Drug use has always been a topic of controversy, especially when it pertains to religion.
One particular drug that has been brought to the attention of the federal government is Peyote. Peyote is a drug that has been used by the Native Americans for thousands of years. This drug, Peyote which has caused much controversy over the years has recently been reconsidered for legal use.
Probably the most famous New World hallucinogenic plant is Peyote,
(Lophoproria willamsii), a small spineless cactus, native to the Rio Grande Valley
of Texas. Also in the northern and central parts of the Mexican Plateau Region.
Another species (Lidiffuss) is native to the Mexican State of Quertono. The
rounded, gray-green stem crown (top) is radially divided into sections, each
offering a small meristematic region (called an areole) from which arises a tuft of
hairs. The crown tapers into a thick carrot-like root that extends into the ground
(Mescal Bean N. Pag.).
There are many different chemicals in the Peyote cactus, the main one being mescaline. Mescaline, which can be made in a lab, was isolated in 1919, resembling epinephrine, the adrenal hormone (Peyote 1 Pag).
The Peyote cactus contains more than 50 different alkaloids, but the most active hallucinogen is mescaline. Mescaline has a chemical structure similar to the brain
neurotransmitter dopamine (MescalBean N. Pag.). It is also structurally similar to the neurohormone
norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and to the stimulant amphetamine. In the Peyote cactus, mescaline is formed in a complex path way from the Amino Acid tyrosine.
Mescaline provides psychologic disorientation with brilliant, ever changing colors. Mescaline hallucinations produce audio visual affects, double personality,
derealization (loss of sense of reality of environment) and depersonalization (shattered personality).
Peyote was dried and eaten by Southwest Indians at religious services for sense of well being, hallucinations (visions) and trances (Peyote N. Pag.).
Native Americans use this drug as part of their religious ceremonies. The users slice off and eat peyote crowns fresh or dried. Peyote buttons last years, swallowed whole or drunk in tea.
According to Clairdone, large amounts of peyote can induce hallucinations, adherents say the quantities
normally taken in religious rites bring on only an introspective mood that gives the user insight to the spiritual world. This is not something American Indians have made up in the past hundred years. Mescal Beans have been discovered in Indian sites dating before A.D. 1000, and from one site dating back to 1500 B.C. (Mescal Bean N. Pag.).
Ever since the arrival of the first Europeans in the New World, Peyote has provoked controversy. Supression and persecution (Scnultes N. Pag.). Peyote, in its natural state is not a dangerous drug, however, synthetic peyote causes harmful side effects. According to the article Peyote 1 and magic Mushrooms, Synthetic peyote lowers blood pressure, depresses the central Nervous system and kills by respiratory failure. Since Peyote is a drug that produces hallucinogenic affects, the military reached an agreement with the Native American church to honor the use of peyote for Native Americans in the Military, except for those who operate nuclear weapons. Other restrictions were said to include a prohibition against the use of peyote on military vehicles, aircraft, or ships; a requirement to stop using the drug 24 hours before returning to active duty. According to Clairdone, Church sources said fears of hallucinogenic flashbacks that were raised by officials of the Strategic Air Command delayed formal implementation of the draft rules and raised bitter resentment among devout native Americans who use peyote as a sacrament.
Individual states had made laws that honored
the peyote ritual, but peyote was still considered an illegal drug. According to Guy Mount, in his article, Peyote and the Law, Three states have exempted peyote from controlled substance prohibitions, and do permit the Bona-Fide sacramental use of peyote by non-Indians who are members of an established church: these are New York, Arizona, and New Mexico. A recent decision by the
Supreme Court of the United States (1990) makes it clear that we do not have a Constitutional right to use any controlled substance as a religious sacrament. Instead, each state has the right to pass laws which honor the peyote religion, or continue to suppress it.
Peyote is significant to Native American religious rituals and has been approved by the government for that purpose. On the legal front, Native Americans are secure in their right to use peyote for religious purposes (Glazer N. Pag.). According to the article Peyote Bill Signed, President Clinton signed into law on Oct. 6 2000, that guarantees the right of Native Americans to possess, transport, and use peyote in the course of traditional religious ceremonies. The bill passed the Senate on
September 27, and passed the house August 8 by a voice vote. The bill was introduced by congressman Bill Richardson (D-Wm) and garnered bi-partisan support as well as support from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The passing of H.R. Y230, a bill amending the American Indian Religious Freedom Act into U.S. law, states that no federal government can enforce a law restricting traditional religious use of peyote by a member of an Indian tribe,
Recognized by the United States Government (Glazer N. Pag.).
In the article Peyote Okd, Non-native Americans were prosecuted for participating in the peyote ritual, but were acquitted because of the first amendment rights. The case concerned two drug counselors who lost their jobs for using peyote during Native American church religious rites. The court ruled that by denying these men their jobless benefits, the state violated the mens First Amendment right to freely practice their religion.
After many years of controversy over the use of the peyote cactus, the American Federal government had finally accepted the use of peyote by native Americans, and has created a federal law which protects the religious rights of the people of the native American church. The victory over the battle of the use of peyote for native Americans is a giant step in regaining their heritage from its degradation by the American government. The legalization of peyote proves that not all drug uses are bad. Reconsidering peyote for legal use opens the door to other drugs, which may have been overlooked and improperly categorized as dangerous or harmful substances.
Claiborne, William. Military, Indian Church Agree On Peyote Online Available
May 16, 2000.
Glazer, Mark. Peyote among Huichols and Native American Church Members.
Online Available http://www.panam.edu/dept/psychanth/peyote.htm, May 16, 2000.
Mount, Guy. Peyote and the Law. Online Available http://www.druglibrary.org/
Schaffer/lsd/peylaw.htm, May 16, 2000.
The Mescal Bean and The Peyote Cactus. Online
Available http://daphne.palomar.edu/wayne/ww0703.htm#peyote, May 16, 2000.
Peyote 1 and Magic Mushrooms Online Available
http://www.geocities.com/capitolhill/lobby/5418/dd-peyote1.html, May 16, 2000.
Peyote Bill Signed. Online Available http://ndsn.org/nov94/peyote.html, May 16,
Peyote Okd in Indian Rites. Online Available
http://www.ifas.org/fw/8901/peyote.html, May 16, 2000.
Schultes, Richard E. and Albert Hoffman. The Tracks of Little Deer. Online
Available http://www.peyote.org/, May 16, 2000.
Social Issues Essays