San Pedro AKA Mescaline
The view from Santa Apolonia.
San Pedro is a cactus that contains mescaline. It has been used as a means of spiritual cleansing by ancient South American cultures for more than 3,000 years and originates from the mountains of Peru and Ecuador.
Many people come to Peru seeking out Ayahuasca and San Pedro. Both of these substances are legal and natural. Though Ayahuasca is significantly more intense and should only be taken under the supervision of a qualified shaman.
I want to be clear about something. This is not a drug. This is a medicine. What you take away from it, as well as your individual experience is your own and no one else’s. However, in my opinion, those who take this as a drug are abusing the power and benefit of this plant. To the Incans, as well as the numerous empires than came before them, San Pedro was and still is a sacred plant. Below is my personal account of my experience with San Pedro.
Sliced and ready for dicing.
I met my friend Simon in Huanchaco when we were volunteering together in a hostel. He started to talk to me about San Pedro and how it was the difference between a spiritual cleansing and the spiritual awakening of Ayahuasca. He told me about how it was a lot less intense than Ayahuasca and explained to me the potential benefits of the plant. He told me that if I was interested, he thought that I might benefit from it and he was willing to travel to the mountains in Cajamarca with me so we could take it together. I was skeptical at first. I am not a fan of “drugs”, but I sheepishly started to ask around town. When I asked people if they knew where I could find the “drug” San Pedro, I always got the same confused response, “But that’s not a drug…”
I came up with nothing and Simon decided that he was going to endeavor to cook it. The
A view of the inside of San Pedro.
thing about San Pedro is that it is often used as an ornamental plant and it grows pretty much everywhere. There was a rather large cactus outside of the hostel and the owner gave him permission to cook a portion of it. He had a ceremony, cut off his beard as a way of giving something back (after 6 months of growing it!), and got to cooking. Because of the high quantity that he cooked to give to other people, the process took him two days. However, you definitely don’t need such a high volume. The general rule is one foot per person and it takes about five hours to cook. The cactus is tough, so you should have a sharp knife, and you are going to need a blender. You can read more about how to prepare San Pedro here. The preparation of San Pedro may be a post all its own in the future if my dear friend should decide that he would like to write it. <3
The day before we took San Pedro, we cleansed. We drank only water and ate only fruit and nuts. This helps with a number of things. It prepares your body to accept the medicine by making it easier for the mescaline to get into your system. It also helps if you have nothing in your stomach, because it can cause vomiting (more on that later). I’d also recommend over-hydrating the day before. San Pedro is very acidic, and you may not want to have to worry about things like remembering to drink water.
Picking a Place
It is best to take San Pedro in a natural environment. However, it is also nice to have access to a bathroom in the event that you vomit. We chose our place in advance, a beautiful park on the side of the mountain on the outskirts of town. The park is oriented around a significant landmark in Cajamarca, the small church, Santa Apolonia. However, we first took San Pedro in our room so that we could pass the nausea.
The day of I joined Simon at around 8 a.m. for some yoga and breathing exercises. It is best to prepare yourself mentally to accept the medicine. You want to go into the trip with an open mind and minimal expectations. Remember, this experience and what is taken away from it is different for everyone. We did buy some chasers. This sounds like a wonderful idea, because San Pedro is literally the vilest thing I have ever tasted in my entire life. It tastes like bile. Regardless, I recommend just chasing it with water. There is acid in juice. Soda can also be acidic and gassy. Things like sports drinks have too much sugar. Water will help to equalize the acid, and dilute the liquid. Also, if you do puke, it will make it easier.
Some people, mainly those who choose to see this plant as a drug, choose to down as much as possible as fast as possible. San Pedro is not meant to be chugged. Part of the spiritual experience is a gained awareness of your surroundings and yourself. Listen to your body. The batch that you have may be super strong and you may not need much, or you may need a couple of glasses. We took what were essentially double shots every 10-15 minutes.
After three, I threw up. This is a form of purging and it actually felt incredible. After about 20 minutes, though I will confess that from here on out time became irrelevant, I took a couple more. It was extremely condensed, so we soon realized that we didn’t need anymore. After we were fairly certain that I wasn’t going to puke, we ventured outside.
Yeah, Simon may have gone a little overboard
**I would like to take a moment to tell you that according to those that I have spoken with, my experience was not the norm. The most common “side effect” is a heightened sense of sight: brighter colors, the ability to slow down movements (like a humming bird’s wings flapping), seeing patterns intensified in everything, etc. While visuals were a huge part of my experience, I feel like they were a lot less significant for me than many of those with whom I have spoken. Your experience is entirely your own.
The journey through the city center to the park was intense to say the least. I don’t mean this in a negative way. The first thing that I noticed was that the buildings were brighter. The next thing that I noticed was that my sense of smell and taste were extremely intensified. The fumes from the cars were overwhelming, people’s perfumes were suffocating, food was even more alluring, and everything that I smelled I could taste. When I went to take a sip of my sports drink, I nearly spit it out. In the case of things like the perfume and the sports drink, it was a hyperawareness of the chemicals. In the case of the fumes, I was suddenly hyperconscious of the pollution.
The path to Santa Apolonia. If only this image truly grasped those stairs…
The journey up the long steps to the church was long, but beautiful. We took our time and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to do this with. Simon was patient and understanding and stopped when I needed to stop. San Pedro can make you slow and tired. I was very tired for about 15 minutes once it really started to kick in, but this did pass.
(I am a very spiritual person. So while I understand that I am about to sound like a stereotypical hippie, I want to be clear when I say that I this is how I believe the world is intended to be seen on a daily basis-with or without the use of mescaline.)
Once in the park, the world suddenly changed. I saw God in everything. I saw the aura of plants. The trees dancing on the mountains slowed down. All of my senses were suddenly intensified. At one point, I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of the surrounding wildlife. I was able to isolate the calls of a pair of birds and then climb a set of stone steps to find them in the top of a tree. I know this all may sound bizarre, but I didn’t fight any of this. I let myself reflect on all of the beauty that was around me. I let myself close my eyes and listen to the flies around me, the bees buzzing, the trees rocking in the wind, people talking in the distance, and the sounds of every nearby animal. In a single moment I was aware of all of this. I was also aware of the smell of the grass, the patterns on my finger nails, and the movement of the clouds over the mountains, or a lizard running over the rocks nearly 20 feet away.
I am not going to lie. I felt nauseous for a great deal of this time, but San Pedro offers you
The finished product. Smells like nothing. Looks like bile. Tastes like bile.
the ability to truly understand what it means to conquer mind over body. I chose to ignore it.
Moreover, once I let my mind begin to focus, I was aware of myself. I began to meditate upon myself; the things that I need to work on, the things that I choose to ignore, parts of myself that I have lost that I need to recover. I began to weep for an integral part of myself that I have lost over the last year: the part of myself that recognized the importance of the individual and a connection with nature, the part that recognized that no one has power over me and my attitude except for myself, the part of myself that saw beauty and hope and would never give up on either of those ideals.
After an immeasurable amount of time, we started to venture back to the hostel. We stopped to buy an ice cream, and it was the most amazing thing that I have ever tasted in my entire life. We went into a couple of ferias and enjoyed the bright colors of the artisanal goods. I would say that this was the only part of the “trip” that was purely fun. For those who are concerned about this “drug” making them freak out or act irrationally, know this: San Pedro did not affect my ability to have coherent social interactions or speak Spanish.
Afterwards, we ventured through the crazy streets. I felt completely aware of every single person on the street. I felt aware of their energy, of their presence. It was beautiful. I really saw the beauty in everything: children playing in the street, indigenous women selling produce and flowers, men gathering around the juice stand-everything. When we got back to the hostel, we spent the rest of the evening just relaxing, talking, and reflecting upon our experience. We ate some fruit salad, and I had an incredible night’s sleep filled with beautiful dreams.
What I Took Away From It
To say that San Pedro changed my life for the better would be an understatement. I am most certainly more conscious of what I need to be working on within myself. I am trying to listen more. I am trying to remember to just breathe for a few seconds before getting upset. When someone is mean to me, I try to treat them with kindness. I try to remember to smile at as many people as possible. I find that even in the face of someone having a bad day, they will eventually fall victim to my good mood. I openly admit that many of these things are new to me, and I don’t always succeed. In fact, I unreservedly admit that I fail more than I succeed. However, every day I remind myself at least once to stop and think about what I am doing. I think about the role that I play in conflict instead of pushing all of the blame onto someone else. In any given interaction, I think about how my attitude is affecting the situation or the attitude of the other person/persons involved. I think about how much time I am spending online. I try to remind myself daily to unplug from everything and just sit, or read a book, or walk outside and sit on a bench in the plaza, or do some yoga. I think about what I am eating. I think about all of the sunshine and time that goes into an apple before I take a bite. I eat a lot less meat, but when I do, I stop for a moment to give thanks.
I still have what I have grown to call “San Pedro dreams”. These are beautiful dreams that are often thematic, typically pertaining to nature or the general beauty of the world. They provide me with a renewed sense of hope and keep me grounded. I always wake up feeling refreshed and grateful.
We went back one more time before leaving Cajamarca. From the very top of the park, this is the view for the city as the sun was setting.
Finally, and this is perhaps the most important result, I am brought to tears multiple times a week by the re-realization of all of the beauty in the world. Being an activist and having PTSD it can be hard to hold on to the good. Over the last couple of years, I have found myself seeing more evil in the world than good. I keep up on politics, women’s issues, and environmental news. That can get you down. I still keep up on all of the things that are important to me. However, I am somehow reminded of the hope and incredible joy that still remains in the world on a daily basis. It has made me a significantly happier and more relaxed person.
I would never push San Pedro on anyone. I can only tell you what it has done for me. Besides, should you find yourself in South America, it will find you if you are meant to do it.