The Overlooked Medical Potential of Mescaline

Mescaline may be beneficial in the treatment of alcoholism and mental health disorders, according to researchers from Neural Therapeutics Inc. in a recent publication featured in the medical journal Neuropharmacology.  

Highlights of the study include:

  • Mescaline appears safe for consumption, with intoxication typically mild and easily treatable.
  • Mescaline has demonstrated an anxiety-reducing effect and an increase in social behavior in animals, with potential for treating alcoholism and improving mental health in humans.

Mescaline is a naturally occurring hallucinogen found in peyote and San Pedro cacti. Studies examining the therapeutic potential of mescaline are lacking, with most research ending during the psychedelic prohibition in the 1970s. Recent loosening of federal restrictions has streamlined research of classical psychedelics, e.g., psilocybin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and mescaline, with reports of their potential impact mounting for a variety of clinically-treated mental health disorders. Though a plethora of clinical studies have been conducted, very few have examined mescaline. Despite a lack of official studies, mescaline’s medical benefits have been suggested from insight of Indigenous Peoples/Native Americans who have used mescaline for centuries to treat physical ailments such as snake bites, burns, wounds, toothache, fever, joint pain, diabetes, and the common cold.

Researchers studied scientific literature dating from the 1930’s to examine the physical and psychological effects of mescaline in both animals and humans. By doing so, they hoped to present a current profile of medical knowledge that may compel further examination of mescaline in clinical and laboratory settings.

Mescaline Study In Animals

In studies of animals, mescaline was found to be safe at a cellular level, implying that the risk of cellular damage from mescaline use could be low in humans. Laboratory studies indicated mescaline’s strong action on serotonin receptor 5HT2a, a receptor which other classic psychedelics have been found to act strongly upon.  However, some drugs acting on the serotonin receptor have demonstrated a toxic cellular effect. With limited laboratory data at hand, more research was suggested before the safety of mescaline for human consumption could be confirmed.

In zebrafish, mescaline was found to increase social and group activity along with hyperactivity, suggesting a prosocial effect. Similar findings were reported in studies of rats including a greater tendency to explore and investigate surroundings and a decrease in grooming and preening behaviors suggesting the anxiety-reducing effect of mescaline.

A head-twitch response noted in rats with lower doses of mescaline, an indication of the hallucinogenic properties of the drug. However, the opposite was observed (a depressant effect) for higher doses of mescaline. The same trend was noted for startle response tests in rats where increased reflexive muscle activity was observed in response to sound following lower doses of mescaline, with higher doses decreasing reactivity.

Study of Mescaline In Human Subjects

Dilated pupils and increased blood pressure, pulse rate, and body temperature following mescaline consumption were effects generally noted in studies of humans.  Intensified color perception was also widely reported following mescaline consumption, with some studies indicating the presence of ‘synaesthesia’ in human subjects, a phenomenon whereby a sense in one area of the body is perceived through the perspective of another sense in the body, e.g., seeing certain colors or shapes after hearing specific sounds or collections of sounds (seeing the color blue after hearing the name Alex) or experiencing certain tastes after seeing certain colors (the color green eliciting a sweet, metallic taste and the color blue producing a sour sensation).  Distortions in time perception, euphoria, visual hallucinations of a geometric or kaleidoscope-like nature, noise sensitivity, loss of body orientation, and finger tingling were commonly reported.  Adverse effects of anxiety, depression, ego dissolution (personality splitting), panic, and emotional loss were rarely reported. 

Two clinical studies investigating the therapeutic potential of mescaline for patients with schizophrenia in the 1950s found controlled administration of the drug to cause reactivation or worsening of psychotic symptoms in most patients, with only a few achieving temporary recovery from symptoms and only one experiencing complete recovery  following mescaline administration. In a follow up study in which larger doses of mescaline were administered, a greater number of patients experienced temporary recovery of symptoms with the majority of patients experiencing no change of symptoms at all.

The therapeutic potential of mescaline in alcoholism treatment has demonstrated greater clinical potential. A 1974 study on Indigenous Peoples / American Indians suffering from alcoholism examined the effects of a therapeutic approach combining group meetings, cultural therapy, and mescaline.  Many participants reported that a single meeting in which mescaline was consumed was the catalyst for overcoming their alcoholism.  A 2005 study indicated that lifetime mescaline users were psychologically healthier (when assessed for anxiety, depression, loss of emotional or behavioral control, psychological distress, and mental health) in comparison to those with lifetime abstinence from mescaline.

Most recently, data from a 2021 international study examining the use of mescaline consumed by patients in non-clinical settings, e.g., in non-controlled natural settings without healthcare professional monitoring, reported improvements in the majority of participants for symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol / drug abuse disorders.

The number of studies examining the clinical potential of mescaline are very limited, with existing scientific literature and data offering only superficial insight in comparison to studies of far greater volume and through undertaking for other classical psychedelics such as psilocybin. However, the findings from these studies are enough to prompt further investigation of mescaline’s therapeutic potential in controlled, clinical conditions. Such may offer a gateway for therapeutic insight leading to breakthrough therapy that can impact patient care.

[featured image by Pretty Drugthings on Unsplash]