Analysis of over-the-counter analgesics purported to contain mescaline from the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii: Cactaceae)


  • Robert LeBlanc Department of Biology & Related Sciences, Sul Ross State University
  • Sohan De Silva Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Texas at El Paso
  • Martin Terry Department of Biology and Related Sciences, Sul Ross State University



The purpose of this study was to investigate samples of commercial over-the-counter products purported to contain extracts from peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii), a vulnerable species. Samples were extracted with organic solvent and then washed to remove impurities. The extracts of these products were subjected to an analysis by real-time mass spectrometry (DART-MS) to determine the presence or absence of the alkaloid mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine). High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) was used to determine mescaline concentrations in the samples and to provide quantitative evidence of the concentration—if any—of mescaline in the products. If a detectable level of mescaline—a stable and abundant alkaloid of L. williamsii—was found in a given extract, then it was inferred that L. williamsii was present in the corresponding topical product. The results of this investigation show that most consumers who purchase the products in question are being defrauded if they believe they are buying L. williamsii-based medicines. The lack of mescaline—implying the lack of peyote—in these products suggests that wild populations of the vulnerable cactus L. williamsii, though currently being decimated on a massive scale in Mexico and the U.S. for other purposes, are rarely harvested for use in topical analgesic products. This conclusion is based on the finding that less than 5% of the ostensible L. williamsii-containing topical analgesic products that were analyzed in this study actually contained mescaline.


Anderson, E.F. 1996. Peyote: The divine cactus. The University of Arizona Press. Tucson, AZ, U.S.A.
Aldulaimi, O.A. & W. Li. 2016. Fingerprint of Tiger Balm® by thermal desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Pharmacogn. J. 8(3):230–233. doi:10.5530/pj.2016.3.9
Bennett, W.C. & R.M. Zingg. 1935. The Tarahumara: An Indian tribe of northern Mexico. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, U.S.A.
Calderón, K. 2017. Advierten por riesgos de pomadas de peyote. NTR Periodismo Critico. Accessed 17 August 2018.
Drug Enforcement Administration. 2017. Drugs of abuse: A DEA resource guide, 2017 ed. U.S. Department of Justice, Washington D.C.
Excelsior. 2015. Venden gel de ‘peyote y mariguana’ por internet y en tiendas. Accessed 17 August 2018.
Gahlinger, P.M. 2004. Illegal drugs: A complete guide to their history. First Plum Printing, London, England.
Gross, J.H. 2013. Direct analysis in real time–a critical review on DART–MS. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. doi:10.1007/s00216-013-7316-0
Haggard, V.J. 1937. Epidemic cholera in Texas, 1833–1834. Southw. Hist. Quart. 40(3):216–230.
Hardin, G. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162:1243-1248. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243
Heffter, A. 1898. Ueber Pellote. Beitr?ge zur chemischen und pharmakologischen Kenntniss der Cacteen. II. Mittheilung. Naunyn-Schmeidebergs Archiv fur experimentelle Pathologie und Pharmakologie 40:385–429. doi:10.1007/BF01825267
Helmlin, H. & R. Brenneisen. 1992. Determination of psychotropic phenylalkylamine derivatives in biological matrices by high-performance liquid chromatography with photodiode-array detection. J. Chromatogr. 593:87?94. doi:10.1016/0021-9673(92)80271-u
Hulsey, D., P. Daley, N. Fowler, M. Kalam, & M. Terry. 2011. Clinical geographic variation in mescaline concentration among Texas populations of Lophophora williamsii (Cactaceae). J. Bot. Res. Inst. Texas 5(2):677?683.
IUCN. 2017. Lophophora williamsii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed 20 October 2020.
Jeol. 2014. AccuTOF-DART: Direct analysis in real time time-of-flight mass spectrometer. Accessed 17 August 2018.
Jeol. 2018. AccuTOF JMS-T100LC high-performance LC-TOFMS. Accessed 17 August 2018.
Johnson & Johnson. 2011. Bengay® Pain Relief + Massage. Pharmacy Times. 77(1):31.
Jovanovic?, M. 2016. Introduction to Mass spectrometry of biomolecules: Theory and principles. NOVA, Hauppauge, New York.
Kalam, M.A., M.T. Klein, D. Hulsey, K. Trout, P. Daley, & M. Terry. 2013. A preliminary report of mescaline concentrations in small regrowth crowns vs. mature crowns of Lophophora williamsii (Cactaceae): Cultural, economic, and conservation implications. J. Bot. Res. Inst. Texas 7(1):435?440.
Kapadia, G.J. & M.B.E. Fayez. 1973. The chemistry of peyote alkaloids. Lloydia 36(1):9–35.
Klein, M.T., M. Kalam, K. Trout, N. Fowler, & M. Terry. 2015. Mescaline concentrations in three principle tissues of Lophophora williamsii (Cactaceae): Implications for sustainable harvesting practices. Haseltonia 20:34–42.
Klüver, H. 1966. Mescal, and mechanisms of hallucinations. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, U.S.A.
La Opción de Chihuahua. 2018. Venden pomade con peyote en feria comercial. Accessed 17August 2018.



How to Cite

LeBlanc, R., Silva, S. D., & Terry, M. (2021). Analysis of over-the-counter analgesics purported to contain mescaline from the peyote cactus (Lophophora williamsii: Cactaceae). Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, 15(1), 125–137.