A Guide To San Pedro

San Pedro (Echinopsis Pachanoi)
Echinopsis pachanoi

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.


The San Pedro cactus, known scientifically as Trichocereus pachanoi, is one of several mescaline-bearing cacti used by various cultures for thousands of years. Dried San Pedro is estimated to contain up to 2.375% mescaline by volume, though it also contains other alkaloids such as tyramine, hordenine, 3-methoxytyramine, anhalaninine and anhalonidine.

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Mescaline is a hallucinogen with effects that range from euphoria to full-blown, vivid hallucinations. While today the San Pedro is enjoyed around the world as a natural psychedelic, indigenous Andean cultures long used the cactus in traditional medicine and for divination purposes. As such, the cactus is used in both a recreational and therapeutic/spiritual context up to this very day.

Although the effects of psychedelic substances can be hard to accurately quantify, common effects experienced on San Pedro include: return of long-forgotten memories, extreme sensitivity to light and colour, synesthesia, altered perception of time, and open and closed-eye visuals. This last one is of particular interest to many mescaline users as the substance can elicit visual patterns of various types.

Overall, the experience is likened to that of other hallucinogens due to the sense of spiritual insight and connectivity that pervades. Effects kick in about 1–2 hours after ingestion and peak for another 2–4 hours before tapering down for another 8 or so hours.

The effects of San Pedro are, compared to peyote, said to be much more pleasant; the peak is less mind-boggling and not nearly as physical. San Pedro tastes only slightly bitter, and the obligatory nausea that goes hand-in-hand with peyote is not as likely to occur.

However, San Pedro can still make users feel nauseous and even cause vomiting before the trip kicks in. This is traditionally seen as a form of “cleansing” that ensures your body and spirit are “clean” for the trip ahead. Should you experience this, do not worry—it is normal.

Have a trip sitter with you—an experienced, but sober person for your support and safety! Stay out of traffic while under the influence of San Pedro. Use this cactus in a familiar and safe environment and never trip all by yourself.



San Pedro is traditionally prepared by cooking pieces (buttons) of the whole cactus for a long time. Depending on the results intended by the shaman, some herbs, such as angel’s tears (Brugmansia suaveolens) and painted nettles (Coleus blumei), are added to the concoction.

There are various ways to consume San Pedro, including pulverising the dried flesh into a powder, or simmering then straining the raw material. The first method involves starting out with between 20 and 50 grams of fresh plant material. Cut the cactus into “coins” of about 1cm in thickness; remove the thorns and woodsy parts, and put the coins out in the sun to dry. When the buttons are totally dry, grind them up—this simplifies ingestion of the material and helps avoid stomach problems.

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San Pedro can, just like magic mushrooms and other psychedelic substances, cause a kind of “pre-hangover” before the trip really begins. Temporary dizziness and nausea are not uncommon, nor is vomiting. Therefore, it is recommended not to eat for at least 6 hours before consuming San Pedro.

One way to make the whole consumption process easier on the stomach, not to mention more efficient overall, is to use the blender method.

  1. Cut your cactus into small slices. You should end up with star-shaped pieces. Further cut these slices into quarters.

  2. Place the sliced San Pedro into a blender with an equal amount of water (e.g. if your cut-up San Pedro fills half a container, add half a container of water into the blender).

  3. Blend the cactus and water mixture. If you have a lot, then do it in multiple goes as the mixture will likely foam-up rather quickly.

  4. Pour the mixture into a large pan. When you have all of it, heat on low. At first, the cactus will begin to separate from the water, but as it 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. When the cactus pulp and water begin to recombine, it is important to regularly stir. Low heat and stirring are crucial for this first phase of cooking (which usually lasts 30–60 minutes).

  5. Eventually, the consistency of the mix will turn into a foamy gloop as the water and pulp fully combine.

  6. Increase the heat slightly to bring it to a simmer, but not so high that it boils over.

  7. Allow the mix to simmer for 2–4 hours. Throughout 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.

  8. Get some muslin or cheesecloth and place it over the top of a container. Pour your reduced cactus gloop over the muslin. Close the cloth around the gloop and suspend it above the container.

  9. Allow it all to drain through the muslin into the container.

  10. Once done, you can open up the muslin to reveal the remaining pulp. This can be squeezed out then thrown away—the psychotropic substance has now been extracted.

The liquid in your container is now ready to drink. Enjoy the trip!

Growing San Pedro At Home

Growing San Pedro

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 and effort, but can be very rewarding!

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History Of The San Pedro

History Of The San Pedro

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!

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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.

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