The first person to draw the attention of the scientific world to peyote was doubtless Dr. J. R. Briggs, and not Mrs. A. B. Nickels as is often stated.
The first report of alkaloids in peyote seems to be the laboratory report by F. A. Thompson at Parke-Davis, although Louis Lewin was the first to publish.
The variability ofLophophora williamsii and imperfect knowledge of the species laid the foundation for the controversy over botanical names. Only recently have field studies in Mexico indicated that there are two species,Lophophora williamsii andL. diffusa, differing in distribution and chemical characters.Anhalonium lewinii is now referred toL. williamsii.
Present and earlier studies of the Querétaro peyote,Lophophora diffusa, show that this species differs considerably in its alkaloid set-up fromL. williamsii. L. diffusa produces predominantly (>90%) phenolic tetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloids (mainly pellotine) and almost no mescaline. This lends support to the earlier postulation of an independent metabolic pathway to pellotine and anhalidine.
In our opinion, Heffter’s results withAnhalonium williamsii can be explained if we assume that his plant material was collected in Querétaro and was in factL. diffusa. The alkaloid analysis ofL. diffusa also provides an explanation of other controversial points in the history of peyote research.22 It seems especially appropriate here to recall that Kauder (p. 23) said: “The circumstances seem to me to call for further clarification, which will only be possible when we succeed in obtaining that cactus, which only contains pellotine.”
An 80-year old sample of “mescal buttons” has been shown to still contain identifiable alkaloids, most notably mescaline.
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