Regulation of peyote (Lophophora williamsii: Cactaceae) in the U.S.A: A historical victory of religion and politics over science and medicine

  • Martin Terry Sul Ross State University, Dept. Biology, Geology & Physical Sciences
  • Keeper Trout Cactus Conservation Institute
Keywords: Lophophora williamsii, peyote, religion, drug prohibition, American Indian culture, cannabis


The peyote cactus, Lophophora williamsii, is presently classified as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance in the USA, with an exemption for use as a sacrament in bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church (NAC). Any botanist or other researcher seeking to work with peyote or any of its alkaloids, must com-ply with applicable (nontrivial) regulatory requirements. This paper presents an examination of the prohibition efforts that paved the way for current peyote regulation, accompanied by documentation of the religion-based political origins of such efforts, which involved the "acculturation" of Native Americans (i.e., the destruction of American Indian cultures). We also look at the historical emergence of a nationally organized and coordinated effort by missionaries and other prohibitionists to sell a federal anti-peyote law to Congress, which manifested itself repeatedly over a period of more than fifty years, before finally realizing success in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. In view of ongoing changes in the legal/regulatory status of Cannabis sp. (another Schedule 1 plant that was targeted for illegality during the prohibitionists' rise to political predominance), we compare and contrast the two plants with speculation on peyote’s future.


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How to Cite
Terry, M., & Trout, K. (2017). Regulation of peyote (Lophophora williamsii: Cactaceae) in the U.S.A: A historical victory of religion and politics over science and medicine. Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, 11(1), 147-156.