Mescal beans are the psychotropic seeds of Sophora secundiflora and are not associated with the peyote cactus that is also sometimes known as mescal (see following discussion). This small tree or evergreen shrub is native to Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. The pods contain up to eight seeds, which are maroon or orange-red in color. The principal alkaloids contained in the seeds are cytisine, N-methylcytisine, and sparteine.
Despite the use of mescal beans in Native American vision quests, none of these alkaloids are known to have hallucinogenic properties. Depending on the amount consumed and the method of preparation, mescal beans can cause a range of effects, from vomiting, headaches, and nausea to intoxication, stupor, and even death. Mescal beans are usually consumed in a decoction. Some 30 Native American peoples have made use of mescal beans, almost all of them using the beans for their decorative value; less than half of them have used mescal for its psychoactive effects. Mescal beans have been found at archaeological sites dating back to 7,000 14C years ago, in Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico, where they may have been used for ornamental purposes.
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