Perhaps peyote is the most common hallucinogen in the New World. This is rather strange, since the area of peyote growth is limited to a relatively small area in northern Mexico and the southeastern part of Texas. The Aztecs used peyote in their rituals and Sahagun noted that “those who eat or drink it observe visions that are scary or ridiculous.” The Spaniards forbade the Indians to take peyote, seeds of convolvulus and sacred mushrooms for religious purposes, because it seemed to the Spaniards blasphemy. Thus, the use of all these substances remained underground, and until the twentieth century, very little was known about them. Curiously, however, the cult of peyote spread widely in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and became the cult of most Indian tribes in western Mexico and the United States.
Southwestern tribes collected peyote, cutting it off at ground level and leaving the root intact. Then the cactus was cut into pieces and dried to solid “pads”. In this form, they didn’t lose their properties for a long time, and they could be transported over long distances. So they reached the Indians living in the west, reaching Minnesota and Wisconsin. By itself, the ritual was (and remained) practically unchanged, regardless of the particular tribe studied. It lasted all night and passed in a large wigwam, where participants sat around the fire, ate peyote cushions and drank peyote tea. Tobacco was smoked in the form of cigarettes or cigars. The night was spent in pennies, prayers, and then in a discussion of the visions caused by peyote. These ceremonies are still performed by some Indian tribes, like many centuries ago.
Until recently, the use of peyote by Indians did not fall under US drug law, but in 1990 the Supreme Court ruled that states could ban religious use of peyote without violating the existing constitutional right to religious freedom. The controversy continues, but the future of the legal use of hallucinogens is in doubt.