Grandfather Huachuma — Healing Cactus of the Andes

Grandfather Huachuma — Healing Cactus of the Andes

Huachuma, also known as wachuma or San Pedro, is a lesser-known shamanic medicine that some regard as the greatest of all plant teachers. 

Derived from the San Pedro cactus, huachuma is comprised of mescaline — a psychedelic alkaloid also found in peyote (another psychedelic cactus from North America). The effects of mescaline have been described as similar to MDMA, promoting introspection, healing, connection, and a sense of childlike wonder and awe. 

Typically ingested as either a dried powder or a viscous tea, the effects can take anywhere from 40–90 minutes to begin and typically last 8-14 hours, depending on the person. Though this may seem long, huachuma can alter the subjective experience of time, and it may cease to exist entirely. When asked about the benefits of huachuma, one guest pointed out that he appreciated the long lasting  experience:

“It gave me enough time for trial and error, full surrender, and an openness to my personal thoughts, feelings and creativity. I understood that everything I’ve been looking for was always inside of me, and I got a big dose of confidence, love, laughter and peace.”

As one of the oldest recorded plant medicines, huachuma’s history stretches back as far as 1200 BCE, when it was used by the Chavín culture on the west coast of South America. It has been used by many ancient pre-Columbian civilizations of the Peruvian coast and central Andes, and its use today extends into northern Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador, where many curanderos practice in the original Chavín tradition.

After the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors and their armies, many indigenous healing rituals and ceremonies were either hidden or blended with the settlers’ religious ideologies. 

Thankfully, huachuma and its traditional rituals survived colonization. It was at this time that this sacred cactus medicine became known as San Pedro, or St. Peter, who guards the gates to heaven — a nod to huachuma, which also opens the gates to the spiritual realm.

The Miracle Healer

Huachuma is often referred to as the “grandfather medicine” or “abuelo” (which means grandfather in Spanish) because of the valuable lessons, wisdom, and clarity one can access in ceremony. The benefits of huachuma are abundant, and this sacred plant is often seen as a “miracle healer.” 

Modern curanderos (healers) and their ancestors led huachuma ceremonies to connect with the spirit world, expand their consciousness, commune with nature, and heal physically, emotionally and spiritually.

On a physical level, medical research has shown that huachuma can lower high blood pressure, reduce the risk of cardiac disease, has anti-inflammatory properties, and can treat hypertension and nervous conditions.

Users may experience radical introspection, greater inspiration and creativity, heart opening, and euphoria. Many have also reported healing of trauma and freedom from PTSD, anxiety, chronic pain, addictions, depression, and other  mood disorders. As an empathogen, huachuma increases feelings of empathy towards oneself and others, as well as feelings of being socially accepted and connected. 

Huachuma is often used after ayahuasca ceremonies as a supportive, grounding and integrative medicine. Personally, I find it to be just as powerful as ayahuasca, but in a softer, more gentle way. My heart opens as I connect with the present moment, my inner child, Mother Nature, and the source of all life.

The Pathway to the Heart

For me, working with Grandfather Huachuma is like a warm blanket of love that opens up your childlike wonder and expansive heart. While on the medicine, there is a weaved universal energy, a caretaker energy that is ever present from Pachamama that is so obvious that it leads you to trust more deeply in the connectedness of it all.

― Kylee Klugman, Willka Runa Healing Center

In my first huachuma ceremony, I understood the true meaning of unconditional love. I laughed, cried, smiled, and at times thought my heart would burst from feeling so much. I danced for hours and felt my mind break free from a lifetime of self-created barriers, judgements and limitations. I had never experienced anything like it. It was as if I was seeing the world for the first time, and its beauty left me speechless. 

As a heart opening medicine, huachuma invites us to reconnect with our sense of childlike wonder and awe, reawakening our natural state of creative expression, playfulness and joy. 

Acting as a mirror, huachuma shows us where we hold on to limiting beliefs and patterns in our lives. By recognizing with loving awareness what is holding us back, we can release that which no longer serves us. 

Each ceremony is a reunion with ourselves, Mother Nature and the sacredness of all life. Those who have undergone a ceremony often report a deeper connection to Pachamama, our “Earth Mother”. They recognize that the earth is a living, conscious being in need of our love, respect and care. 

Many participants also experience a reconnection to their divine, true self, and a sense of universal belonging and oneness.

A Final Thought:

Although it’s hard to pick ‘favorites’ when it comes to plant medicines, huachuma definitely holds a special place in my heart. To this day, my first experience with the San Pedro cactus remains one of the most beautiful days of my life.

All plant medicine experiences are unique, and huachuma is no different. While most people have a lighthearted and gentle experience with this medicine, those who are more ‘closed’ may have a more challenging time initially. If you don’t want to feel, be prepared to face some uncomfortable emotions. That being said, embracing this discomfort may be the catalyst that leads you to life-changing breakthroughs. 

For many people, life after huachuma is never quite the same. It will show you what you need to see at that moment, presenting a unique opportunity to open your heart and expand your consciousness. While the visual effects can be enchanting, a deeper sense of love and interconnectedness is what truly results in lasting transformation with this powerful medicine. 


Danielle Rateau is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor, certified health coach, and global traveler. In 2022, she lived and worked at an ayahuasca retreat center in Peru. She is currently expanding her offerings through the study of trauma informed breathwork and sound healing. 

Connect with Danielle on Instagram: @daniellerateau

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