The San Pedro cactus in the ancient cultures

Scientific name of the 3 varieties: Trichocereus pachanoi, Trichocereus peruvianus and Trichocereus terschecki.

Common names: Wachuma, Huachuma, Tsunaq, Wankay, Waytuq, San Pedro, Gigantón, Peruvian Torch, Cardón, Cimorra.

The sacred cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi, syn. Trichocereus pachanoi) is a rapidly growing native columnar cactus that is easy to grow in most places. Accustomed to its natural habitat in the Andes, at great altitudes and with abundant rainfall, it can withstand temperatures far below what many other species resist. It requires a fertile and well drained soil. It has a long tradition in traditional Andean medicine. Some archaeological studies have found evidence of their use that goes back up to ten thousand years ago, in the Cave of Guitarrero in Áncash, Peru. It was most likely used by cultures originating in festivities due to its psychoactive properties due to the large amount of alkaloids it has, especially mescaline, similar in molecular structure to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Currently, it continues to be used in traditional medicine in northern Peru to treat nervous disorders, joints, drug addiction, heart disease and hypertension. It also has antimicrobial properties.

“… the superstition they still have and is still used a lot by these people and their rules, is to drink, to know the good or bad intentions of the others, a potion they call the achuma, which is a water that becomes mixed with the sap of certain smooth and large cardones that are seen in the tropical valleys. They drink it with great ceremonies and sing, and since it is very strong, those who have drunk it remain deprived of their senses and reason, and see visions. “

– Father Anello Oliva, 1631

“San Pedro, huando, beautiful, thistle, huachuma … is medicinal, it is diuretic. It is generally used for healing and witchcraft. Its main power is, however, to allow the healer to transcend common limitations and project his spirit towards “Another reality”, to identify and combat the causes and origins of diseases, witchcraft and misfortunes. “

– Eduardo Calderón Palomino, circa 1970



Probably related to the arid and extreme nature of the environment, Nazca’s religious beliefs focused on agriculture and fertility. Much of the Nazca art represents powerful gods of nature, such as the mythical orca, harvesters, the mythical spotted cats, serpentine creature, and with the highest prevalence in objects of worship: the mythical anthropomorphic being. As in the contemporary Moche culture in north-western Peru, it seems that shamans use entheogenic plants, such as extractions of the San Pedro cactus to induce visions. The use of these substances is also represented in the art found in ceramics related to that of Nazca (Silverman and Proulx, 2002). Events and religious ceremonies were held in Cahuachi, the main center of culture. People worshiped the gods of nature to help the growth of agriculture.

Cultura Nazca

The shamans, instead of the priests, were the officiants in the Nasca rituals. Shamans were the intermediaries between the spiritual world and the everyday world. They often used entheogenic master plants to induce visions and gain control over supernatural forces. The use of entheogenic plants in ancient Peruvian society has been well documented by cultures such as Moche and Chavin in the north (Cordy-Collins, 1977; Donnan 1978), and their use in Nasca culture was suggested as early as 1980 (Dobkin Rivers and Cardenes 1980, Dobkin del Rios 1982, 1984). The most likely source was the San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi) and perhaps the floripondio (Brugmansia arborea) (Sharon 1978: 2; 1972). Mescaline can be extracted from the San Pedro cactus by boiling the cut sections of this plant. Although neither the preserved remains of the cactus nor the mixture itself have been found in Nasca sites, representations of rituals in pottery represent persons who drink cups filled with a liquid obtained from large storage jars are clearly representations of cacti.



Cupisnique was a culture of the north coast of Perú that flourished in the same period as Chavin, where there is also a large number of representations of the cactus in its pottery.


In Moche, the presence of healers and female priestesses in ceramics, walls and tombs, along with the representation of sections of the cactus demonstrate the use of this master plant in their society.