Trichocereus Potency: A basic guide for getting the most out of San Pedro
There is a lot of myth and conjecture as to the varying potency levels of Trichocereus cacti and the reasons for it. Often anecdotal evidence does not match the published literature and just as often the published studies are taken as gospel for entire varieties of the Trichocereus species, despite a very limited sample size having ever been tested. Let’s take a look at all the factors involved and try and get to the bottom of this.
First and foremost is genetics. Trichocereus pachanoi, peruvianus, bridgesii, macrogonus, scopulicola, terscheckii, valida, werdermannianus, taquimbalensis, tacaquirensis, pallarensis, santaensis, puquiensis, riomizquensis, uyupampensis, cuzcoensis, fulvilanus and schoenii have all tested positive for mescaline. Of these species, the most promising appear to be Trichocereus pachanoi, peruvianus, bridgesii, macrogonus, scopulicola, terscheckii, valida, werdermannianus, taquimbalensis, tacaquirensis, pallarensis, santaensis, puquiensis, riomizquensis and schoenii, having all tested above merely a trace amount of mescaline.
Other plants that have not been tested also show potential based on bioassay and very similar morphology to the other known mescaline containing Trichocereus cacti, such Trichocereus escayachensis, huanocoensis and the plant known as T. Cordobensis. Although T.cordobensisis is not a recognized name, it may be a variety of T. scopulicola, or possibly Ritters T. crasicostatus which he described as being a longer spined scopulicola type plant.
Trichocereus cordobensis aka Super Pedro
But now it gets a little trickier. Amongst the proven mescaline containing Trichocereus the actual amount of mescaline can vary wildly. Even in different parts of the same plant, let alone across a seed batch or the variety. Different subvarieties of pachanoi for instance have tested at up to 6% and whilst others test as low as zero. So just having one of the known mescaline containing varieties such as a pachanoi does not guarantee a potent plant. But at least it gives us somewhere to start.
Luckily the traditional use of these plants, and the ever growing popularity of entheogenic cacti, has led to a growing body of anecdotal evidence that can help us narrow things down a little. Generally speaking, the most popular of the Trichocereus cacti for entheogenic purposes have been Trichocereus pachanoi, peruvianus and bridgesii. Although the consensus regard Trichocereus scopulicola, macrogonus, terscheckii, and cordobensisas being of near to equal potency. Others may very well also be but bioassay reports are lacking and far more research needs to be done, particularly of the rarer varieties that show a lot of promise such as Trichocereus valida.
So this leaves us with Trichocereus pachanoi, peruvianus, bridgesii, scopulicola, cordobensis, macrogonus and terscheckii. From here, for purely ethno-botanical purposes we can eliminate Trichocereus terscheckii in the west as it is has a much slower growth rate than the others and is therefore much less suited for ethno-botanical use. Unless, of course, you are lucky enough to live in the Bolivian Andes and have an abundant supply locally. Please do not let this discourage you from growing Trichocereus terscheckii (nor any of the other Trichocereus), as they are magnificent plants in their own right and are well worth growing simply for their beautiful, serene presence alone. They are just not as suited to the purposes we are discussing here.
Now that we have narrowed down our list to a few popular and renowned species, we have to look a little closer. As previously stated just because you have, for instance a pachanoi, it does not necessarily mean that you have a potent plant. So how do we tell if we have a potent plant? Well there’s one tried and true method, make a brew! But obviously this does not help us when we are purchasing a plant in the first place. And no one wants to drink a disgusting tasting brew that will have little to no discernable effect, especially with the likely puking involved. You really want to avoid that if at all possible.
Trichocereus terscheckii ‘Short Spined’
Each variety presents its own problems but some much more so than others. Generally speaking Trichocereus bridgesii, macrogonus, scopulicola and cordobensis all seem to be the most consistently potent plants with pachanoi and peruvianus varying wildly. This can often be explained by the confusion surrounding their taxonomy. A very wide variety of very different looking plants have all been classed as pachanoi, peruvianus and also for that matter with macrogonus. Whilst bridgesii, scopulicola and cordobensis all look to be relatively homogenous in their appearance by comparison.
Luckily despite the many very different looking subvarieties of macrogonus, they all appear to be relatively potent. This seems to be the general consensus. I’ve never personally come across a report of an inactive macrogonus (nor bridgesii, scopulicola or cordobensis for that matter) but of course it is quite possible. Most subvarieties of macrogonus being sold are almost, if not identical to the originally described peruvianus from Matucana that has proven to be consistently potent. These are the fat blue peruvianus with the large areoles. They are quite hard to mistake and amazingly beautiful.
The other main type of macrogonus you see is more akin to the originally described macrogonus being fat, brilliantly blue but with much smaller areoles. This type also seems to be consistently potent. There are a few other types of macrogonus getting around in particular from Karol Knize but their correct identification cannot be assured as Mr. Knize has an extremely bad reputation for ripping people off, misidentification and mislabelling. Also from the pictures I’ve seen of his set up there is absolutely nothing to stop cross pollination.
This applies to any Trichocereus you see named with a “KK” attached to it and as so, has to be regarded as extremely suspect. That is not to say that he always gets it wrong. Quite often he is right in his identification and has made an extremely significant contribution to the world of cacti in general. I for one love his plants even though I have no idea what many of them actually are. As a general rule, it’s a good idea not to eat anything you cannot confidently identify.
This problem particularly applies to Trichocereus peruvianus and to a lesser extent Trichocereus pachanoi. A large number of the peruvianus and pachanoi subvarieties being sold originate with Karol Knize. Does this mean we eliminate Trichocereus pachanoi and peruvianus? No. It just means you have to get the right ones, this is where being able to identify certain traits becomes important. With Trichocereus peruvianus the main thing you will have to be able to identify is the difference between the originally described plant (being the subvariety found around Matucana in Peru) and the more Trichocereus cuzcoensis type plants.
Trichocereus peruvianus ‘Rosei 2’
There are numerous natural intergrades and hybrids as well as the problems presented by hybridization in horticulture. Also many regard Trichocereus cuzcoensis as a subvariety of Trichocereus peruvianus and as so sell it as such. But as a general rule once you can identify a genuine Matucana type peruvianus you will not mistake it for anything else. The Matucana type big fat blue plants with the large areoles have consistently proven to be potent. There are also a number of other regional varieties that have a very similar appearance. These are also generally considered to be consistently potent.
The more skinny green cuzcoensis type plants are generally considered to be at best weak, to being completely inactive. No doubt some of them are active, there are reports of the local population around Cuzco, Peru using Trichocereus cuzcoensis shamanicly, but they have certainly not proven to be reliably potent at least in western horticulture. Again Karol Knize seems to be largely responsible for this, selling thousands upon thousands of seeds as being what is known as Trichocereus peruvianus “KK 242”. “KK 242” represents the collection site as being Matucana, Peru despite the vast majority of the plants grown from that seed turning out to be far more akin to Trichocereus cuzcoensis. It could be a simple mislabel, open pollinated hybrid seed being sold as what the mother was or just plain dishonesty. Some plants bearing the name “KK 242” on the other hand do actually appear to be what they are supposed to be. No doubt, only adding to the confusion.
Trichocereus peruvianus ‘Rosei 1’
With Trichocereus pachanoi we encounter a similar problem. The main thing you will have to be able to identify is what is known as the “PC” or predominant cultivar pachanoi which is widely regarded to be extremely weak in potency. It also has been known as the Backeberg clone (despite showing littlein common with the plant Backeberg considered as being pachanoi that is pictured in his book Die Cactaceae) and as the “pachanot”. I personally do not like this name as it seems to me to be a little misleading. It is the predominantly cultivated pachanoi type and has always been considered a pachanoi by the experts. My investigations lead me to believe that it is the “FR 567” pachanoi collected by Friedrich Ritter in the Chan Chan Valley, Ecuador.
The problem lies in that the particular subvariety no longer appears to be extant in the wild and that it displays white hair on its flowers where the originally described plant by Britton and Rose was observed to have black hair on its flowers. In fact, the “PC” pachanoi does actually have black hairs on its flower. It is just that they bleach white in the sun quickly, where as other subvarieties usually do not or at least not to the same degree. I’ve personally observed other plants considered to be pachanoi that are quite distinct from the “PC” pachanoi also having white hair on the flowers after having been bleached in the sun. Unfortunately, there is no one distinguishing feature that separates the “PC” pachanoi from the other subvarieties of pachanoi. But, it is reasonably easy to distinguish from the vast majority of other plants also considered to be pachanoi. It is much skinnier than the average pachanoi, but so are a few other subvarieties that are in fact quite potent.
Trichocereus pachanoi ‘PC’
As a general rule though the fatter the pachanoi is, the more likely it is to be potent. Also the “PC” pachanoi seems to be far less likely to throw long spines as it ages, as many other pachanoi subvarieties do. It is a pretty distinct plant that with practice you soon will be able to easily identify. There are other pachanoi subvarieties that are also not potent, but they are much rarer than the “PC” which is literally everywhere. Often these can be found in older gardens and appear very similar to “PC” but with slightly larger spines and a more peruvianus type body. They are very distinct from the wild long spined pachanoi types that display a peruvianus like body which have proven to be consistently potent. In fact, it is these long spined wild type pachanoi that generally have been tested to have the highest mescaline content of all Trichocereus.
But mescaline content is not the only factor involved in Trichocereus potency. There are other factors in play, such as the mono amine oxidase inhibiting alkaloid hordenine and the mono oxidase inhibiting flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol. MAOIs act by inhibiting the activity of the monoamine oxidase enzymes in your stomach, thus preventing the breakdown of mono amine neurotransmitters, such as mescaline, and thereby increasing their availability to the blood stream, and therefore brain. Effectively increasing the potency greatly. Hordenine has been observed widely across the Trichocereus species, but has only been observed in Trichocereus pachanoi of the plants we have narrowed ourselves down to here.
Trichocereus pachanoi ‘Yowie’
Quercetin and kaempferol have been observed in Trichocereus bridgesii. This would explain the large amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests Trichocereus bridgesii to be generally as potent, if not more potent than Trichocereus pachanoi in bioassay despite consistently testing much lower in actual mescaline content. Now, we have narrowed things down rather well. We can have a reasonable amount of certainty that if we acquire either a nice fat long spined wild type pachanoi, a beautiful fat blue type peruvianus, a bridgesii, a macrogonus, a scopulicola or a cordobensis that we will, in most likelihood, have a nice and potent plant.
But of course, it is no guarantee. From a seed batch of any Trichocereus there will be some degree of natural variation. This will also apply to the potencies of each plant. Now, if you had wanted to find out which of your plants is the most potent and cultivate it further (please do this people), one would have to try each individual plant. This will be a time consuming project, dependant on how big the seed batch is. But well worth it! As known quality genetics is invaluable for our purposes in the ethnobotany community. Hopefully, people will take this a step further and selectively breed even more potent Trichocereus than we currently have today.
If you do not have the patience to wait a few years whilst a seed batch grows (as most people don’t) you can narrow things down even further by researching the named clones of each species. However, just because a certain clone has been named it does not always mean that it is a potent plant, or even particularly different from the average whatever it may happen to be. With a little research, information about the potency of different named clones can be easily found online in the various ethnobotany related forums. Or you can simply ask the wider community in one of the said forums. The Trichocereus Cacti Appreciation Group is the largest and best such forum on facebook. Quite often they are excellent sources of acquiring plants. Especially plants that have proven themselves to be consistently potent.
Now that we have our nice, consistently potent Trichocereus cacti, we can look at the ways to maximize its potential. Trichocereus cacti have been found to be far more potent in winter than at other times of the year (in sub tropical conditions). During the colder months, in sub tropical conditions, they stop growing and concentrate their energy on their natural defence system against pests, the alkaloids. During this time, the plant is being stressed by the environment, which is a key factor in Trichocereus potency.
Depending on conditions, a Trichocereus can be naturally stressed in numerous ways, including extreme sun, heat, cold, lack of water and nutrients, pest and disease damage, having its stress response triggered by the release of stress hormones into the air, such as methyl jasmonate, by other plants in the direct environment, falling under its own weight or numerous other potential scenarios. The important thing is the stress to the plant, or more importantly the plants natural defence mechanism, so that it will produce more of the alkaloids, such as mescaline.
There are also numerous ways a person can induce the stress response of a Trichocereus artificially. Such as mimicking the environmental stresses it would encounter naturally – by withholding water and nutrients, spraying the plant with methyl jasmonate (jasmine flowers are a great source) , giving it more sun, etc. You can also physically damage the plant to induce the response by cutting repeatedly, but this also risks the chance of gaining an infection or having rot set in. The last thing you want to do is lose your newly acquired potent plant, so I do not recommend doing that. One also has to remember not to over stress a plant in an effort to increase its potency. This can cause susceptibility to disease and pests, if the plant is in too weakened a condition.
Also it will drastically affect growth rate, which must be balanced if you want to have any cactus at all to use. The best way of going about this is to only stress the plant for a short period of time (no more than a few weeks) before harvest. And to then follow the traditional method of preparing the cutting. Or simply take the cutting during the dead of winter, if you are in sub tropical conditions, when the plant has stopped growing itself and has been naturally stressed for some time.
Traditionally, taking advantage of the plants stress response has been achieved by taking the cutting to be used and leaving it in a dark place for an extended period of time before consumption. A Trichocereus cutting, after a certain amount of time (varying from plant to plant by weeks to sometimes months), will begin to once again devote its energy to growing instead of producing more alkaloids, despite not being rooted in the ground. It will also in time send out roots in the search for water. The point of optimum alkaloid production will be just before the plant begins to grow again, and should be used at this time for its greatest possible potency. And yet, as seems to be only natural for our species, we can always take things even further.
A great way to potentiate a Trichocereus brew is to add a variety of admixture plants and substances, such as in the traditional Cimora brews. The already mentioned flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol, are widely distributed in the plant kingdom and can be found in high quantities in the following easily obtainable plants: tea (Camellia sinensis), capers (Capparis spinosa), onion (Allium cepa) and Gingko biloba. Other flavonoids and coumarines also show promise as safe reversible short term monoamine oxidase inhibitors, thusly having the potential to increase potency. Other monoamine oxidase inhibitors, such as those found in the Ayahuasca vine harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine, can also be used to effectively increase potency. Caution should be advised when using any MAOI and please take the time to do the research about their effects, potentially dangerous side effects, and counter interactions.
Many other types of plants and substances that are widely available will also have a potentiating effect on a Trichocereus brew. Generally speaking, almost any psychedelic plant or substance, such as Magick mushrooms, Ayahuasca, Hawaiian baby woodrose seeds or Iboga, taken in conjunction will greatly boost its effects. Also, stimulants such as coffee and Khat, as well as dissociatives such as nitrous oxide and ketamine, show great promise in this regard but should be treated with all due care and caution.
The tropane alkaloid containing plants, such as Datura and Brugmansia, have often been traditionally used to potentiate the effects and to also mitigate nausea. Tropanes are especially dangerous and should under no circumstances be used without proper research into their potential dangers and safe dosage levels. Eighty five percent or more dark chocolate goes particularly well in combination. As does marijuana, which has the side benefit of also helping to mitigate nausea.
Which brings us to probably the most unfortunate side effect (depending on your point of view) of a Trichocereus brew, namely nausea and the resultant purging. Purging is traditionally considered to be a positive part of the experience, in that it is divined to be an expelling of demons or negative energies and such things of that sort. Considering it that way could also be just a mental trick we play on ourselves to help us get past what is, let’s face it, a rather uncomfortable thing to have involuntarily happen to us. But that is outside the scope of this article. The reason I mention this is because when you purge you’re potentially wasting a large amount of the active ingredients that could have been absorbed had they stayed in the digestive system.
As previously stated the tropane alkaloids and marijuana help to relieve nausea greatly, making it possible to avoid the awful feelings of nausea and purging, as well as potentiating the psychedelic effects. Lemon essential oil also works well in this regard. It works by effectively blocking or antagonising the 5-HT3 receptor that is largely responsible for triggering feelings of nausea when agonised by serotonergic psychedelics, such as dimethlytriptamine and mescaline. This also frees up more mescaline to bind to the 5-HT2 site in the brain that is largely accredited with being responsible for the psychedelic experience. Suppressing nausea and therefore purging could however be potentially dangerous and will most certainly increase any risk of overdose.
Diet can also play a role in how effective, or potent if you will, a Trichocereus brew will be. Preloading the body with a mostly plant based diet high in the MAOI flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol will greatly boost a brews effectiveness. Such as is often used in the “dieta” undertaken before the use of Ayahuasca in traditional cultures. Also, fasting on the day of consumption will make a substantial difference. Any psychoactive will be more effective when taken on an empty stomach.
Lastly is, of course, dosage. The potency of your brew (once having a bona fide potent plant) will now largely depend upon how much you actually use. This will also obviously apply to any admixture plants one may happen to use, and also to how much they potentiate the active ingredients. As a very basic general rule, around one foot of cactus is usually required for a reasonable dose. However, as we all have different physiologies and reactions to plant medicines it is a wise idea to start off at small doses and work your way up. Learn your body and your reactions to the medicine. From there you can then start to utilize admixtures and start to tailor your experience as so desired. The more experience you gain working with these plant medicines the more you will know the correct dosage levels required for your system.
Please keep in mind that this article is only intended as a general guide and starting point for further research and experimentation. Set and setting should also obviously be taken into account and all due care and preparation should be undertaken before experimenting with these plants. These plants are potentially dangerous, particularly in combination,and must be treated with the utmost respect. Also, in many countries these plants and/or ingesting them may be illegal, despite being utilized perfectly safely by traditional cultures for millennia.
Written by Brett Lothian