Peyote is a mescaline-containing cactus found in parts of Mexico and the southern United States. Its ceremonial use by native communities is thought to pre-date the arrival of Europeans in the Americas by thousands of years, and over the past century it has become the primary sacrament of the Native American Church (NAC).
Due to social and economic disadvantage, addiction has become prevalent among Native Americans in general, although the NAC has successfully used peyote to bring about a significant reduction in alcoholism among its members. While the increase in serotonin levels produced by peyote may be partially responsible for its anti-addictive capabilities, the success of the NAC in combatting addiction owes much more to the skilful way in which the cactus is used than to its direct effects.
NAC ceremonies use peyote as a tool to help initiates reframe their identities and life histories, which in turn helps to steer them away from substance abuse. During these healing rituals, the consciousness-altering effects of peyote help to mobilise the emotional significance of key cultural symbols, all of which serves to restore individuals’ sense of belonging, purpose and pride in who they are.
The central motif is that of the Peyote Road, a shared spiritual path along which all members of the community walk. By reconnecting to this life path and developing a commitment to walking the Peyote Road, NAC members regularly discover a higher level of self-worth and identity. This helps to alleviate much existential suffering and facilitates a connection to a meaningful way of life, thereby removing the compulsion to self-medicate.
As with ibogaine, therefore, it is not the ingestion of peyote that brings about recovery from addiction, but the way in which the experience is integrated into one’s sense of self. For members of the NAC this is achieved via a connection to the Peyote Road, although people from outside this community may need to discover another path that is relevant to them and their life narrative.
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