, politics and spirituality. He's a Forbes Contributor and serves as Head of Psychedelics Content at Benzinga. His work has been featured in Entrepreneur Magazine, Yahoo Finance, Benzinga, MSN Money, Leafly News, High Times and many others.

Dr. Jonathann Kuo

This post was medically approved by Dr. Jonathann Kuo

Jonathann Kuo, MD is a Board Certified Pain Medicine Specialist and Anesthesiologist. He is the founder of Hudson Medical Group (HMG), an innovative and cutting edge healthcare system that combines Medical, Wellness, and Mental Health in the treatment of Pain.

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Comments (1)

  • michael r dunbar
    October 4, 2022 at 2:21 pm Reply

    i have been keeping san pedro here for well on forty years now. the stalks when in bloom are incredible. the most blossoms i counted at one time were 78 flowers. the honey bees love them. after each bloom there is a pup that falls of naturally with the decomposing flower, thus propagating the plant. its such an incredible cactus. the more water it drinks the taller and stronger it becomes. much higher than 20ft tall. let me know how to send fotos.

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