In Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, Hamilton Morris continues to go where no VICELAND presenter has gone before (on air, at least), using his hipster twig of a body as a lab rat for some of the world’s rarest, most controversial and undeniably crazy mind-altering drugs.
So far in this second season, we’ve seen him dive deep into the netherworlds of DMT, and watched as he downed a beverage infused with the divisive and potentially lifesaving plant derivative, kratom. It's all in the name of scientific research – he swears.
Now, it’s peyote time.
Where have I seen this peyote stuff before?
Even if you’re not exactly certain of what peyote is, chances are you’ve seen its effects depicted on-screen. From Johnny Depp’s whacked-out, drug-wrecked Hunter S Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to a peyoted-up Tony Soprano bellowing “I get it” to the echoing Nevada mountains in The Sopranos’ final season, this potent hallucinogenic has often been used as fuel for drama (or even comedy).
What on earth is it exactly?
“On earth” is an accurate part of that question, as peyote grows out of the ground. Specifically, it’s a dumpy, bulbous cactus, known to botanists as the much more exotic-sounding Lophophora williamsii. Inside that cactus are various psychoactive chemicals, including the most-coveted, mescaline, which you’ve probably also heard bandied around in popular culture.
It's mainly grown naturally in Mexico, India and the US, and, since it has no spines, the cactus will luckily never prick your fingers. We can’t say the same for your brain.
What is the deal with peyote?
When a sufficient dose of mescaline is ingested, it takes over the user’s cognition, disrupting the brain’s nerve cells and resulting in an extreme hallucinogenic experience. Indigenous North American tribes such as Apaches have long used the fleshy growth for means of spiritual transmutation – going as far as to label it a gift from the gods, because as we all know, every god is a bit of a tripper.
After users ingest a sufficient dose, the experience lasts about five to eight hours. It takes between one and two hours to kick in, and will usually plateau at around the three-to-five-hour mark. The comedown lasts anywhere up to two hours and the after effects continue to play with your system for between six to eight hours. In other words, although the time frame for each stage varies, each of them most certainly takes place.
What effect does it have on the user?
Peyote enthusiasts cite effects such as euphoria, the brightening and warping of colours, and an onslaught of otherworldly visuals whether your eyes are open or closed. They also claim a tendency to enter giggling fits and become lost in positive, dreamy feelings, gaining a sense of overriding hope, spiritual illumination and, ideally, some kind of rejuvenation of the soul.
Sounds wonderful, right? Well, on the flipside, the user’s psychological disassociation can lead to confusion, bizarre thought and speech patterns, and lapses in self control. The user also tends to lose sense of time (a childhood friend of mine walked from one corner to another on a suburban block and it took over an hour) and become distracted, sometimes alarmingly, by tiny details or grandiose ideations.
More worrying is the potential for body tremors, uncontrollable body temperature, frightening hallucinations, paranoia, depression and a loss of inhibition towards sex.
Basically, pros and cons.
What effect does it have on Hamilton Morris?
Sitting in a tepee in the middle of nowhere, Morris joins an Indigenous American who swears by regular, ritualistic consumption of peyote. The elderly gentleman, a former alcoholic, claims the mescaline contained within not only saved him from an early death, but is the reason he looks so youthful.
Morris is given a hefty chunk of the cactus and we watch as he forces down each bite, all the while his face locked in a disgusted wince. Before long, the vomit comes... and comes. It might not feel like it to him, but vomiting is generally seen as a positive part of the peyote ritual, so much so that it’s known as "the purge". Apparently, the more your body and spirit are holding onto negative or even evil emotions and/or thoughts, the more you are inclined to lose the contents of your stomach in a rapid, unrelenting fashion.
Once Morris's purging process is complete, he relaxes into a state that can only be likened to some version of exaltation. You’ll have to watch the episode to see exactly what enlightenment looks like when it comes to our ever-inquisitive chemist.
Watch Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia Tuesday nights at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND. For his experiments with peyote, you can watch that episode right now at SBS On Demand: