The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Trichocereus pachanoi Britton et Rose


San Pedro Cactus




Cactaceae (Cactus Family); Cereus Subdivision

Forms and Subspecies


The Indians make a distinction between two forms of the cactus, a “male” (with long spines) and a “female” (with short or even no spines). These forms do not have botanical names.



Cereus peruvianus nom. nud.

Cereus giganteus

Echinopsis pachanoi (Britt. et Rose) Friedr. et Rowl. (cf. Echinopsis spp.)

Folk Names


Achuma, agua-colla, aguacolla, aguacolla-cactus alucinógena, cardo, cimarrón, cimora blanca, cuchuma, gigantón, huachuma, huachumo, huando hermoso, kachum, rauschgiftkaktus, sampedro, San Pedro, San Pedro cactus, San-Pedro-kaktus, San Pedrillo, símora



The San Pedro cactus was in use at the very beginning of Andean civilization (Burger 1992); it was the materia prima of the shamans of that time (Giese 1989a, 225). In Peru, the central Andes region, and neighboring desert areas, the cactus has been used ritually for at least two thousand years (Cabieses 1983). The oldest archaeological evidence of its ritual use was found in the early layers of the formative period of Chavín (Joralemon and Douglas 1993, 185). San Pedro was used both as a sacral drug and as a shamanic medicine (Andritzky 1989*; Donnan and Douglas 1977). The cactus has been cultivated on the Peruvian coast since 200 B.C.E. to 600 C.E. (Early Intermediate period) (Davis 1983, 368).

Amazingly, there are very few reports about the Indian use that date to the colonial period. Moreover, the Inquisition (which apparently did know about it) did not persecute the use of the cactus (Andritzky 1987*).

No one knows precisely how an Indian sacred plant received the name of a Catholic saint (Saint Peter). The cactus probably was associated with rain cults and pagan rain gods. Since San Pedro is the patron saint of rain, it seems likely that the cactus obtained its name as a result (perhaps in an attempt to save it from the pharmacratic Inquisition). In addition, Saint Peter is the keeper of the keys to heaven (cf. Nicotiana rustica).


A flowering Trichocereus pachanoi.




The San Pedro cactus is originally from Peru, where it is found at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 meters (Giese 1989a; Polia and Bianchi 1991). It also is cultivated in many other parts of the Andes, e.g., Ecuador and Peru. The cactus can be found in most botanical gardens and cactus nurseries around the world. It thrives in both dry regions and moist zones.



The cactus can be grown from its tiny seeds or propagated from cuttings. The latter approach requires simply placing a piece of the cactus in the ground. One or two new stalks will grow from the place where the cactus was cut.

Today, large numbers of Trichocereus pachanoi are planted in particular in California, not only for decorative purposes but primarily for use as entheogens. The cactus thrives in the Californian climate and grows quickly when watered daily. Because it is not a desert inhabitant but comes from the moist-warm, rain-rich areas of the Andes, the cactus is accustomed to receiving large amounts of water. My own experiments with cultivation have demonstrated that with regular watering (daily!), one can almost watch the cactus shoot up from the ground.307 At the same time, it is modest in its needs and can survive for months without water. Pieces cut from the cactus can survive for months or even years and can develop lateral shoots even without food and water. Anyone who plants this cactus at home will be impressed with its unbelievable vitality.

Trichocereus pachanoi is well suited for grafting with other cacti, e.g., peyote (Lophophora williamsii). The tip of the San Pedro cactus should be cut flat and the head of the other cactus placed on the cut surface and tied to it for a few days. However, the cactus that has been grafted onto San Pedro will not contain any mescaline unless it is a species that itself produces mescaline.


A mythical snail being with a cactus, which may represent a Trichocereus species. (Painting on a Mochica pottery vessel, Chimu, approximately 500 C.E.)




The almost spineless columnar cactus can grow as tall as 6 meters (Britton and Rose 1963, 2:134 ff.*). It has several ribs—usually six, but often seven or eight, sometimes as many as twelve, and in very rare cases (or not at all?) only four (the Indians consider a four-ribbed cactus to be especially powerful, as it symbolizes the four cardinal points). The beautiful white flowers appear only at night. The very delicious red fruits, which are almost the size of a child’s head, only very rarely develop.

Psychoactive Material


—Slices of the fresh cactus

—Powdered rind


The fresh cactus slices are sold at “witches’ markets” in Peru (Anzeneder et al. 1993, 79*).

Preparation and Dosage


The San Pedro drink is prepared from fresh cactus stalks or pieces. The chopped stalks are boiled for a few hours in ample water (often with other plants added). The decoction is then poured off and boiled again for several hours until only about half of the original volume remains (Davis 1983; Dobkin de Rios 1968). Some curanderos (“healers”) boil four thin stalks in 20 liters of water for seven hours (Sharon 1980, 66).

Usually, a piece of cactus approximately 25 cm long and 5 to 8 cm thick is sliced and boiled per person. Some lemon or lime juice may be added to improve the dissolution of the mescaline. A technique using a pressure cooker has also been developed (Torres and Torres 1996).

Traditional curanderos fortify the San Pedro drink with leaves of the angel’s trumpet known as misha (Brugmansia spp.; Giese 1989b, 225) as well as with other plants. Some of these, such as hornamo and condorillo, have not yet been botanically identified with accuracy (Polia M. 1988*; Polia and Bianchi 1991, 66; Sharon 1980, 66). These plants clearly alter the qualities of the San Pedro drink (Dobkin de Rios 1968, 191; Giese 1989a, 228 ff.).

To harvest, the stalks are cut off some 5 to 10 cm above the ground. The remaining stumps will develop shoots again in just a short time. The stalks are cut into manageable pieces some 30 to 40 cm long. The ribs are then cut apart. The skin or rind is cut away at the place where the green coloration of the flesh disappears. The fresh skin is placed in the sun to dry. After a few hours, the pieces of skin will begin to roll up, and they should then be placed so that the inside faces the sun. The drying process can last from two to six days, depending on the amount of solar radiation. After the cactus skins have dried thoroughly, they are ground. This can be done with a mortar and pestle (very arduous), a Mexican metate (grinding stone), a coffee mill, or a professional device from a drug store for pulverizing raw drugs (i.e., raw plant material). The more finely the cactus material is ground, the more effective is the absorption of the mescaline. Because the cactus tastes extremely or even disgustingly bitter, many Californians pour the powder into gelatin capsules that hold 1 g each. This practice makes it easier to ingest the powder and also makes it easy to determine the dosage. The powder should be stored in a dry, dark location. Because mescaline is a relatively stable compound, the powder will remain active for a long time if stored properly. If the powder is dissolved in milk, water, apple juice, tea, or some other liquid, it should be consumed as quickly as possible, as otherwise it will congeal into a disgusting mass.

Ritual Use


In pre-Hispanic times, the cactus played a ritual role in oracles, sexual magic, and shamanism (Andritsky 1989; Burger 1992; Dobkin de Rios 1982). Although the ritual use appears to date back to very ancient times, no precise pre-Columbian rituals have been documented. Dobkin de Rios (1985) has suggested that the renowned earth drawings on the Nazca plain may represent a kind of sacred cartography (or visionary map) that Moche shamans used for their out-of-body flights.

Today, Peruvian curanderos still ingest the sacred cactus during their nocturnal mesa rituals and also give it to the other participants. The mesa (Spanish, “table”) is an altar with numerous objects (sticks, shells, ceramics, images of saints, et cetera) whose structure dates back to pre-Hispanic times and represents a visionary map (Giese 1989a, 1989b; Joralemon 1985, 21; Joralemon and Sharon 1993, 167; Villoldo 1984). The drink is consumed primarily by shamans so that they can recognize the cause of an illness during their nocturnal ceremonies. Less frequently, the patient and other people who are present may also receive some of the drink. Prior to this, however, they must “drink” an alcohol extract of tobacco (Nicotiana rustica) through the nose from a snail or seashell to purify themselves and protect themselves from negative powers.


The San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi) has only a few soft, short spines. It is one of the most important shamanic plants of Peru.



A monstrous form of Trichocereus pachanoi.



The dried powder of the rind of Trichocereus pachanoi contains mescaline. It is light green in color and tastes extremely bitter.



The Pernettya species known as toro-maique is a fortifying additive to the San Pedro drink.


The use of the San Pedro drink among Peruvian folk healers is no longer truly shamanic but has taken on a more symbolic form. At the mesa rituals, the dosage that is now usually taken is not large enough to elicit psychoactive effects:


Based on my observations of numerous mesa rituals in Lima and Huancabamba, the achuma drink does not have a hallucinogenic effect. Even in the curandero and his helpers (rastreadores), no signs of an altered state of consciousness could be noticed. According to their statements, the achuma strengthens the visionary/diagnostic sensitivity, animates the objects on the mesa, and allows the souls of the patients to “blossom.” But true hallucinogenic visions were not reported at any mesa. (Andritzky 1989, vol. 1, 113 f.*)




There are numerous pre-Columbian artifacts from Nazca and from the Moche-Chimu period that depict columnar cacti that look exactly like Trichocereus pachanoi (and less like other species) (Dobkin de Rios 1977a*, 1980). An image engraved in a stele showing the oracle god of Chavín holding a cactus in his hand is particularly well known (Burger 1992; Cordy-Collins 1977, 1980; Mulvany de Peñaloza 1984*). The flowering cactus is also depicted on two-thousand-year-old shamanic textiles of the Chavín culture, although in an idealized form (with only four ribs). And while Peruvian shamans today still claim that four-ribbed cacti are the most potent, no such specimens have ever been observed in nature (Cordy-Collins 1982*). Many Mochican stirrup vessels have representations of cacti, either in three-dimensional relief or as drawings, that are clearly indicative of shamanic associations (Bourget 1990; Cordy-Collins 1977; Donnan and Sharon 1977; Kutscher 1997*; Sharon 1972, 1980, 1982). One especially interesting object is a vessel on which the magical cactus is shown growing out of a deer, i.e., here a connection is made between a cervine and a plant that contains mescaline, a connection that is also made in the Huichol peyote cult (see Lophophora williamsii). A Mochica vessel with an image of an erotic scene shows a woman on her back and a man who is in the act of penetrating her while holding a slice of San Pedro in his hand (Furst 1996*).

The American artist Donna Torres has produced several paintings that were inspired by experiences with San Pedro. The Chilean museum illustrator and artist José Pérez de Arce Antoncich produced a lithograph, Hume Adentro, after his own first experience with the San Pedro cactus (signed copies are available at the National Museum for Pre-Columbian Cultures in Santiago de Chile).

A Peruvian postage stamp features a drawing of Trichocereus pachanoi in flower.

Medicinal Use


The cactus is used primarily by shamans in psychedelic rituals. In Peruvian folk medicine, preparations of the cactus flesh are used in a limited degree as aphrodisiacs and tonics (Dobkin de Rios 1968).

At the present time, the cactus does not find any use in homeopathic or Western medicine.



The dried extract of Trichocereus pachanoi is said to contain 2% mescaline (Cabieses 1983, 138; Polia and Bianchi 1991, 66). Information in the literature about the concentrations of active ingredients often varies. According to Gottlieb (1978, 45*), 1 kg of fresh cactus contains 1.2 g of mescaline. The fresh cactus is said to have a mescaline content of 0.12% (Polia and Bianchi 1991, 66). Freeze-dried material has been found to have a mescaline content of 0.33% (Brown and Malone 1978, 14*). DeKorne (1994, 88*) has stated that 100 g of dried material contains 300 mg of mescaline. More recent chromatographic methods (HPLC) have achieved very precise results indicating that the mescaline content in six different samples of Trichocereus pachanoi ranged from 1.09 to 23.75 μg per mg of dried material. In other words, the mescaline concentration can vary substantially (Helmlin and Brenneisen 1992, 94). Human pharmacological experiments have clearly shown that the effects produced by cactus material from younger specimens are considerably more intense than those produced by older, woody individuals (Manuel Torres, pers. comm.).

In addition to mescalineTrichocereus pachanoi contains tyramine and β-phenethylamines (Mata and McLaughlin 1976*). Also present are trichocerine (Polia and Bianchi 1991, 66), hordenine, 3,4-dimethoxy-β-phenethylamine, and anhalonidine (Brown and Malone 1978, 14*).

Even snails that live on the cactus are said to contain mescaline (Furst 1996*).

“According to the curandero teachings, there are different types of the San Pedro cactus that can be distinguished on the basis of the number of their longitudinal ribs. Four-ribbed cacti, like four-leaved clovers, are considered to be very rare and very lucky. They are attributed with special healing properties because they correspond to the ‘four winds’ and the ‘four roads,’ supernatural powers associated with the cardinal directions that are invoked during the healing rituals. The San Pedro species that are found in the foothills of the Andes are considered especially effective, regardless of the number of ribs, because the soil there has more minerals.”






(1980, 66)



The feline oracle god of Chavín de Huantar (Peru) holding the psychedelic San Pedro cactus in his right hand, a clear indication that the cactus was already in use for divinations during the pre-Hispanic period.



Ritual snail collectors are shown with columnar cacti, most likely Trichocereus pachanoi or another Trichocereus species. The sacred snails actually do often sit between the ribs of Trichocereus pachanoi. (Painting on a Moche vessel, Chimu, approximately 500 C.E.)



Traditional Additives to the San Pedro Drink


(from Davis 1983; Dobkin de Rios 1968; Giese 1989a, 227 ff.*; Sharon 1980; supplemented by my own observations in Chiclayo, northern Peru; cf. cimora)






The effects of Trichocereus pachanoi are typically characterized as psychedelic or entheogenic. These effects make it appear to be the ideal shamanic drug for out-of-body journeys, et cetera (Giese 1989b, 83; Turner 1994, 32 f., 36*).

I have carried out experiments with varying dosages of the powder. With 1 g, I did not experience any effects. Two to 4 g produced a mild stimulation that persisted for approximately six to eight hours. This amount functions as a true tonic and restorative. I have also experimented with this dosage in the high mountains, where I noticed a distinct improvement in performance. If a person eats something during the time in which the effects are felt, the effects will increase as digestion begins.

With amounts of 5 to 6 g, empathogenic sensations appear alongside of the tonic qualities. Ten grams of the powder are unequivocally psychedelic, although few hallucinations occur. The psychedelic effects manifest more in the emotional domain. Very profound psychedelic effects can be achieved by taking some 50 μg of LSD with 10 g of San Pedro powder (cf. ergot alkaloids).

Recently, the use of cactus powder (sometimes in combination with Peganum harmala seeds) as a smoking substance has been on the rise. Whether psychoactive effects can be produced in this manner is questionable. I have not noticed any effects from such use.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The cactus can be obtained through the international cactus trade (the seeds are also available from time to time). At present, there are no import restrictions.



See also the entries for Trichocereus peruvianusTrichocereus spp., and mescaline.


Below, Till, and Anette Morvai. 1997. Schamanistische Volksmedizin in Peru. Beitrage zur Ethnomedizin, Kleine Reihe 13. Berlin: VWB.


Bourget, Steve. 1990. Caracoles sagrados en la iconografía moche. Gaceta Arqueológiga Andina 5 (20): 45–58.


Burger, Richard L. 1992. Chavin and the origins of Andean civilization. London: Thames and Hudson.


Cabieses, Fernando. 1983. Die magischen Pflanzen Perus. In Peru durch die Jahrtausende (exhition catalogue), 138–41. Niederosterreichische Landesausstellung, Schloß Schallaburg.


Calderón, Richard Cowan, Douglas Sharon, and F. Kaye Sharon. 1982. Eduardo el curandero: The words of a Peruvian healer. Richmond, Calif.: North Atlantic Books.


Cordy-Collins, Alana. 1977. Chavín art: Its shamanic/hallucinogenic origins. In Pre-Columbian art history: Selected readings, ed. A. Cordy-Collins and Jean Stern, 353-61. Palo Alto, Calif.: Peek Publications.


———. 1980. An artistic record of the Chavín hallucinatory experience. The Masterkey 54 (3):84–93.


Crosby, D. M., and J. L. McLaughlin. 1973. Cactus alkaloids. XIX. Crystallization of mescaline HCL and 3-methoxytyramine HCL from Trichocereus pachanoiLloydia 36:417.


Davis, E. Wade 1983. Sacred plants of the San Pedro cult. Botanical Museum Leaflets 29 (4): 367–86.


Dobkin de Rios, Marlene. 1968. Trichocereus pachanoi: A mescaline cactus used in folk healing in Peru. Economic Botany 22:191–94.


———. 1969. Folk curing with a psychedelic cactus in north coast Peru. International Journal of Social Psychiatry 15:23–32.


———. 1980. Plant hallucinogens, shamanism and Nazca ceramics. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2:233–46.


———. 1982. Plant hallucinogens, sexuality and shamanism in the ceramic art of ancient Peru. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 14 (1–2): 81–90.


———. 1985. Schamanen, Halluzinogene and Erdaufschuttungen in der Neuen Welt. Unter dem Pflaster liegt der Strand 15:95–112. Berlin: Karin Kramer Verlag.


Donnan, Ch. B., and Douglas G. Sharon. 1977. The magic cactus: Ethnoarchaeological continuity in Peru. Archaeology 30:374–81.


Friedberg, Claudine. 1960. Utilisation d’un cactus à mescaline au nord du Pérou (Trichocereus pachanoï Britt. et Rose). Actes du VIe Congrès International des Sciences Anthropologiques et Ethnologiques (Paris) 2:23–26.


Gerard, Robert V., and David B. MacLean. 1986. GC/MS examination of four Lycopodium species for alkaloid content. Phytochemistry 25 (5): 1143–50.


Giese, Claudius Cristobal. 1989a. “Curanderos”: Traditionelle Heiler in Nord-Peru (Küste und Hochland). Münchner Beitrage zur Amerikanistik, vol. 20. Hohenschäftlarn: Klaus Renner Verlag.


———. 1989b. Die Diagnosemethode eines nordperuanischen Heilers. Curare 12 (2): 81–87.


Glass-Coffin, Bonnie. 1991. Discourse, Daño and healing in north coastal Peru. Medical Anthropology 13 (1–2): 33–55.


———. 1992. Female healing and experience in northern Peru. PhD dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles.


Gutiérrez-Noriega, C. 1950. Area de mescalinismo en el Perú. América Indígena 10:215–220.


Joralemon, Donald. 1985. Altar symbolism in Peruvian ritual healing. Journal of Latin American Lore 11:3–29.


Joralemon, Donald, and Douglas Sharon. 1993. Sorcery and shamanism: Curanderos and clients in northern Peru. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.


Kakuska, Rainer. 1994. San Pedro blues. Connection 12:29–32.


Loyola, Luis A., Glauco Morales, and Mariano Castillo. 1979. Alkaloids of Lycopodium magellanicumPhytochemistry 18:1721–23.


Lundström, J. 1970. Biosynthesis of mescaline and 3,4-dimethoxyphenethylamine in Trichocereus pachanoi Britt. et Rose. Acta Pharmaceutica Suecica 7:651.


Polia, M., and A. Bianchi. 1991. Ethnological evidences and cultural patterns of the use of Trichocereus pachanoi Britt. et Rose among Peruvian curanderosIntegration 1:65–70.


Rätsch, Christian. 1994. Eine bisher nicht beschriebene Zubereitungsform von Trichocereus pachanoiYearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness, 1995 (4): 267–81. Berlin: VWB.


Sharon, Douglas. 1972. The San Pedro cactus in Peruvian folk healing. In Flesh of the gods, ed. Peter T. Furst, 114–35. New York: Praeger.


———. 1980. Magier der vier Winde: Der Weg eines peruanischen Schamanen. Freiburg: Bauer.


———. 1981. San-Pedro-Kaktus: Botanik, Chemie and ritueller Gebrauch in den mittleren Anden. In Rausch and Realitat, ed. G. Volger, 2:785–800. Cologne: Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum für Völkerkunde.


———. 1987. Der gescheiterte Schamanenschüler. In Heilung des Wissens, ed. Amelie Schenk and Holger Kalweit, 187–211. Munich: Goldmann.


Torres, Donna, and Manuel Torres. 1996. San Pedro in the pressure pot. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness, 1995 (4): 283–84. Berlin: VWB.


Villoldo, Alberto. 1984. Die Mesa des Don Eduardo. Sphinx 26:10–17.


“It is certainly not pleasant to eat San Pedro. Most hard-core consumers can stand the taste. But it is difficult to consume the amount of cactus that is needed for an intensive trip. The taste of the various Trichocereus species varies from extremely bitter to neutral, but those species that have a less intense taste tend to have a slimy consistency. With these, this consistency is the greatest barrier to being able to consume large quantities. I chew the cactus to a paste and swallow it with liquid. It is also helpful to eat whole-grain bread to bind the liquid in the stomach. The dark green flesh directly under the skin contains the most active ingredients and should be eaten first. The V-shaped strips should be pressed flat so that the flesh can be scratched from the skin. The flesh of the protruding ribs can be eaten like an ear of corn. The middle part is woody and inedible. The effects begin some 45 minutes after ingestion, and since it takes a while to eat the cactus, one can feel the effects while still eating.”






Trichocereus peruvianus Britton et Rose


Peruvian Columnar Cactus




Cactaceae (Cactus Family); Cereus Subdivision

Forms and Subspecies


One geographically isolated variety has been referred to as Trichocereus peruvianus var. truxilloensis.



Echinopsis peruvianus (cf. Echinopsis spp.)

Folk Names


Cuchuma, peruanischer kaktus, Peruvian columnar cactus, San Pedro



This species was first described botanically in 1937 by Britton and Rose in their large monograph on cacti (2:136). Apart from this, nothing is known about the plant’s history.



This Trichocereus species is found almost exclusively in Peru at altitudes of around 2,000 meters.



Trichocereus peruvianus grows as fast or even faster than Trichocereus pachanoi, but only when it is watered daily. During arid periods, it requires considerably less water.



Trichocereus peruvianus is distinguished from Trichocereus pachanoi primarily by its considerably longer, harder, and more pointed spines. It is very similar to Trichocereus bridgesii (cf. Trichocereus spp.) but does not grow as large, attaining a height of only 2 to 4 meters.

Psychoactive Material


—Fresh cactus flesh

—Dried rind powder

Preparation and Dosage


See Trichocereus pachanoi. Because of the long spines, care should be taken when preparing this cactus (wear gloves!). A piece of cactus approximately 10 cm long is sufficient for one person.

Ritual Use


As with Trichocereus pachanoiT. peruvianus is sometimes regarded as the “male” counterpart of T. pachanoi.



It is possible that some pre-Columbian representations of cacti on Peruvian ceramics may be depictions of T. peruvianus.

Medicinal Use


As yet unknown


It is possible that Trichocereus peruvianus was known in Europe as early as the eighteenth century, for it may be identical with “Cereus peruvianus.” (Woodcut from Tabernaemontanus, Neu Vollkommen Kräuter-Buch, 1731)



The Peruvian columnar cactus Trichocereus peruvianus has deep ribs. It frequently has four ribs, regarded as symbolic of the four cardinal points. The cactus is rich in mescaline.



The rare variety Trichocereus peruvianus var. truxilloensis occurs in northwestern Peru, the area in which trujillo coca (Erythroxylum novogranatense var. truxillense) is grown.




Trichocereus peruvianus contains approximately three times as much mescaline as other Trichocereus species (Turner 1994, 31*). Its concentration of mescaline is said to be the same as or even higher than that of peyote (cf. Lophophora williamsii) (Pardanani et al. 1977, 585). On occasion, it may contain up to ten times as much mescaline as Trichocereus pachanoi (Rob Montgomery, pers. comm.).



See Trichocereus pachanoi.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The cactus is available through the international cactus trade and is not subject to any regulations.



See also the entries for Trichocereus pachanoiTrichocereus spp., and mescaline.


Pardanani, J. H., J. L. McLaughlin, R. W. Kondrat, and R. G. Cooks. 1977. Cactus alkaloids. XXXVI. Mescaline and related compounds from Trichocereus peruvianusLloydia 40 (6): 585–90.


Trichocereus spp.


Columnar Cacti




Cactaceae (Cactus Family); Cereus Subdivision



Echinopsis spp.

Helianthocereus pasacana (Rümpl.) Backeb.

Folk Names


Achuma, cardón, cardón grande, columnar cactus, pasakana,310 säulenkaktus, San Pedro



Psychoactive Species in the Genus




Trichocereus bridgesii (Salm-Dyck) Britt. et Rose

Trichocereus cuscoensis Britt. et Rose

Trichocereus fulvinanus Ritt.

Trichocereus macrogonus (Salm-Dyck) Ricc.

Trichocereus pachanoi Britt. et Rose

Trichocereus peruvianus Britt. et Rose

Trichocereus taquimbalensis Card.

Trichocereus terscheckii (Parmentier) Britt. et Rose

Trichocereus validus (Monv.) Backeb.

Trichocereus werdermannianus Backeb.


Mescaline has been detected in all of these species (Agurell 1969; Mata and McLaughlin 1976). Several of these species are known as San Pedro or are seen as substitutes for it (see Trichocereus pachanoi).

While the following species have been chemically investigated, no mescaline has (yet) been detected in them:


Trichocereus spachianus (Lem.) Ricc.311

Trichocereus candidans Britt. et Rose




These species occur in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile, and Argentina.



Trichocereus bridgesii can be grown from seed and requires conditions similar to those required by T. pachanoi. The other Trichocereus species can be grown from seed and also propagated from layers or cuttings.



All species of Trichocereus develop long, ribbed columns with varying numbers of spines. Hybrids of different Trichocereus species now exist.

Ritual Use


In Bolivia, where Trichocereus bridgesii is commonly referred to as achuma, the cactus is said to be used both traditionally by the Indians and “for its stimulating effects upon the psyche” by young people in La Paz (Giese 1989b, 225*). Davis reported that this species has potent psychedelic effects (Giese 1983, 375*).

The pasakana cactus (Trichocereus pasacana [Webb.] Britt. et Rose) appears to have a long history of cultural use in South America. Trichocereus pasacana fruits have been found in a cave near Jujuy (Argentina) in layers that have been dated to 7670 to 6980 B.C.E. They were also found in all subsequent layers, i.e., continuously. They first begin to appear together with coca leaves (Erythroxylum coca) in layers from the fifteenth century (Inca period). It is unclear whether the cactus was used for psychoactive or simply culinary purposes in early times. The fruits (sans seeds) and flowers are still used today in the area of Jujuy to produce llipta, the alkaline coca additive (Fernández Distel 1984).


A flowering Trichocereus huanucensis from Peru



The Bolivian Trichocereus bridgesii is consumed as a psychedelic recreational drug in La Paz.



The border of Puna, the high plain between northern Chile and northwestern Argentina, is the area of natural occurrence of the pasakana cactus (Trichocereus pasacana), one of the oldest psychoactives in the plant world. Its fruits and flowers are burned to make ashes, which are added to coca quids for chewing.



Trichocereus species with fruit.



In the Chaco region of northwestern Argentina, a tall, red-blooming Trichocereus species is called San Pedro. It is said to produce psychoactive effects. (Photographed in its natural habitat)



There are now numerous crosses and hybrids among Trichocereus species that can no longer be unequivocally assigned to a specific species. Whether these contain mescaline is unknown.



Trichocereus atacamensis, indigenous to northern Chile (Atacama Desert), has stimulating powers and may possibly contain mescaline and similar constituents. This Trichocereus species is easily recognized by its extremely long spines (up to 20 cm in length). (Photographed in its natural habitat)


Northwestern Argentina is home to the red-blooming Trichocereus tarijensis [syn. Trichocereus poco] (Fernández Distel 1984) and the mescaline-containing Trichocereus terscheckii (Mata and McLaughlin 1982, 114*). There they are known as San Pedro or cardón santo, “sacred cactus.” The Mataco have used the cactus flesh of these and perhaps other species to make llipta for coca chewing. Such coca quids are said not only to taste better but also to be much more potent.

Trichocereus atacamensis appears to have been used in the Atacama Desert in prehistoric times in connection with snuffs.



Mescaline and occasionally other β-phenethylamines are present in Trichocereus species (Agurell 1969b). Trichocereus terscheckii contains 0.25 to 1.2% alkaloids (primarily trichocerine and mescaline; cf. Reti and Castrillo 1951 and Herrero-Ducloux 1932).

Trichocereus pasacana has been found to contain the alkaloid hordenine, which may have sympathomimetic effects (Agurell 1969a; Fernandez Distel 1984). The alkaloid candicine has also been detected (Meyer and McLaughlin 1980).



The cactus flesh of Trichocereus atacamensis (Phil.) Britt. et Rose [syn. Helianthocereus atacamensis (Phil.) Bckbg., Cereus atacamensis Phil.] (cf. Aldunate et al. 1981, 211*) has a very bitter taste (quite similar to that of Trichocereus pachanoi) and has distinctly stimulating properties.

Trichocereus terscheckii is said to produce the same effects as Trichocereus pachanoi.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


It is occasionally possible to purchase seeds of various Trichocereus species. The cacti are not subject to any special regulations.



See also the entries for Trichocereus pachanoiTrichocereus peruvianus, and mescaline.


Agurell, Stig. 1969a. Cactaceae alkaloids. Lloydia 32 (2): 206–16.


———. 1969b. Identification of alkaloid intermediates by gas chromatography-mass spectometry. I. Potential mescaline precursors in Trichocereus species. Lloydia 32 (1): 40–45.


Agurell, Stig, J. G. Bruhn, J. Linundstrom, and U. Svensson. 1971. Cactaceae alkaloids. X: Alkaloids of Trichocereus and some other cacti. Lloydia 34 (2): 183–87.


Fernandez Distel, Alicia. 1984. Contemporary and archaeological evidence of llipta elaboration from the cactus Trichocereus pasacana in northwest Argentina. Proceedings 44 International Congress of Americanists, BAR International Series 194.


Gutiérrez-Noriega, C. 1950. Area de mescalinismo en el Perú. América Indígena 10:215–20.


Herrero-Ducloux, E. 1932. Datos quimicos sobre el Trichocereus sp. aff. T. terscheckiiRevista Farmaceutica 74:375.


Mata, Rachel, and Jerry L. McLaughlin. 1976. Cactus alkaloids. XXX. N-methylated tyramines from Trichocereus spachianusT. candicans, and Espostoa huanucensisLloydia 39:461–63.


Meyer, B. N., and J. L. McLaughlin. 1980. Cactus alkaloids. XLI: Candicine from Trichocereus pasacanaPlanta Medica 38:91.


Reti, L., and J. A. Castrillo. 1951. Cactus alkaloids. I: Trichocereus terscheckii (Parmentier) Britt. et Rose. Journal of the American Chemical Society 73:1767–69.



A variety of Trichocereus species helps make up the typical high mountain flora of the Andes and in some areas shapes the characteristic image of the landscape. (Illustrations from Mortimer, 1901)