*Native Mothering recommends that you consult with your health care provider before attempting to take any medications or drugs while pregnant or breastfeeding. This article is not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider or traditional medicine provider.
A woman from one of the Nations is often in the position to fulfill spiritual obligations with her family; healing, births, deaths, to celebrate the circle of many things through spirit walks with people in her community. It might be a little confusing for a mother to know if participating is a good idea when she is pregnant or breastfeeding. This article will present information that will help her make the right choice for her family and her baby.
Recreational drug use is very different from the guided spiritual use of peyote, which has ancient cultural significance, and is important in many indigenous groups in the Americas. Whether you decide to sit for a journey or not, depends on the weighing the potential risks with the benefits you see for yourself and your baby. In many places the use of peyote is enough to have strong consequences and or possible removal of a child by CPS or court. This may occur despite the fact that such sacrament may be taken in part of a protected religious ceremony. If you think you may be drug tested or may have a higher risk of random drug testing, it is good to be aware that you may place yourself or your unborn/breastfeeding child in a difficult position as a result.
Some of the negative side effects documented from use of peyote:
- This research by Gilmore H.T from 2001, lists excessive use of peyote as a possible teratogen, meaning that it could possibly cause birth defects. I was unclear what exactly constituted excessive use, or whether a highly potent amount of mescaline was enough to cause problems.
- Other research on lab animals done by Hirsch KS, and Fritz HI showed signs of decrease ossification of fetuses in hamsters, meaning that they did not form the correct amount of bone. It importantly noted that the side effects were not dose-dependent which means that the smaller doses were capable of creating large defects.
Peyote is a powerful hallucinogen that is part of the Cactaceae family, although commonly termed peyote, the genus name is Lophophora williamsii. The active chemical found in peyote is mescaline. Some people dislike calling peyote a hallucinogen because that implies that the messages gathered during journeys have little application to a person’s real life experience. Some people prefer to think of it as something that opens doors to other dimensions. When we talk about it here we’re going to relate the scientific materials found about it, without saying what it is or isn’t. At low doses, mescaline’s effects last for between 1-18 hours in mothers. During this time a mother who chooses to participate in a peyote ceremony may need to have dedicated childcare support. With the anecdotal (unvalidated and word of mouth) information available it seems as if a good portion of mescaline is available in breastmilk. It is unclear for how long it remains present in the milk, or if and how long a mother should inturrupt breastfeeding. You may need to think about how important breastfeeding is to your baby, and whether you can delay your participation or find another way to be involved while you are breastfeeding.
- Research in 2005 completed by El Seedi et al. has radiocarbon dated two peyote specimens found “Shumla Cave No. 5 on the Rio Grande, Texas.” placing cultural association of peyote at 3780-3660 BC. Meaning that the use of peyote in indigenous groups has had a long and significant historical context.
- In some places in Southwestern Mexico, peyote is still a huge part of ceremonial life, and is used by whole families, pregnant mothers and breastfeeding mothers. In a small piece done by Hamilton University that reflects on the original work done by Schaefer in 1996 it is stated that, “Peyote is introduced to certain Huichol children very early, first within the womb, sometimes during childbirth, and during breastfeeding”.
*The Huichol people refer to themselves as Wixarika.
Articles that are permissive of peyote use for pregnant and lactating mothers:
Critical to our discussion of overall effects from use of peyote is a small survey of about 60 Huichol natives, 10 of which were reviewed in a laboratory setting, there was no evidence of an increased occurrence of congenital malformations (birth defects) despite Peyote use during pregnancy. “…No significant chromosomal aberrations were apparent among the
peyote- and non-peyote-using Huichol Indians.” (Dorrance et al. 1975)
The drawback to the Dorrance study is that it is an older study, and the population of people used was very limited. There are more current topics available that do cite an increase in miscarriages for women in their first trimester who have used a form of mescaline in early pregnancy. There is also some documentation of a rash of birth defects in animals dosed with mescaline or LSD.
Many drugs, and herbs are expressed in a breastfeeding mother’s milk. Often the things you eat or the medications you are prescribed also end up in your milk in very small quantities. There are safety guidelines that can be found at the Infant Risk Center in Texas, which is run by the Texas Tech University, health sciences dept. There are also dedicated medical reference texts such as Medications and Mothers’ Milk, written by Dr. Thomas Hale PhD that look at drug transferal into human milk. These resources are superior to the information that you can find online for medications because they are directly related to a mother’s milk when she is feeding an infant.
Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation, written by Gerald Briggs and Rodger Freeman, states on page 1150 that Peyote is a pregnancy Class C, hallucinogen. It continues on to say for pregnancy that there is, “Little human data: Probably compatable (low dose). Contraindicted: recreational use.” In other words during pregnancy it is safer to use peyote than when you have delivered and you are breastfeeding. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that an infant’s liver and kidneys are immature compared to an adults, and it could be more difficult for the infant to clear the active chemical mescaline. In regards to using peyote while breastfeeding it says on page 1449, “No human data: potential toxicity (low dose), Contraindicated: recreational use.” When working with your healthcare provider, this portion of medical text will help both you and your doctor evaluate the best choice for you. Contraindicated is a term that means that (a certain technique or drug) should not be used in a particular situation.
There is just not very much information about the quantities of mescaline that appear in a mother’s milk after she ingests peyote. As a naturally occurring phenomena it would be hard to determine the standard dosage because of the variations from cactus to cactus found in the wild. There is a wide variation of strength found in different plants of the same species. In some of the writings of scientist Stacy B. Schaefer in regards to experience with the Wixarika people, she wrote that the mothers claimed that their babies shows signs of peyote use, by describing accounts of their babies reaching for things in the air and laughing at things that were not there. From accounts in the book, Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation, Dr. Briggs suggests that breastfeeding a baby while under the effects of mescaline would probably result in sharing the hallucinogenic properties, the stomach ache and other adult symptoms of use.
As a mother it is difficult to choose between participating in cultural events, or waiting for a better time! It is our hope that this information will help mothers, traditional medicine providers and and HCPs determine the best and safest path for each mother individually.
Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation. 2011. 8th edition. Gerald Briggs, Sumner Yaffe and Rodger Freeman
The Safety of Peyote Use during Pregnancy. Gilmore H.T 2001. South Dakota Journal Of Medicine Jan;54(1):27-9.
People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion, and Survival. Stacy B. Schaefer, and Peter T. Furst. 1996. University of New Mexico Press.
(C) Serena Meyer, IBCLC–All Rights Reserved