Trichocereus pachanoi also known as the San Pedro cactus is a species of fast growing, multi-stemmed columnar cacti that can grow upto 20 ft in height. The cactus is native to the Andes mountain ranges of South America, and thrives at altitudes above 6,600 ft. Large white flowers blossom from the stems of well established cacti at night.
The San Pedro cactus, although native to Peru and Ecuador, is also cultivated in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. San Pedro cactus is widely known for its use in traditional and veterinary medicine as well as for being cultivated as an ornamental cactus.
The Ancient History of the San Pedro Cactus
The San Pedro cactus has a long history of being used in Andean traditional medicine and religious divination. Archeological studies have shown evidence of its use in the Moche civilization that flourished in Peru approximately 2000 years ago.
Many sources claim its usage even further back in time, dating to 1300 B.C. Stone carvings depicting the plant have also been unearthed by archeologists from an ancient temple belonging to the Chavín civilization.
The name San Pedro cactus has origins in Christian mythology, and it literally means Saint Peter’s cactus. When the Spanish colonizers and Christian missionaries arrived in South America, they labeled the usage of such sacred medicines as diabolical and tried to prohibit the usage of the San Pedro Cactus.
However, the Catholic conquistadors failed in their endeavors and were no match for the dedication of the tribes carrying on their ancient traditions. The name San Pedro is attributed to the legend that Saint Peter holds the keys to heaven. Similarly, the cactus is believed to be a portal for its users to reach heaven while still on earth.
The Medicinal Uses of San Pedro
The alkaloid, mescaline, is the major psychoactive component found in San Pedro. Biochemically, mescaline is known to bind to the dopamine and serotonin receptors of our body. Apart from mescaline, San Pedro contains several other active compounds that contribute to the therapeutic properties of the San Pedro.
For example, Anhalonidine is a compound known for its mild sedative effect. Hordenine is known for its antibiotic properties. San Pedro is used for its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to heal wounds. The cactus pulp can be cooked and placed on a wound in order to prevent infections and soothe irritation.
In Peru, the cactus pulp is made into a water infusion along with other plants and is used to treat anxiety. If you suffer from anxiety, you may even consider CBD vapes to fight your anxiety attacks
For psychoactive purposes, the plant brew is traditionally boiled for 7 hours and is imbibed in a ceremonial setting. This is known to open the subconscious mind of the users “like a flower”. The rituals make no distinction between the physical and mental. According to shamans, the mind and body both play an equivalent role in healing.
The Potential Uses of San Pedro
Although there is a lack of scientific evidence backing the medical uses of San Pedro, this cannot negate the centuries of anecdotal evidence of the usage and benefits of San Pedro by the indigenous people.
People using the plant have witnessed its benefits first-hand. Most studies on San Pedro have been only conducted on the mescaline found within it. However, the healing properties of the plant cannot be distilled down to one component only.
Further studies on the therapeutic properties of San Pedro can truly benefit mankind. The example of San Pedro proves that our ancestors were much more insightful of the plant kingdom, something that modern science still has to catch up to.