Medical Peyote

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Image retrieved from on March 29th, 2014.
Image retrieved from on March 29th, 2014.

There is a long list of ailments that this psychedelic is said to be useful in treating. Indians have employed it for everything from dandruff to wounds to cancer, including TB, VD, diabetes, flu, cramps, pneumonia, rheumatism and toothache. Even among Indians opposed to using it in religious rites, there's great respect for its medical efficacy.
Indians use peyote as much for the maintenance of good health as for religious worship. Frank Takes Gun, often referred to as the national president of the Native American Church, comments:

At fourteen, I first used Father Peyote. This was on the Crow Reservation in Montana, and I was proud to know that my people had a medicine that was God-powerful. Listen to me, peyote does have many amazing powers. I have seen a blind boy regain his sight from taking it. Indians with ailments that hospital doctors couldn't cure have become healthy again after a peyote prayer meeting. Once a Crow boy was to have his infected leg cut off by reservation doctors. After a peyote ceremony, it grew well again.

Western notions of physiology and healing tempt us to dismiss such reports as a nothing more than exuberant “witch doctor talk.” However, it is a matter of record that these economically deprived people generally enjoy better-than-average health, and reliable observers have confirmed that when they do become sick and turn to peyote, the cactus seems to help them. Louise Spindler, an anthrophologist who studied the Menomini tribe, was among the earliest to notice these effects, describing how women peyoteists often kept a can of ground peyote for brewing tea, used in “an informal fashion for such things as childbirth, earaches, or for inspiration for bead work patterns.” Edward Anderson points out that in some Indian languages the word for peyote is the same as for medicine--azee (Navajo), biising (Delaware), puakit (Comanche), makan (Omaha), o-jay-bee-kee- (Shawnee), walena (Taos) and now Naw-tai-no kee (Kickapoo). T.E. Schultes has commented that peyote use for medicinal purposes is so well known that it was made into a verb by rural Mexicans: empeyotizarse means to self-medicate.
Dr. T.T. Peck of the San Jacinto Memorial Hospital in Baytown, Texas, made similar observations. He first became interested in LSD as a result of having seen the effects of peyote:

When I went into general practice as a country doctor in Texas, I was very impressed that some of our Latin American patients, despite their poverty and living conditions were extremely healthy. One day, I asked one of my patients how he stayed so healthy, and he told me that he chewed peyote buttons...then I became interested in these drugs that could promise physical as well as mental health.

In the late nineteenth century, American medical professionals became aware of peyote's health benefits after observing its effects among Indians. Once he became familiar with use of the cactus in treating illnesses, James Mooney recommended it to Dr. D. W. Prentiss and Dr. Francis P. Morgan, the latter a noted pharmacologist, and they decided to undertake tests with the peyote buttons Mooney supplied.
Their subjects were suffering from a variety of physical complaints—chronic bronchitis with asthmatic attacks; neurasthenia; nervous prostrations; chronic phthisis with facial neuralgia and catarrh; persistent cough; and even “softening of the brain.” A report by Prentiss and Morgan appeared in the August 22, 1896 Medical Record, proclaiming that the “effect of the drug was little less than marvellous” in one case; they sang the praises of peyote with almost equal gusto in others. They recommended it for use as an antispasmodic and for treatment of general “nervousness,” insomnia and colour blindness. One example

Gentleman, aged fifty-five-years. Chronic bronchitis with asthmatic attacks. Much distressed by an irritative cough which kept him from sleeping....In a letter received from him recently he states that he has improved very much, being able to sleep all night without rising, which he has not been able to do for two years; and that, although he has no need of it upon some days, he carries a piece of a button in his pocket constantly, as its use relieves the tickling in his throat at once and gives better relief than any other remedy which he has ever tried

Westerners tend to maintain a distinction between peyote as a vision-producer and peyote as a medicine. Among Indians, these qualities are regarded as being much the same; peyote is thought to put them in contact with the spirit world from which illness is derived. From their point of view Western medicine is based on human intervention. Peyote visions, being a kind of divine intervention, are thus more powerful and provide a surer means by which to learn how to cure ailments.
One would think that by now questions about the medicinal efficacy of peyote and mescaline would be settled, but so far there haven't been good controlled studies of comprehensive scope. One constituent in peyote—peyocactin, which is also called hordonine—has been shown by James McCleary and his colleagues at California State University, Fullerton, to be an antibiotic active against a wide spectrum of bacteria, having an inhibitory action against at least eighteen strains of penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This antibacterial characteristic may account in part for its healing effects when applied to wounds.
Another area that should be probed further is peyote's effect upon eyesight. The peyote literature includes many reports of restoration of vision, to which I might add my own report: having worn glasses since the age of three because of astigmatism and near-sightedness, I gave them up after taking a fair amount of peyote. In the absence of clinical data, all we have to go by is a large amount of individual testimony. Much of this is of a remarkable sort.

pp. 135-137 Psychedelic Encyclopedia by Peter Stafford (1983)

James Mooney