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Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use Among Native Americans

      Background

      Hallucinogens are widely used, both by drug abusers and by peoples of traditional cultures who ingest these substances for religious or healing purposes. However, the long-term residual psychological and cognitive effects of hallucinogens remain poorly understood.

      Methods

      We recruited three groups of Navajo Native Americans, age 18–45: 1) 61 Native American Church members who regularly ingested peyote, a hallucinogen-containing cactus; 2) 36 individuals with past alcohol dependence, but currently sober at least 2 months; and 3) 79 individuals reporting minimal use of peyote, alcohol, or other substances. We administered a screening interview, the Rand Mental Health Inventory (RMHI), and ten standard neuropsychological tests of memory and attentional/executive functions.

      Results

      Compared to Navajos with minimal substance use, the peyote group showed no significant deficits on the RMHI or any neuropsychological measures, whereas the former alcoholic group showed significant deficits (p < .05) on every scale of the RMHI and on two neuropsychological measures. Within the peyote group, total lifetime peyote use was not significantly associated with neuropsychological performance.

      Conclusions

      We found no evidence of psychological or cognitive deficits among Native Americans using peyote regularly in a religious setting. It should be recognized, however, that these findings may not generalize to illicit hallucinogen users.

      Key Words

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