Wild San Pedro at an undisclosed location in the Ecuadorian highlands.
Not all San Pedro journeys are created equal. There are several key variables that influence the quality of the experience. Reaching critical mass with dosage can be the difference between disappointment and ecstatic connection with the fundamental nature of existence. Knowledge about different preparation methods and mescaline potency is useful. As always, the principle of ?set and setting? applies. And there?s a few things you should definitely not do.
The suggestions contained in this article are based on seventeen years of personal experimentation in addition to conversations with hundreds of other people who have also experienced San Pedro (otherwise known as Huachuma).
I do not consider myself the foremost expert on this subject. I?m just one of many ongoing students of a sacred cactus that has the power to connect human beings with an immense source of wisdom. By the same token, I welcome feedback from anyone else who has experience with this particular plant. The goal, as I see it, is to collectively refine our understanding about something that is and always will be delightfully mysterious.
Whether you brew San Pedro tea or dehydrate/grind the flesh into powder, the first steps are always the same: remove the spines and outer skin (bowl on the left), extract the green flesh (bowl on the right), and disregard the white core (bottom). Only the green flesh is used for processing and consumption.
Not All San Pedro Experiences Are Created Equal
Extensive conversations with a broad sampling of other San Pedro explorers led me to a surprising realization. This process started in 2018 when I published an article called ?DIY Mescaline: How to explore San Pedro without a guide.? I eventually included my email address in the article and asked people to contact me if they?d like to see the final cut of a film we?re currently making about San Pedro in its native land. Many of the people who responded were kind enough to share with me their own personal San Pedro experiences, and we developed a back-and-forth dialogue.
What didn?t surprise me was that most people described their experience in glowing terms. What did surprise me is that a decent number of people described their experience as disappointing. I followed up with questions about set, setting, preparation method, and dosage. And I started to recognize an interesting pattern.
I entered into this discussion with the perspective of someone whose experiences with San Pedro were exclusively profound and transformative. One journey inspired the creation of a large-scale rainforest preserve, and I don?t even consider that journey to be my most formative. A disappointing Huachuma experience was hard for me to imagine, at first. But now it makes sense.
The 1,700-acre Jama-Coaque Reserve in coastal Ecuador: the tangible result of a San Pedro experience.
The Most Common Complaint
As Timothy Leary first explained about fifty years ago, the nature of any psychedelic experience is determined by set and setting. ?Set? represents all of the variables that you personally bring to the experience ? your mindset as well as your accumulated life experiences, your psychology, even your neurobiology. ?Setting? represents the conditions in which the psychedelic experience takes place. To these two primary factors, I would also add two more: the quality of the substance (call it medicine, if you wish) and the dosage.
Of all four of these factors, set is the hardest for me to measure in others ? my access inside the hearts and minds of other people is limited. The matter of setting is a bit more straightforward. I comment on this with greater detail in ?DIY Mescaline.? The quality of the medicine depends on a range of variables, which I discuss below. All of the above factors can be managed with a bit of experience.
The factor that was most frequently at the root of sub-par San Pedro experiences was dosage. Namely, the dosage was too weak. By far the most common complaint was that the medicine simply didn?t have much of an effect. People felt like they missed out on the experience. And to a certain extent, they did.
The Danger of Under-Dosing
Sometimes a light dose of San Pedro is advisable. There are some reputable San Pedro retreats in which people are given a moderate dose and then taken on a group hike to some beautiful place. In this case, the moderate dose is intentional: people still need to be able to walk. In other cases, the moderate dose was administered in a traditional sit-down ceremony. For some people in some circumstances, this is also the right approach. It allows people to dip their feet into the experience without going too deep.
For other people, however, the experience wasn?t strong enough. I am merely reporting what numerous people have told me. They consumed just enough San Pedro to feel a bit funny in the stomach and start to perceive things somewhat differently, but the door to Huachuma World did not fully open. They remained firmly planted in the so-called default world.
This is a lost opportunity. I do not mean to discount the practice of micro-dosing San Pedro, which is also something I?ve extensively experimented with. You can read about that in my article ?Micro-Dosing Mescaline: Comparing San Pedro to LSD and Psilocybin.? It can certainly be a useful practice, but it still doesn?t compare to the profound lessons that can be deeply learned on a full dose of Huachuma. It is the difference between briefly kissing someone at a doorway versus spending a very long, languid morning making love in bed with the person that you?re in love with.
The optimal micro-dose?useful, but a far cry from a proper macro-dose.
Crossing The Threshold
After hearing several accounts of weak San Pedro experiences, I did a few experiments on myself. I tried everything from 1?3 grams of dry powder and half an arm of wet cactus, all the way to what I consider much more than a full dose: two arms of a thick, wild-harvested San Pedro from a particular mountain in southern Ecuador.
From those experiences I learned many things that have nothing to do with this article. The main thing I learned, which is relevant here, is the importance of crossing the threshold. In the realm of micro-dosing, there is something called the threshold of perceptibility, but that?s not what I?m talking about. I?m talking about the threshold one must cross to reach the full Huachuma experience. A moderate dose of San Pedro only opens the door ajar, such that you barely catch a glimpse of what?s inside. To actually pass through the door, the amount of San Pedro you need to consume must reach critical mass.
Once critical mass is reached, you?ll know it. It?s like opening your eyes after years of darkness. There is a simple litmus test to help determine whether or not you?ve crossed the threshold. If you feel physically pulled to the ground, lying on your back on the naked ground and staring upwards into the sky, and you are accompanied by the sense that nothing in this universe is misplaced, that everything is exactly as it should be?you made it.
This feeling I describe is not overly intense or uncomfortable. It is deep-penetrating and comprehensive, but at the same time gentle and loving. This, in my opinion and the opinion of many others who have also reached this state, is the special nature of the Huachuma experience at full strength.
Almost all of the mescaline is concentrated in the layer of green flesh, just beneath the waxy outer skin. That?s the only component of the cactus that should be consumed.
Different Preparation Methods
Before we can talk about dosage, we first need to talk about preparation methods. There are several ways to prepare San Pedro for consumption, some of which are less than ideal. The two best methods are:
1. Brewing Tea: Slice away the green flesh and put it into a pot of water, and then boil it down into a concentrated green liquid. This is the method I?ve been using since 2002, detailed in ?DIY Mescaline.?
2. Drying/Grinding into Powder: Slice away the green flesh, cut it into pieces, and dry the pieces using a dehydrator, the sun, or an oven at the lowest heat setting. Once the pieces are dry, grind them into a fine green powder. This is a method I?ve recently been testing. In my experiments, a forearm?s-length of cactus (38cm long by 8cm diameter, weighing 1.38 kg when freshly harvested) yields about 20 grams of highly concentrated dried powder. See below for mescaline calculations.
In both cases, you?ll start with a fresh cutting of cactus. And in both cases you will want to remove the spines and the waxy outer skin. You should also exclude the white pulp that is underneath the green flesh. Several YouTube tutorials show people including the white pulp in their process, usually with a blender, but this is not advisable. The white pulp has a negligible amount of mescaline, and furthermore is the leading cause of nausea. Whichever method you use, the only part of the cactus that you should process is the green flesh.
Sun-drying the flesh of an arms-length section of San Pedro on a rooftop in Quito. After fully drying and grinding the pieces, the final result was 20 grams of fine green powder.
Length of Cactus Per Dose
The right dosage required to reach the full Huachuma experience depends on many factors. It depends on where and how the cactus was grown, which variety or cultivar it is, and your own body weight and other physiological and psychological factors.
Nevertheless, there is a general rule of thumb that I?ve always abided by and it has never failed me. Here it is: use a piece of cactus that is roughly the same length and girth as your own forearm, as measured when your hand is balled up into a fist. Personally I consider this the minimum size for a normal dose, and I usually use a piece that is slightly larger than my forearm. But for the sake of this article, I will refer to a forearm-sized piece as a ?normal dose.? All things equal, this is the dosage required to cross the threshold. If the dehydration method is used, this generally equates to about 15?20 grams of dry powder, depending on the size of your forearm.
This, however, assumes that the cactus you?re using is suitably potent. Mescaline potency varies from cactus to cactus. Interesting enough, San Pedro is influenced by terroir just as much ? if not more so ? than wine and cacao.
20 grams of fine green San Pedro powder ? the yield from one 15 inch (38 cm) length of cactus, roughly 6.5 cm in diameter and originally weighting 1.38 kg when freshly harvested.
San Pedro is inherently more predictable than Ayahuasca because it only involves one plant. Ayahuasca, on the other hand, involves at least two psychoactive plants, if not three or four ? all of which produce different kinds of effects. Thus, San Pedro is a lot harder to screw up and requires less experience to prepare.
Nevertheless, mescaline potency can vary. Erowid has a useful mescaline potency FAQ that illustrates the variability between species of cacti (San Pedro, Peruvian Torch, and Peyote) and between individuals within each species. The ?average? potency of San Pedro is generally regarded as 1% mescaline per dry weight. However, some San Pedro cuttings have measured as little as 0.1% mescaline, and the most potent cuttings measured as much as 2.3% mescaline.
Short of testing the mescaline content in a laboratory ? which is not an option for most of us ? the most reliable way to test the strength of a particular cactus is to start by consuming a piece that is 1/2 or 2/3 the length of your forearm. After two and a half hours, if not sooner, you?ll have a good idea of what you?re dealing with.
Once you?re familiar with the potency of a particular cactus, it?s preferable to consume most of your entire dose at the beginning, and then top it off within the first few hours ? if necessary. The whole experience can last 12?16 hours during normal circumstances, which is already quite long. So you don?t want to unduly prolong the ingestion process.
Can physical cues be used to gauge the potency of a given cactus? Different sources give different answers to this question. Some San Pedro experts suggest that potency may be enhanced when the plant is subject to environmental stress caused by adverse temperature, sun, water, soil, or pest conditions.
All of this said, a low dose of San Pedro is not the end of the world. If you don?t cross the threshold during a particular journey, it?s okay ? enjoy it for what it is. But you?ll probably want to consume a larger dose the next time. Now you know.
San Pedro seeds, cuttings, and potted plants can be legally purchased in ornamental plant nurseries across the world, including the US.
On the Subject of ?Set?
It?s natural to feel some fear or trepidation before a psychedelic experience, but if your fear is intense, it?s probably a signal that you?re not ready for this journey. And that?s okay. Timing is important.
In any event, a plant like San Pedro should never be used as a tool of escape. Rather, it is best consumed in the spirit of discovery. That said, San Pedro can be tremendously useful when working through post-traumatic stress disorder. I?m speaking from first-hand experience. It can also be extremely useful for those who are working through depression, addiction, and fear of death.
If you suffer from psychosis, however, you should probably not ingest San Pedro or any other psychedelic substance. There are plenty of other methods that can be used to learn more about self and the universe.
Nabilia Ganem in ?Kissing Gaia.? Photo by Nicols Riofro.
On the Subject of ?Setting?
My personal preference is to consume San Pedro alone or with one or two other people. I have spoken with several people who feel similarly. There are also plenty of people who prefer to consume San Pedro in a group setting, often guided by a shaman or guide. Both of the above formats can work wonderfully; it?s a question of personal preference and temperament.
If you do wish to work with a guide, do your research and choose wisely. I would suggest meeting the guide before you commit to anything, so that you can consult your intuition. Different guides have different energies, and what may resonate with some people may not resonate with you. Be especially weary of charlatans and sexual predators. Here?s a good article about that.
The same principle applies to the actual setting. You do not want to go on a San Pedro journey in a place that doesn?t feel good. And for the love of all things holy, please do not consume San Pedro in a city. San Pedro and cities do not mix well. It is absolutely imperative that you are surrounded by the natural world.
See the Movie
We recently made a short film about wild-harvested San Pedro, filmed in Ecuador under the influence of the great cactus itself. It is currently in post-production. If you?re interested in seeing the final cut, sign up on the form below ? there is no cost to watch it. Once the movie is ready to launch, I will send you the Vimeo password. The reason we can?t simply upload the film to YouTube is that we?re also submitting it to film festivals, which often require that films have not yet been released to the general public.
Nabilia Ganem in ?Kissing Gaia? at the onset of the journey. Photo by Nicols Riofro.