Trichocereus is the name genus of flowering plants in the Cactaceae family. Cactaceae is the botanical name of the family, the common name is the cactus family. Most people refer to all members of the Cactaceae family simply as cactus plants. The words cacti or cactuses can be used to describe more than one cactus plant.
All of the species in the Trichocereus genus have been moved to the Echinopsis genus, so technically the Trichocereus genus no longer exists. A cactus such as the one commonly known as san pedro cactus, called Trichocereus pachanoi in previous botanical nomenclature, is now known as Echinopsis pachanoi.
Most books have san pedro listed under Trichocereus pachanoi, and people who are familiar with san pedro know it as Trichocereus pachanoi. To make the contents of this page easier to understand, the Trichocereus genus will be treated as though it were still classified as a botanical genus.
Classification Of Trichocereus
All species of plants in the Trichocereus genus originated in South America. Many species can still be found growing wild in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru.
Because of their hardiness, some species of Trichocereus can be grown outdoors in areas of the world where the temperature remains above freezing year round. They can also grow well if cultivated indoors.
Mescaline is the primary chemical that produces psychoactive effects. Other chemicals produced by cacti in the Trichocereus genus include candicine, hordenine, and trichocerine. Some of these (and other chemicals) present in Trichocereus cacti have psychoactive properties of their own.
Because the amount of each chemical varies by species, ingesting cacti from one species of Trichocereus that contains mescaline will produce results that are similar, yet not exactly the same, as ingesting cacti from a different species. Even if both species contained the same amount of mescaline.
Even species of Trichocereus with lesser amounts of mescaline may be psychoactive if other active chemicals are available in sufficient quantity. Although the level of intoxication may not be as deep, when compared to species with a larger mescaline content.
The mescaline content in dried Trichocereus pachanoi (san pedro) can reach to about 2%, maybe a little more. Another species that contains mescaline is Trichocereus bridgesii, also known as Echinopsis lageniformis and Bolivian torch cactus.
Trichocereus bridgesii has a mescaline content somewhere in the same range as Trichocereus pachanoi, some individual plants may have a bit more or a bit less. Other species in the genus have a lesser amount of mescaline than Trichocereus pachanoi and Trichocereus bridgesii.
The peyote cactus (botanical name Lophophora williamsii) grows wild in Mexico and the southern USA. It is the only known natural source of larger concentrations of mescaline, than cacti in the Trichocereus genus. The mescaline content in dried samples of Lophophora williamsii can reach 6%.
However, Lophophora williamsii is a slow growing cactus that takes long to get large enough to be worth using a source of mescaline. You can obtain more mescaline, in a shorter amount of time, by growing certain species of Trichocereus, than you would if you grew Lophophora williamsii.
In the USA, Trichocereus cacti are legal while Lophophora williamsii cacti are illegal (except for members of some native churches). Lophophora williamsii is listed as a vulnerable species, any wild specimens should be left to grow in the natural state.
If you have access to living Lophophora williamsii plants, rather than harvesting the entire plant, it is best to just harvest the crown. In this way the plant is allowed to grow and produce more buttons. The Lophophora williamsii cactus pictured here is several decades old.
Note: In some countries it may be legal to grow these plants but ingesting, or even intending to ingest, any type of Trichocereus cactus for its mescaline content may be illegal. Do not consume any cactus that contains mescaline if doing so is illegal.
If you plan on growing Trichocereus cacti from plant cuttings, start them in the spring or summer. It is hard to get a cutting to take root in the fall or winter. Cuttings can remain viable for a year or more if stored in a cool (but above freezing), dark space.
A rooted Trichocereus cactus plant can be started at any time of year, if grown indoors. However, they grow slow and require little water or nutrition during the cooler fall/winter months, when sunlight is restricted. It is preferable to preform any planting, grafting, and other work in the spring or summer.
Here is a list of some Trichocereus cacti consumed for their psychoactive effect. Although most people choose based on the largest quantity of mescaline, some might prefer the experience produced by those with lesser mescaline content.
Trichocereus pachanoi - Commonly known as the san pedro cactus, this is a hardy, fast growing cactus. In the wild it can grow to a height of 20 feet. The most commonly consumed (and most well known) mescaline cactus in the Trichocereus genus. Mescaline content can reach 2% (or slightly higher) in dried samples. Trichocereus pachanoi is recommended as a source of mescaline.
Trichocereus bridgesii - Commonly known as the Bolivian torch cactus is a hardy, fast growing cactus that originated in Bolivia. In the wild it can grow to a height of 20 feet. It has a long history of shamanic use in Bolivia. The mescaline content is very close to san pedro (about 2% in dry samples). Trichocereus bridgesii is recommended as a source of mescaline.
Trichocereus bridgesii var. monstrose - The monstrose variety of Trichocereus bridgesii is prized by cactus collectors because of its relative scarcity. However, this variety is slower growing than standard members of the bridgesii species. Mescaline content is similar (sometimes even higher) than Trichocereus bridgesii. But because of the slow growth rate, it is more for the cacti collector than someone interested in cultivation for mescaline content.
Trichocereus peruvianus - Commonly known as the peruvian torch cactus, this is a hardy, fast growing cactus. In the wild it can grow to a height of 25 feet. Trichocereus peruvianus originated in Peru. Some literature says it has a mescaline content of 2% or more. More reliable sources (trout) report concentrations of less than 1% mescaline in dry samples.
Trichocereus cv. Tom Juul's Giant - A cultivated variety of Trichocereus. This type of cactus is hard to find in nature. A man named Tom Juul acquired a specimen and introduced it to other cacti collectors, from there the plant became more well known. It is known to contain at least trace amounts of mescaline, but a reliable estimate is not known. More for the cacti collector than someone interested in cultivation for mescaline content.
Cultivate - To encourage plant growth by providing enriched growing conditions.
Cultivar Or Cultivated Variety - Cultivar is a shortened form of cultivated variety. They are usually produced by agricultural or horticultural techniques, not normally found in nature. Sometimes mutants found in nature are collected and propagated by man, thus becoming a cultivar. A cultivated variety like Tom Juul's Giant could be written as either:
Trichocereus cv. Tom Juul's Giant
Trichocereus 'Tom Juul's Giant'.
Cutting - A part of a plant that has been removed, from a mother plant, in order to start growing another distinct plant.
Genus - In scientific terminology, genus (plural form genera) is a rank that families are divided into based on similar characteristics. All of the species within a genus will have a first name that is the genus name. Example, all species in the Trichocereus genus will have the first name Trichocereus, followed by the species name: Trichocereus bridgesii, Trichocereus pachanoi, Trichocereus peruvianus, etcetera.
Hybrid - A plant that results from crossing two or more different plants. Hybrids are produced by humans with genetically determined traits. In other words, breeding a plant for specific traits the breeder wants. The parent plants may come from two different plant varieties, subspecies, species, genera, or (in rare cases) families.
Mescaline - A natural chemical produced by some types of cactus plants. Mescaline is a mind expanding drug that can cause dream-like visions, euphoria, hallucinations, lessening of the ego, mystical experiences, spiritual experiences, visuals. Negative effects may include anxiety, dizziness, headache, nausea.
Monstrose - A type of abnormal, distorted, and disfigured growth that is most commonly seen in cactus plants. The words monstrose or monstrosus can both be used to describe this type of growth. Monstrose plants are considered to be scarce varieties of the particular species they are part of. A Trichocereus bridgesii cactus affected with monstrose growth would be referred to as either:
Trichocereus bridgesii var. monstrose
Trichocereus bridgesii var. monstrosus
Mother Plant - The original plant that a cutting was taken from. A plant cutting is taken in such a way as to not kill the mother plant. The mother plant can be male or female. Mother plant can also mean a plant that is ready to have a cutting taken from it.
Psychoactive - A substance that affects the mind by altering brain chemistry.
Rooted Cactus - A section of cactus with roots. Cacti can be grown from cuttings, but a rooted section will grow faster because its roots are already established.
sp. and spp. - In scientific terminology, unknown or undisclosed species may be referred to using the abbreviation sp. (in the singular) or spp. (in the plural) in the place of the specific species name(s). The term Trichocereus sp. would mean 1 unknown or undisclosed species from the Trichocereus genus. The term Trichocereus spp. could mean the entire Trichocereus genus, or 2 or more unknown or undisclosed species from the genus.
Species - In scientific terminology, a species is a rank that genera are divided into based on similar ecological, genetic, and reproductive characteristics. Entities within a species are reproductively isolated, share a common gene pool, and a common niche when compared to other species.
Variety - In scientific terminology, a variety is a type of living entity that has developed an appearance distinct from the species it came from. Plant varieties often develop in nature as a result of being geographically separated, for a long period of time, from the species of plant they originated from. Varieties can also be mutant plants. Recommended abbreviation var., as in Trichocereus bridgesii var. monstrose. Not to be confused with cultivated variety.
The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants
Reference work about almost every common, and most less common plants and fungi, that humans have used to alter perception, mood, or consciousness. Includes history, distribution, cultivation, preparation, dosage.
Over 900 pages of easy to understand text with hundreds of full color photographs and b&w illustrations. This is the most thorough psychoactive plant encyclopedia available at the present time. Contains 9 pages of info about various species of Trichocereus, with color images.
The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants
Trout's Notes on San Pedro
This book is not for the casual reader, it is for those with a serious interest in the subject. It is a collection of notes compiled by a dedicated researcher for the serious reader or researcher. Although most of the information covered would be understood by the educated reader.
Covers the botany, chemistry, history of san pedro and its relatives in the Trichocereus genus. Black and white photos to help recognize what the plants look like. Contains over 300 pages and more than 800 images.
Trout's Notes on San Pedro
More than you want to know at trout's notes.
Psychoactive cacti at erowid.
San Pedrillo & Peyotl at lycaeum
Trichocereus (Echinopsis) at wikipedia.
Trichocereus pachanoi (Echinopsis pachanoi) at wikipedia.
Trichocereus bridgesii (Echinopsis lageniformis) at wikipedia.