It is native to southwestern Texas and through central Mexico. It is found primarily in the Chihuahuan desert and in the states of Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi among scrub, especially where there is limestone.
The cactus flowers sporadically, producing small (edible) pink fruit. The seeds are small and black, requiring hot and humid conditions to germinate.
It is well known for its psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline. It is used world wide as an entheogen, and supplement to various transcendence practices, including meditation, psychonautics, and psychedelic psychotherapy.
Peyote is extremely slow growing. Cultivated specimens grow considerably faster, sometimes taking less than three years to go from seedling to mature flowering adult. More rapid growth can be achieved by grafting Peyote onto mature San Pedro root stock.
The top of the cactus that grows above ground, also referred to as the crown, consists of disc-shaped buttons that are cut above the roots and sometimes dried. When done properly, the top of the root will form a callus and the root will not rot.
The buttons are generally chewed, or boiled in water to produce a psychoactive tea. Peyote is extremely bitter, and most people are nauseated before they feel the onset of the psychoactive effects.
The effective dose for mescaline is 200–500 mg, equivalent to about 5 g of dried peyote. The effects last about 10 to 12 hours.
Peyote is reported to trigger states of "deep introspection and insight" that have been described as being of a metaphysical or spiritual nature.
Native Americans used the plant for its curative properties. They employed peyote to treat such varied ailments as toothache, pain in childbirth, fever, breast pain, skin diseases, rheumatism, diabetes, colds, and blindness.
United States federal law (and many state laws) protects the harvest, possession, consumption and cultivation of peyote as part of "bonafide religious ceremonies" .