San Pedro Cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi)

San Pedro Cactus

Botanical Name:Echinopsis pachanoi (Britton & Rose). [Note: Botanical name disputed.]

Family:Cactaceae, Subfamily:Cactoideae Tribe:Trichocereeae

Vernacular Names: San Pedro Cactus, San Pedro, Andachuma, Huachuma, Aguacolla, Achuma, Cimora, and Cardo Santo.



Origin, Distribution and Habitat:Peruvian high valleys most plausible geographic origin. Native distribution: highlands of Peru and parts of Bolivia, also likely to cover Ecuador; altitudinal range between 1,830-2,750m. Pollinated by hummingbirds and moths. Cultivation frequent on Andean slopes of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, northern Chile, and possibly northwest Argentina; usually through cuttings; subspontaneous after cultivation. Dry habitat, requires full/partial sun, porous soil; average temperature 10°C.

san p

Conservation Status: Appendix II CITES (as Cactaceae spp.), subject to article IV (requiring export permits). High economic value can lead to overharvesting as can ‘psychedelic tourism’.

No evidence of endemic status being endangered.

Uses and Plant Products: Primary use is medicinal, traditionally through night-time rituals. E.pachanoi is one of the oldest hallucinogens in the Americas; images found in stone engravings, 1300BC, at the Temple of Chavín de Huantar. Use discouraged by Christian missionaries. Associated with hummingbirds, jaguars, and deer in textile and pottery design. Contemporary use centred around shamanic ceremonies.

Echinopsis_pachanoiUsed orally to cure sickness, alcoholism, insanity, and against sorcery and witchcraft. Taken alone or with other plants/additives (‘cimora’).

Shaman and/or patient drink a brew made from E.pachanoi after fasting. It is emetic, causes drowsiness, followed by a “great vision”. Intoxication lasts around 8 hours during which shamans learn the cause of illnesses and prescribe further medicine. Ceremonies often syncretic, involving ritual stone-striking, divination from animal bodies, sacred objects, Christian symbols, and Catholic prayers. May take place in shelters (‘tambos’); always centred around the use of sacred items displayed on the shaman’s table (’mesa’).

Used today in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia (especially in tourist towns such as Cusco and Iquitos):

san prep Mescaline is the psychoactive alkaloid , constituting 2% of dry material. Cactus which has been stored has higher mescaline content. Mescaline interferes with the action of an enzyme in the brain and will affect people in different ways but common effects include changes in perception, sensation, feeling, and thinking.

It is used topically for skin problems such as acne and wounds.

Harvesting and Manufacturing: Desired amount harvested by cutting from branches; material is used fresh. For oral administration it is chopped transversely into thin slices and boiled in a large vessel with water over a low fire until a viscous liquid remains.

For Topical use pulp is rubbed into the affected area.

Market status: Locally bought in markets often found cut and dried. Standard price for small quantity 0.5-1Bolivianos (=£0.09). Source of income for indigenous groupsand market sellers in countryside and cities. International market has grown in recent years. Major market is online: £12-25 for 30cm cuttings. Between 2002-2008 18,150 live specimens were traded from Peru to E.U. countries.

Legal status is dubious. The plant is usually not illegal within U.S.A. and Europe, but the active alkaloid mescaline is; preparing, distributing, using, and selling with intent to ingest is therefore cautioned against. No information on legal status in South American countries found.

[For references please contact me]


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