View of peyote cactus at the desert near the town of Real de 14, in San Luis Potosi State, Mexico. (ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images)
A Canadian company is starting to legally mass produce and sell peyote, a cactus that produces the hallucinogen mescaline and is used in religious ceremonies by Indigenous people in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. Lophos Pharma is set to make, sell, and research peyote at its 10,000-square foot facility in Napanee, Ontario. While mescaline is illegal under Schedule III of the Canadian drug act, peyote is exempted as long as the mescaline isn’t extracted from it. Peyote is illegal in the U.S, but the Native American Church and members of tribes have a government exemption to use it in ceremonies. It’s also at risk of extinction, something Lophos is trying to address by growing it indoors.
Claire Stawnyczy, chief executive officer of Lophos, told VICE News she believes the publicly-traded company is the only one in Canada that currently has plans to mass produce peyote. “Indoor cultivation and doing that research around peyote that's really kind of missing and increasing that safe and ethical access... that's our mission,” Stawnyczy said. VICE News has reached out to Health Canada to find out if there are other companies mass producing peyote and will include their response once they provide it.Peyote can take up to 16 years to mature enough to harvest, but Lophos plans to shorten the growth cycle. By next summer, Stawnyczy said the company hopes to offer a small amount of sales of dried peyote buttons—the part of the plant that contains mescaline. The buttons can be consumed to produce effects comparable to LSD or magic mushrooms, including euphoria, a body high, altered perceptions of space and time, and some visuals. Lophos also has a license from Health Canada, a federal agency, that will allow it to produce mescaline for research. For the next year, that research will focus on analyzing the chemical composition of the drug and its potency. Down the line, Stawnyczy said she hopes to further research on mescaline’s effects on mental health issues. “We're just big believers in the fact that there is significant promise in these molecules for the treatment of mental health,” she said.
“Most of the money to date has gone into these other molecules. And so we're further down the line with things like psilocybin and MDMA and DMT than we are with mescaline.” Peyote grows along Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and in northeastern Mexico but it is under threat due to illegal harvesting and habitat loss, as Motherboard previously reported. According to Native News Online, leaders of the Native American Church, which has at least 250,000 members, lobbied the U.S. government last September to protect lands where peyote grows. The possibility of extinction has prompted a backlash in the U.S. against decriminalizing peyote. “Peyote is sacred medicine crucial to our religious identity and the survival of our community,” Steven Benally, a Navajo spiritual leader and peyote practitioner told the LA Times. “The spiritual healing power it offers is only attainable through Native American protocol.” Stawnyczy said her husband Evan, who is Ojibway and Indigenous Affairs advisor for Lophos, see their company as a potential solution because their peyote won’t be coming from an endangered location. “Plant medicines, such as peyote, have proven to be effective in our communities and there is tremendous potential for healing here,” Evan told VICE News. “Illegal and improper harvesting of peyote is one of the major reasons that this traditional plant has neared extinction and I'm hopeful that by Lophos providing an ethically sourced peyote option, we can provide a positive example for others while reducing the impact to the Indigenous peyote lands and their traditional caretakers.”