The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Mammillaria spp.


Mammillaria Cacti




Cactaceae (Cactus Family); Cacteae Tribe, Echinocactinae Subtribe



The genus Mammillaria is composed of 150 to 200 species. It thus has more species than any other genus in the Cactus Family except Opuntia. Species of ethnobotanical relevance:


Mammillaria craigii Lindsay [syn. Mammillaria standleyi (Britt. et Rose) Orcutt] (a peyote substitute)

Mammillaria grahamii Engelm. (a peyote substitute)

M. grahamii var. oliviae (Orcutt) L. (a peyote substitute)

Mammillaria heyderi (Mu.) Britt. et Rose (a peyote substitute)

M. heyderi var. coahuilensis (Boedeker) J. Lüthy comb. nov.

M. heyderi var. gummifera (Engelm.) L. Benson

M. heyderi var. hemispaerica (Engelm.) Engelm.

M. heyderi var. macdougalii (Rose) L. Benson

M. heyderi var. meiacantha (Engelm.) L. Benson

Mammillaria longimamma DC. [syn. Dolichothele longimamma (DC.) Britt. et Rose, Dolichothele uberiformis (Zucc.) Britt. et Rose, Mammillaria uberiformis Zucc.] (a peyote substitute)

Mammillopsis senilis (Lodd.) Weber [syn. Mammillaria senilis Lodd.] (a peyote substitute)


Among the immediate relatives of Mammillaria crinita (order Stylothelae), the following species have been shown to contain an alkaloid that may have psychoactive properties (the so-called M. wildiiprofile) (Lüthy 1995):


Mammillaria anniana Glass et Foster

Mammillaria aurihamata (after Reppenhagen 1991)

Mammillaria bocasana Poselger [syn. M. eschauzieri (Coult.) Craig]

Mammillaria brevicrinata Boedeker (after Reppenhagen 1991)

Mammillaria crinita DC. [syn. Mammillaria zeilmanniana Boedeker (Mother’s Day cactus), Mammillaria gilensis Boedeker]

Mammillaria duwei Rogozinski et Braun (after Reppenhagen 1991)

Mammillaria erythrosperma Boedeker

Mammillaria fittkaui Glass et Foster

Mammillaria limonensis Reppenhagen [= Mammillaria fittkaui ssp. limonensis (Reppenhagen) Lüthy comb. nov.]

Mammillaria mathildae Kraehnbuehl et Kraiz [= Mammillaria fittkaui ssp. mathildae (K. et K.) Lüthy comb. nov.]

Mammillaria monancistracantha Reppenhagen

Mammillaria ojuelensis n.n.

Mammillaria puberula Reppenhagen

Mammillaria pygmaea (Britt. et Rose) Berg

Mammillaria schwarzii Shurly

Mammillaria variabilis Reppenhagen

Mammillaria wildii A. Dietrich [= Mammillaria crinita, which is propagated and sold on the international market under the name Mammillaria wildii]



See above.

Mammillaria senilis Lodd. = Mammillopsis senilis (Lodd.) Weber


The Mexican ball cactus Mammillaria compressa.



Because it flowers frequently, Mammillaria bocasana is a popular specimen for the home.


Folk Names


Biznaga de chilillos, biznaga de chilitos, falscher peyote, false peyote, híkuli, jículi, jícuri, mammillaria cactus, mammillarienarte, Mother’s Day cactus, muttertagskaktus, peyote, warzenkaktus, wichuriki



The genus and several of its many species were described at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Today, the genus is well studied and has been the subject of several taxonomic revisions (Lüthy 1995). Many members of the genus are now in international demand as ornamentals.



The genus Mammillaria is American in origin and is most heavily concentrated in northern Mexico. Most species live in hot and dry regions (deserts), some on rocky and craggy soils as well as on sandy and volcanic soils.



Many mammillaria cacti can be easily grown from seed. The tiny seeds need only be lightly pressed into porous soil and covered with pure sand. Keep very moist and in the sun at first. The time to germination is two to six weeks (at 20 to 25°C). In central Europe, the plant can be grown only as a houseplant or in a greenhouse.



Those species of ethnobotanical and chemotaxonomic interest are all rather similar in appearance. They are small, spherical, heavily thorned, piliferous woolly cacti with flowers approximately 1.5 cm in length. The flowers, which may be white, pink, red, or violet, appear between March and May. The fruits typically are small red pods reminiscent of chili pods (Capsicum spp.). For this reason, they are known as chilitos in Mexico.

Psychoactive Material


—Fruits (chilitos)

—Cactus flesh

Preparation and Dosage


For use as a doping agent, a handful of the fresh fruit is recommended. The cactus flesh, dried and powdered, was drunk in maize beer (chicha) as a peyote substitute (see Lophophora williamsii).

Ritual Use


The Tarahumara of northern Mexico used some species of Mammillaria as peyote substitutes (see Lophophora williamsii) (Bye 1979b*; Deimel 1996, 22; Díaz 1979, 80*). Mammillaria craigii purportedly was formerly eaten by Tarahumara shamans wanting to obtain “clear vision” so that they could “see” witches and sorcerers (brujos) (Bye 1979b, 30*). The flesh of Mammillaria grahamii var. oliviae was consumed by shamans and participants in secret ceremonies so that they could undertake a journey into a realm of brilliant colors. It is said that a person will go insane if he or she consumes this cactus immoderately (Bye 1979b, 31*).



Several illustrations can be found on postage stamps.

Medicinal Use


It is possible that the Tarahumara used mammillaria cacti for folk medicinal purposes similar to the ways in which they used the true peyote.

Roasted pieces or heart pieces of Mammillaria heyderi are placed in the ear canal to relieve headaches. The long-distance runners of the Tarahumara eat its fruits (chilitos) for doping purposes. This cactus is also thought to prolong life (Bruhn and Bruhn 1973, 244).

Mammillaria species containing latex are sold at Mexican markets as folk remedies and to counteract witchcraft.


Mammillaria heyderi is alleged to have potent psychoactive effects; however, no reports of experiences with the cactus are available.



Mammillaria zeilmanniana is known as Mother’s Day cactus because its luminous flowers appear around May, the month in which Mother’s Day falls.



Mammillaria wildii, a cactus that contains an active alkaloid.



The fruits of several mammillaria cacti are known as chilitos (“little chilis”). In Mexico, chilitos are regarded as doping agents, and the long-distance runners of the Tarahumara eat them to maintain their strength.



These Laotian postage stamps show two Mexican mammillaria.


“Among the most important ‘false Peyotes’ of the Tarahumara Indians are several species of Mammillaria, all of them round and stout-spined plants.”






(1992, 48)







Several species contain the alkaloid hordenine (Howe et al. 1977). Other β-phenethylamines have been more frequently reported (Knox et al. 1983; West and McLaughlin 1973). To date, mescaline has not been detected (Shulgin 1995*).

The flowers and fruits of those species exhibiting the M. wildii profile have yielded a new alkaloid whose probable chemical formula is C13H13NO3 (Lüthy 1995, 58 f.). Most mammillaria contain a latex composed of terpenes.



Hordenine and other β-phenethylamines may have psychoactive effects. Whether the newly discovered alkaloid is indeed psychoactive must be determined by further human pharmacological research.

Commercial Forms and Regulations


Many species of the genus Mammillaria can be found in cactus and flower shops. Because the genus is very popular among cactus aficionados and collectors, the best shops will often have a large selection. However, care must be exercised as far as the botanical information is concerned. Numerous species are sold under the name Mammillaria zeilmanniana.



See also the entries for Lophophora williamsii and β-phenethylamines.


Bruhn, Jan G., and Catarina Bruhn. 1973. Alkaloids and ethnobotany of Mexican peyote cacti and related species. Economic Botany 27:241–51.


Howe, Roberta C., Jerry L. McLaughlin, and Duwayne Stantz. 1977. N-methytyramine and hordenine from Mammillaria microcarpaPhytochemistry 16:151.


Knox, M. J., W. D. Clark, and S. O. Link. 1983. Quantitative analysis of β-phenethylamines in two Mammillaria species (Cactaceae). Journal of Chromatography 265:362–75.


Lüthy, Jonas M. 1995. Taxonomische Untersuchung der Gattung Mammillaria HAW. (Cactaceae). Bern: Arbeitskreis für Mammillarienfreunde und J. Lüthy.


Reppenhagen, W. 1991–1992. Die Gattung Mammillaria. 2 vols. Titisee-Neustadt, Germany: Druckerei Steinhart.


West, L. G., and J. L. McLaughlin. 1973. Cactus alkaloids XVIII: Phenolic β-phenethylamines from Mammillaria elongataLloydia 36 (3): 346–48.

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