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What Is The Shelf Life of Peyote?
by Erowid
Nov 2005
Citation:   Erowid. "Storage Basics: What Is The Shelf Life of Peyote?" Erowid Extracts. Nov 2005;9:9.
Update (June 2006) - A 2006 article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science found that the "peyote buttons" that were found and tested were not, in fact, intact peyote buttons as had previously been reported. Rather, they were "composed of an aggregate of ground peyote mixed with other plant materials" and then formed into "peyote effigies". While this does have some impact on the previous finding that mescaline can survive in the form of a natural peyote button for 5,700 years, it does show that mescaline can survive that period of time after being ground and mixed with other plants. It seems likely that the same is true for intact peyote buttons.

A common question we are asked is how long various psychoactive plants or chemicals can last before breaking down. New light has recently been shed on this question as it relates to peyote and mescaline.

The October 2005 issue of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology describes two specimens of Lophophora williamsii (peyote) in the collection of the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Though museum records are somewhat vague, these samples were most likely found by George Martin in 1933 as part of an archaeological dig in a series of caves near Shumla, Texas along the Rio Grande.

Carbon dating had been previously conducted on the two specimens but no details were published about the results. This previous testing is mentioned only in a 1989 book review by Peter Furst, who notes that he learned via private communication that the samples were reportedly 7,000 years old. Recently, the museum curators gave permission for samples to be taken from these two peyote buttons to undergo carbon-14 dating as well as chemical analysis.

Radiocarbon Dating
The results of radiocarbon dating found that both samples are from approximately 3800-3640 BCE, making them about 5700 years old. The earliest previous evidence of peyote's use by humans was from an archaeological site in Coahuila, Mexico, dated to between 810 and 1070 CE. These new test results are some of the best documented evidence of early peyote use by native North Americans.

Chemical Analysis
The peyote samples were analyzed by thin-layer chromatography (TLC) and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). Both samples were found to yield an alkaloidal content of approximately 2% of their dry weight. These extracted alkaloids were found to include mescaline.

Mescaline was the only peyote alkaloid identified in the samples. They were tested for lophophorine, anhalonine, pellotine, and anhalonidine, none of which were found. Unfortunately, the article did not quantify the amount of mescaline remaining in the peyote buttons.

As the authors note, "dry cave deposits in arid areas, such as Texas or Coahuila, are ideal for the recovery of plant materials." The authors of this article present strong evidence that mescaline can survive in the form of natural, dried peyote buttons for more than 5700 years.