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What is a san pedro cactus?

San pedro - trichocereus pachanoi

Cacti owe their appearance to the extremely dry and hot environment they grow in. Cacti are commonly known for their thorns (which actually are dried out leaves), but some varieties have a different defense strategy and fight their eating enemies with poison. Some of those varieties are Peyote, Sunami, Pata de Venado, Pezuna de Venado, Tsuwiri, Bishop's cap, Aztekium Retterii and Astropytum Astrias.

According to researchers (like Backeberg) there are 47 subspecies of the Trichocereus family, with San Pedro aka Trichocereus Pachanoi being the best known variety. Others claim there are only 13 varieties and there are others besides Trichocereus Pachanoi containing Mescaline, but all of them are unquestionably originating from South-America.

The amount of Mescaline depends on the species and age of the cactus.


The San Pedro is a quite fast growing cactus with a strong root system and pillars with 4-9 ribbons. The cactus branches from the base of the stem and will keep growing until its own weight causes it to collapse - only to root and start producing new branches again.

The cactus contains the more Mescaline right under the peel, the older it gets and the more heat it has gone through.


Turner and Heyman found out that San Pedro contains mescaline in 1960 and named this cactus Opunita Cylindtica. Its commonly known name San Pedro refers to the keeper of the key to heaven, the apostle Petrus - a strong evidence for the influence of the catholic religion in other religions.

The indigenous tribes from the Andes in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia used - and still use - San Pedro as a hallucinogenic to be able to trace unconscious and spiritual causes for diseases.


Mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxy-B-Phenethylamine) content: 1-10 % of dried material (according to Erowid).

Other substances in San Pedro besides Mescaline are: Tyramine, Hordinenine, 3-Methoxytyramine, Anhalaninine, Anhalonidine, 3,4-Dimethoxyphen-Ethylamine, 3,4-Dimethoxy-4-Hydroxy-B-Phenethylamine and 3,5-Dimethoxy-4-Hydroxy-B-Phenethylamine.


About 1-2 hours after ingestion of San Pedro its effects start rolling - and will remain present for 8-15 hours. Common effects are, among others: return of long forgotten memories, extreme sensitiveness to light, ability to see and feel every ray of light and hear sounds from far away. You could feel love for every creature on earth and any inanimate shape and form.

The effects of San Pedro are, compared to Peyote, much more pleasant and the peak experience is less mind-boggling and not nearly as physical. San Pedro tastes only slightly bitter and the for Peyote obligatory nausea is not as likely to occur.

Medical use

Several Indian tribes have used/use the San Pedro cactus to reach a state of spirituality and clairvoyance that allows the shaman to trace down unknown causes of a persons defect or disease. Commonly acknowledged medical use of San Pedro is not documented.


San Pedro is traditionally prepared by cooking of pieces (buttons) of the whole cactus for a long time - depending on the results intended by the shaman, some herbs, like Micha (Brugmansia Suavenolens) and Cimorillo (Coleus Blumei) are added to the concoction.

Nowadays the regular way of ingesting San Pedro is using dry plant material. Cut the cactus in coins of about 1cm thickness, remove the thorns and woodsy parts and put them in the sun to let them dry out. When those buttons are totally dry, grind them up - this simplifies ingestion of the material and avoids stomach problems. Before eating San Pedro extract, it is recommended not to eat for at least 6 hours.


Between 20 and 50 grams - often consumed with water and citric acid to support a good assimilation by the body.


San Pedro can, just like certain magic mushrooms and other psychoactive substances, cause a kind of hangover before the trip really begins. Temporary dizziness and nausea are not seldom and it is likely to throw up.


Have a trip sitter with you - an experienced, but sober person, for your support and safety!

San Pedro causes visual mis-perceptions and massive hallucinations, so do not participate in traffic while under the influence of San Pedro. Use this cactus in a familiar and safe environment and never trip all by yourself. In case of panic or a bad trip with fear attacks, Seresta or Valium help bring the fear down to a manageable level.


The plant only needs water and some nutrients.

San Pedro likes it warm and bright. The hills it usually grows on, have nutrient-rich soil, so add some every now, but not too much, because after all it still is a cactus. When cultivating this cactus indoors, make sure it receives direct sunlight - the best place for it is a window sill on the south-side. On really hot days it will appreciate a bit of extra water.

If you grow from a cutting, you will have to dry it first - until its cutting wound has "healed" - and then let it root in the ground before it starts growing; this can take up to a year.

Growing from seeds requires a lot of time (we are talking about years!) and effort.