Psychedelic Cacti: A Guide To San Pedro
With a deep and rich history in shamanic practice, San Pedro is a great addition to any psychonaut’s hallucinogenic garden.
When it comes to psychedelics, there is a whole world of trippy life out there. One such example is the San Pedro cactus, a traditional South American hallucinogen that has been used for thousands of years during shamanic rituals. This mescaline containing cactus has held a place in the hearts of many seasoned psychonauts for a long time, so we thought we would put together a brief guide to everything you need to know about it.
HISTORY OF THE SAN PEDRO CACTUS
Sacred Valley, Peru
The San Pedro cactus has been with us a long time. Being native to the Andes Mountain range, it is estimated that it has undergone continual shamanic use in Peru for over 3’000 years. The earliest depictions of the San Pedro cactus can be found in an ancient Chavín temple in the northern reaches of Peru, in which a mythical creature is shown holding the cactus – archaeologists have dated the drawing to roughly 1’300 BC! Backing up the notion was the discovery of a Chavín refuse site, which had archaeological remains of cigars made from San Pedro.
In addition to being used for visionary shamanic practices, the San Pedro cactus was also used as a traditional medicine, which even Catholic missionaries grudgingly accepted as having healing properties. Christian Rätsch made the following remark in his writings:
“It is a plant with whose aid the devil is able to strengthen the Indians in their idolatry; those who drink its juice lose their senses and are as if dead; they are almost carried away by the drink and dream a thousand unusual things and believe that they are true. The juice is good against burning of the kidneys and, in small amounts, is also good against high fever, hepatitis, and burning in the bladder.”
Despite this disdain, the San Pedro cactus actually became named after a Christian saint, with many believing Saint Peter used the visions of the cactus to find the keys to heaven!
Fortunately, unlike other hallucinogens, the practice of using San Pedro for its psychoactive content remains as strong today as it ever was – for whatever reason, it largely managed to avoid the attention of Catholic settlers, which nearly wiped out the use of other hallucinogens in the region. It is even legal to possess in many countries, as long as it is not intended for consumption (but always check first!). In Peru, and among other traditional Southern American cultures, its use has evolved to keep up with the times, now also being used to treat such things like alcoholism and addiction.
THE EFFECTS OF THE SAN PEDRO CACTUS
For many, the real interest is going to be the actual trip you can have using the San Pedro cactus. So let’s get into it. San Pedro is a mescaline containing cactus, which is the main psychoactive alkaloid found within it. However, San Pedro has also been found to contain other psychoactive alkaloids in lesser amounts, shaping the experience into one that is unique to the plant.
Ingesting prepared San Pedro causes strong and vivid hallucinations, as well as the expanding of the consciousness. As a result, the experience can both be visually intensive, as well as soul searching. To add more to the experience, San Pedro is also able to induce feelings of euphoria, and a feeling of oneness with nature. It makes the overall experience extremely spiritual and insightful. Also, the average San Pedro trip lasts anywhere between 7-15 hours, so prepare yourself for a ride!
San Pedro can make users feel nauseous and even cause vomiting before the trip kicks in. This is traditionally seen as a cleansing: making sure your body and spirit are “clean” for the trip it is about to go on. Should you experience this, do not worry, it is normal.
THE CHEMISTRY OF THE SAN PEDRO CACTUS
Without a doubt, the main active alkaloid found in San Pedro is mescaline – accounting for up to 10% of dried material. However, many other alkaloids have been isolated from the cactus, with some also believed to be psychoactive. Unfortunately not much is known about these additional alkaloids, and they only appear in minute amounts.
Such additional alkaloids include tyramine, hordinenine, 3,4-dimethoxy-4-hydroxy-B-phenethylamine, 3-methoxytyramine, anhalaninine and anhalonidine – to name a few.
BOTANICAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE SAN PEDRO CACTUS
The San Pedro cactus grows with tall green pillars that each have 4-9 ribbons. It grows relatively fast (for a cactus), and continues to grow until it topples under its own weight. Once toppled, it then re-roots out of the fallen columns, and begins growing again – often with even more branches and a deeper root base than before. This adaptability and ease with which it grows is the reason San Pedro is such a popular base for grafting other cacti.
The majority of the mescaline content is found directly under the skin, and increases in abundance with age and heat exposure from the sun.
PREPARING SAN PEDRO
For those of you who have a San Pedro Cactus, and want to put it to use, here is how.
Traditionally, San Pedro is cut up into small pieces, and then boiled and reduced for a good 10-12 hours. However, with the use of a blender, this process can be made much more efficient.
1. Cut your cactus into slices. You should end up with star shaped pieces.
2. Further cut these slices into quarters.
3. Place the sliced up San Pedro in a blender with an equal amount of water. (i.e. If your cut up San Pedro fills half a container, also add half a container of water into the blender).
4. Blend up the cactus and water mixture. If you have a lot, then do it multiple goes, as the mixture will likely foam up rather quickly.
5. Pour the mixture into a large pan. When you have all of it, heat it on a low heat.
6. To begin with, the cactus will begin to separate from the water, but as continues to cook, it will meld together again. During this process, keep a close eye on it, as the foam will likely bubble up and could spill out.
7. When the cactus pulp and water begin to meld again, it is important to stir it. Low heat and stirring are very important for this first phase of cooking (which usually takes 30-60 minutes).
8. Eventually, the consistency of the mix will turn into a foamy gloop, as the water and pulp fully meld.
9. Increase the heat slightly to bring it to a simmer, but not so high that it boils over.
10. Allow the mix to simmer for 2-4 hours. Over this time, it is important to check up on the mix. If it is reducing too quickly, then add a little water to bolster it up. You should end up with a reduced syrupy, gloopy glue like substance.
11. Get some muslin or cheesecloth, and place it over the top of a container.
12. Pour your reduced cactus gloop onto the muslin.
13. Close the cloth around the gloop and suspend it above the container.
14. Allow it all to cool and drain through the muslin into the container.
15. Once done, you can open up the muslin to reveal the remaining pulp. This can be squeezed out and thrown away, as the psychoactive substance has now been extracted.
16. The liquid in your container is now ready to drink. Enjoy the trip!