COMMON NAMES: Chaute, Dry Whiskey, False Peyote, Hikuli Sunami (Tarahumara, ‘false peyote’), Living Rock, Living Star, Pata De Venoda (Spanish, ‘deer paw’), Star Cactus, Star Rock, Tsuwiri (Huichol)
Ariocarpus fissuratus is a small cactus that grows only a few centimeters in height and about 4-6 inches in diameter. Its nodes end in pointed triangles, giving the cactus a star-like appearance. The flowers are pink-violet in color. Other similar species of Ariocarpus are also known as ‘false peyote’, and were possibly used as peyote substitutes. These little cacti are often mistaken for rocks in the stony desert in which they grow and are therefore difficult to find (Hofmann et al. 1992, 35).
A. fissuratus is found only in New Mexico, northern Mexico and southwest Texas. It may be grown from seed, and requires well-drained cactus soil and partial or full sun most of the day to thrive (Ratsch 1998, 67). Growth may be accelerated significantly by grafting to a base stock such as Trichocereus pachanoi.
TRADITIONAL USES: A. fissuratus is usually referred to as false or dangerous peyote, and has been known in the Americas since pre-Columbian times. This cactus was very possibly used as a peyote substitute when peyote was unavailable. The Huichol strongly warn against consuming A. fissuratus, and associate it with dark sorcery. They believe that those individuals who do not properly purify themselves at the start of the peyote hunt pilgrimage by admitting all of their sexual encounters outside of marriage may mistake A. fissuratus for real peyote, the consumption of which will result in a deliriant-hallucinogenic state. The Tarahumara, meanwhile, consider A. fissuratus to be even more powerful than peyote (Furst 1971).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: A. fisseratus is consumed fresh, macerated in water, or dried, until effects are noticed. Some Huichol shamans, who use the cactus as an ally, take two of the triangular projections at a time to produce psychotropic effects. The tips of the projections are smoked for recreational purposes among some indigenous groups. A. fisseratus is said to have been used by people along the Texas-Mexico border as an additive to chicha, or maize beer. This combination is said to make one “temporarily crazy and uncontrollable” (Harvard 1896 cited in Ratsch 1998, 67).
MEDICINAL USES: A. fisseratus, and the related A. retusus may have been used to treat malaria by some peoples in Mexico. The related A. kotschoubeyanus is used as an external medicine to treat wounds. Certain reports of the consumption of A. fisseratus also mention that it has strong narcotic pain-killing properties (Voogelbreinder 2009, 91).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: A. fissuratus has been found to contain several phenethylamines, along with several other alkaloids. The effects appear to be similar to those of consuming the anti-cholinergic tropane alkaloids found in Datura, and include disorientation, dissociation, confusion and possible intense hallucinations (Bruhn 1975).
A famed Huichol shaman by the name of Ramon Media Silva describes the effects of consuming A. fissuratus in comparison to peyote as follows: “When you eat it, you become crazy; you fall into the canyons, you see scorpions, snakes, dangerous animals, you are unable to walk, you fall, you often fall to your death by falling from the cliffs.” The Huichol say that the effects of eating this cactus are very dangerous, especially for those who are not strong and experienced. The Huichol even say that eating this cactus may cause permanent insanity (Furst 1971).
Bruhn, J.G. “Phenethylamines of Ariocarpus Scapharostus.” Phytochemistry 14 (1975): 2509–2510.
Engelmann. “Ariocarpus Fissuratus.” Ariocarpus – Living Rocks of Mexico. Web. 11 Apr. 2011. <http://www.living-rocks.com/fissuratus.htm>.
Furst, P.T. “Ariocarpus Retusus, the ‘False Peyote’ of Huichol Tradition.” Economic Botany 25 (1971): 182–187.
Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.