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History of Lophophora

Lophophora has had one of the oldest, most colourful and convoluted backgrounds of any plant, most likely due to its mescaline carrying properties. In fact, it seems that recent radio carbon dating (October 2005) on two individual samples (dated to the calendric time interval of around 3780-3660 BC) have made Lophophora the oldest known useable plant we have going. These samples were originally collected by Native Americans in the Rio Grande area due to there mescaline carrying properties, and were found in the Shumla Caves of Texas.

To begin, it wasn’t until 1638 that Hernandez the naturalist of Philip II of Spain gave Lophophora its first proper botanical description and named it “Peyoti Zacatensis”. Then in 1845 the French botanist Charles Lamaire became the first person to publish a botanical name for peyote and called it “Echinocactus Williamsii”, which appeared without picture or description in a horticultural magazine. By 1847 though, the first picture of peyote appeared in Curtis’ Botanical Magazine as shown in Image 1.

First Depiction of Lophophora Williamsii in Curtis Botanicle Magazine
Image 1 - The first illustration of peyote
appeared in Curtis's Botanical Magazine
in 1847 (plate 4296).

In 1872, S. Voss changed the classification of peyote toAnhalonium Williamsii”. Then, by 1891 an American botanist by the name of John Coulter transferred peyote to the genus Mammillaria, only to have S.Voss confuse things once again in 1894 when he placed peyote in the genus Ariocarpus. Thankfully though, later in the year of 1894 John Coulter did a taxonomic study on peyote and described it as the genus Lophophora, the name from the Greek lophos, crest, and phoreus, bearer, thus crest bearer, referring to the crests or tufts of hairs borne on each tubercle.

Further down the page is a Timeline adaptation of the History of Lophophora Williamsii for those that need to know more than was offered in this condensed version above.


Historical Usage of Lophophora Williamsii

Present day studies and records show that peyote has been collected and used by the  indigenous people of North America ever since the years 3780-3660 BC.
Most prevalent would be the use of peyote for ceremonial purposes by Native Americans. Once consumed, peyote is used as a means of communicating with the spirit world.

The Tarahumara (one of two original indigenous tribes that actually still go on pilgrimages for peyote) are famous as great distance runners. These athletes/hunters run barefoot and naked except for loin cloths and little pouches containing peyote at their sides. Each athlete eats peyote as he runs to combat pain, attain greater endurance and combat hunger and thirst while hunting for days without food, water, or rest.

Furthermore, tribes such as the Tarahumara and Huichol Indians drink powdered peyote in water to give health, long life and to purify body and soul. They also apply it externally after chewing to treat snakebite, bruises, wounds, burns, fractures, constipation, and use it as an analgesic, anti-rheumatic, and general tonic
As traditional medicine, peyote has also been shown to have antibiotic activity against a wide variety of bacteria including some penicillin resistant strains. Beyond this, peyote has been used in the treatment of arthritis, consumption, influenza, intestinal disorders, diabetes, scorpion bites, datura poisoning, to combat painful joints, toothache, pain in child-birth, fever, breast pain, skin disease, diabetes, colds, blindness, neurasthenia, hysteria and asthma. And if all this isn’t enough for you, the flesh of peyote may also be applied topically to promote milk production.

As for threats to peyote, most typically the worst are that of mealy bug, and spider mite infestations. Lophophora has an even bigger problem in that of fighting the US government’s movement to make the little plant extinct. It seems governments do not like anything that they are not collecting taxes for, but they seem to dislike anything that might be considered a narcotic even more. Luckily we don’t have this problem in Canada but at the same time we do not have the climate to grow peyote outdoors year round either. So the next biggest problem is that of excessive root plowing and the wipe out of useable habitat to make room for people.

Historical Timeline

3700 BCE - Native Americans in the Rio Grande (Shumla Caves) area collected mescaline containing peyote buttons.
1000 BCE - Peyote used ceremonially by indigenous cultures in Texas and Mexico.
Jun 15, 1521 - The use of hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote are driven underground as use of "non-alcohol" intoxicants is forbidden by Europeans in Mexico. Catholic priests punish the use of entheogens by native people.
100BC to 200AD - Funerary art from the Colima culture. The earliest images of cacti are of those with hallucinogenic properties: Echinopsis Pachanoi from Peru (c.1300BC) and Lophophora species in Mexico dating back to around 300BC.
1560 – Spanish priest Bernardino de Sahagún writes in his Florentine Codex about the use of peyote and hallucinogenic mushrooms by the Chichimeca Indians of Mexico. He called it Peyotl and estimates it has been in use since at least 300 B.C. due to evidence found in a snuffing pipe from the Monte Alban culture.
1550 – 1750 - Determined effort by Spaniards to stamp out peyote practices amongst native Mexicans. Peyote use is denounced by European Catholics as an act of witchcraft and superstition because it was for "purposes of detecting thefts, of divining other happenings and foretelling future events." Its use was equated with cannibalism in some catholic texts.
The first manuscript reference to the peyote cactus was in a report of the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagun in his Historia general de las cosas de Nuevo Espana (general history of the things of new Spain), but not formally published until 1829.
1591 - Probably the most important early medical description of the effects of peyote is that of the physician Juan de Cardenas, whose work was published in Mexico in 1591 under the title Problemas y secretos maravillosos de las indias (Problems and Miracle secrets of the Indians).
1638 - The first proper botanical description of Peyote is made by Hernandez, the naturalist of Philip II of Spain. Gave peyote its first name “Peyoti zacatensis”.
1760 - There is some evidence that the use of peyote has spread into the United States.
1845- Apparently the French botanist Charles Lemaire was the first person to publish a botanical name for peyote, but unfortunately the name that Lemaire used for the plant, Echinocactus Williamsii appeared without description and only in a horticultural catalog. Therefore, it was necessary for Prince Salm-Dyck, another European botanist, to provide the necessary description to botanically validate Lemaire's binomial. No illustration accompanied either the Lemaire name or the description by Salm-Dyck.
1847 - The first picture of peyote appeared in Curtis' Botanical Magazine (See Image 1 above).
1870s - Peyote use spreads more widely into the United States.
1872 - Peyote classification changed to Anhalonium Williamsii by Voss.
1886 - Theodore Rumpler proposed that peyote be removed from Echinocactus and placed in the new segregate genus Anhalonium, thus making the binomial A. Williamsii, a name which soon became widely used throughout Europe and the U.S.
1887 - Dried Peyote buttons are distributed by Parke Davis & Co.
1888 - Botanist Paul Hennings published a report on Lophophora chemistry, leading to further investigations by other botanists.
Late 1800s - North American Indians brought back knowledge of Peyote from raids on Mexico. Along with another contemporary movement, the Ghost Dance, Peyote use spread quickly among the Indian tribes of America. Indian prophets like Quanah Parker added Christianity to traditional beliefs and formed the basis of the Peyote ritual practiced most commonly today by the Native American Church.
1890s - The German chemist Arthur Heffter received a shipment of poorly documented and incorrectly identified peyote specimens for laboratory analysis. These plants were to be the basis of some of the most important, and confusing pioneer chemical studies of peyote. Heffter discovered that the plants he had received belonged to two distinct groups based on the alkaloids present but he claimed that he was unable to distinguish the groups on structural or morphological grounds. Since he had no collection and field data he decided that peyote simply consisted of two chemical forms. Jan G. Bruhn of the University of Uppsala and Bo Holmstedt of the Swedish Medical Research Council have thoroughly researched the literature dealing with this period of peyote history; their conclusion is that Heffter's batch of plants actually consisted of the two distinct species of peyote, which do have definite alkaloid differences. A better botanical understanding of the group, as well as proper scientific data, would have prevented the introduction of much confusing information into the literature that has persisted for more than seventy-five years.
1891 - Additional confusion concerning the botanical classification of peyote occurred when the American botanist John Coulter transferred peyote to Mammillaria, a genus commonly called the pincushion or nipple cactus.
1892 - German explorer Lumhotz described ceremonial Peyote use among the Huichol and Tarahumara, and sent samples of the cacti to Harvard for Botanical analysis.
1894 - A European named S. Voss confused things once again by placing peyote in Ariocarpus, the valid name for a distinct, and quite different group of plants that had been also called Anhalonium.
1894- John Coulter did a taxonomic study on peyote and described it as the genus Lophophora, the name from the Greek lophos, crest, and phoreus, bearer, thus crest bearer, referring to the crests or tufts of hairs borne on each tubercle. This helped clarify the nomenclatural situation because peyote had been included in at least five different genera of cacti by the end of the nineteenth century. The group of plants commonly called and used as peyote is unique within the cactus family and deserves separation as the distinct genus Lophophora.
1896 Dec. - Two early experience reports describing the effects of a peyote extract are published in The British Medical Journal.
1897 - Nov 23, Mescaline is first isolated and identified by German chemist Arthur Heffter.
1902 - An early article on peyote titled "Mescal: A Study of a Divine Plant" is published in Popular Science Monthly.
1918 - The Native American Church is formed. James Mooney, a Smithsonian Institute archaeologist who traveled through Oklahoma in 1891 participating in various Peyote ceremonies, became convinced of the need to unite the Indians and protect their legal right to worship with Peyote. He called together meeting of all of the great roadmen in 1918 where he wrote the charter for and incorporated the Native American Church.
1919 - Mescaline is first synthesized by Ernst Spath.
1922 - An estimated 13,000-22,000 ceremonial users of Peyote in the U.S.
1927 - An extensive study of mescaline's effects was published in Der Meskalinrausch (The Mescaline High).
1930 - Over a dozen states had outlawed possession of Peyote, largely as an anti Native American statement.
1944Lophophora Echinata var. Diffusa was validly published by Croizat
1945 Oct. - US Navy Technical Mission reports on mescaline experiments at the Nazi Dachau concentration camp.
1947 - U.S. Navy initiates mescaline studies under the auspices of 'Project Chatter'.
1952 - Dr. Humphry Osmond begins working with hallucinogens at a hospital in Saskatchewan, looking at the similarity between mescaline and the adrenaline molecule.
1953 – In May, Aldous Huxley tries mescaline (400 mg) for the first time under the supervision of Dr. Humphrey Osmond. During the experience, he commented "This is how one ought to see, how things really are."
1954 - The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley is published describing his 1953 experience with mescaline.
1960 - Arizona Judge Yale McFate rules that Native Americans are guaranteed access to the Peyote sacrament under the First and Fourteenth amendments.  
1967 - Peyote is banned federally in the U.S.
1967 - H.H.Bravo found near Queretaro in south-central Mexico another species which he named L.Diffusa. This plant is yellow-green, soft, and ribless and contains a somewhat different alkaloid mixture with far less mescaline if any at all than L.Williamsii.
1970 Oct 27, - The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act is passed. Part II of this is the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) which defines a scheduling system for drugs. It places most of the known hallucinogens (LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, mescaline, peyote, cannabis, & MDA) in Schedule I. It places coca, cocaine and injectable methamphetamine in Schedule II. Other amphetamines and stimulants, including non-injectable methamphetamine are placed in Schedule III.
1991 - Alexander and Ann Shulgin publish PiHKAL, documenting over 250 phenethylamines, including MDMA, mescaline, 2C-B, 2C-T-7, 2C-T-2, and many others.
2005 - The abstract below was retrieved from Pubmed, a part of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):
Title: "Prehistoric peyote use: alkaloid analysis and radiocarbon dating of archaeological specimens of Lophophora from Texas." J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Oct 3;101(1-3):238-42. Two archaeological specimens of peyote buttons, i.e. dried tops of the cactus Lophophora Williamsii (Lem.) Coulter, from the collection of the Witte Museum in San Antonio, was subjected to radiocarbon dating and alkaloid analysis. The samples were presumably found in Shumla Cave No. 5 on the Rio Grande, Texas. Radiocarbon dating shows that the calibrated 14C age of the weighted mean of the two individual dated samples corresponds to the calendric time interval 3780-3660 BC (one sigma significance). Alkaloid extraction yielded approximately 2% of alkaloids. Analysis with thin-layer chromatography (TLC) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) led to the identification of mescaline in both samples. No other peyote alkaloids could be identified. The two peyote samples appear to be the oldest plant drug ever to yield a major bioactive compound upon chemical analysis. The identification of mescaline strengthens the evidence that native North Americans recognized the psychotropic properties of peyote as long as 5700 years ago.

Lophophora Williamsii with flower and buds


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