Arthur Heffter
was the first scientist to study, systematically, a naturally-occurring hallucinogen, publishing his work in 1897.
Arthur Heffter
Heffter (standing) while a PhD student in in Limpricht’s laboratory, 1882.
Arthur Heffter
Heffter at Leipzig, 1888.
Arthur Heffter
Else & Arthur Heffter shortly before their marriage in 1891.
Arthur Heffter
Else & Arthur Heffter with their five daughters, Eva, Dorothea, Lilli, Ursel and Renate, probably around 1900.
Arthur Heffter
Heffter in the lab.
Arthur Heffter
Arthur Heffter, rector of the University of Berlin, 1922.
Arthur Heffter
Heffter with his assistants at the University of Berlin, 1923.

Experiment performed on 23rd July, 1897


The following text is an excerpt from his 1897 laboratory notebook detailing the discovery by Arthur Heffter that mescaline was the centrally active compound found in the peyote cactus.

12:09 p.m.

One gram of the sulfate salts of the alkaloids corresponding to 16.67 g of the drug, was dissolved in water and taken orally. Pulse rate 76 per minute.

12:33 p.m.

Occipital headache. Limbs feel heavy.

12:45 p.m.

Pulse rate 66 per minute.

1:00 p.m.

Nausea. Pulse rate 60 per minute.

1:15 p.m.

Pulse rate 68 per minute. While reading, green and violet spots appear on the paper. The same occurs when I look up at the bright sky. After shutting the eyes visual images occur which are initially pale but gradually become more clearly defined and brighter. In this particular experiment landscapes are less frequent and I have predominantly images of kaleidoscopic figures, patterned carpets and cloth, luxurious articles of clothing and architectural scenes. The predominant colors are orange, red and green, with a little blue and occasionally yellow. On this occasion images occur in a completely darkened room, i.e. in a photographic dark-room, while my eyes are open, but they are not as vivid and clear as when I keep my eyes shut. The capacity for visual images lasts in this experiment for a extraordinarily long time. Even on the following morning colored (green and violet) spots still appear when I shut my eyes. Other symptoms were as follows: dilatation of the pupils, dizziness, very distressing nausea which lasted on this occasion until 8 p.m., loss of appreciation of time, impaired hearing and a feeling of tiredness in the limbs. All these symptoms, which were identical to those observed in the experiment performed on the 6th July, disappeared gradually during the evening. On the following morning only the pupils were still slightly dilated. In this experiment my consciousness again remained clear, but I found it hard to concentrate on calculations and while talking. My speech was somewhat slow and laborious.

The results described above are, as far as their main aspects are concerned, in full agreement with those obtained in the experiment performed on 6th July. The most important finding is that the alkaloids produce the same physiological effect as the drug [peyote], and the peculiar actions of peyote on the visual apparatus must, therefore, be produced by one of its alkaloids. In view of this the next task was to separate the alkaloids and to find out which one of them was essentially responsible for the actions of the drug, in man.

Mescaline hydrochloride, 20 to 80 mg, causes bradycardia, headache and limb fatigue. These effects last from one to several hours according to the dose given.

A further experiment, in which an even higher dose was taken, was, therefore, performed.

Experiment performed on 23rd November, 1897

11:45 a.m.

Mescaline hydrochloride, 0.15 g, was taken. The pulse rate, which was 78 per minute initially, fell to 66 by 1 p.m.

12:06 p.m.

Heaviness in the head. Photophobia. Moderately dilated pupils.

12:45 p.m.

Occipital headache, dizziness and a feeling of heaviness in the limbs.

1:00 p.m.

Nausea. Appetite retained.

1:50 p.m.

Pulse rate 72 per minute.

2:00 p.m.

Violet and green spots appear on the paper during reading. When the eyes are kept shut the following visual images occur. At first there are violet and green spots which are not well defined, then come images of carpet patterns, ribbed vaulting, etc. From time to time single dots with the most brilliant colors float across the field of vision. The phenomena are generally not as clear as those in the two preceding experiments. Later on landscapes, halls, architectural scenes (e.g. pillars decorated with flowers) also appear. The images can be observed until about 5:30 pm. Nausea and dizziness are at times very distressing. The appreciation of time is reduced during the first hours of the afternoon. In the evening well-being and appetite are undisturbed and there is no sigh of sleeplessness.

The results described above show that mescaline is exclusively responsible for the major symptoms of peyote (mescal) poisoning. This applies especially to the unique visions. The experiment performed on 23rd November shows that mescaline hydrochloride, 0.15 g, produces a pattern of symptoms which differs in only a few respects from that obtained with the drug [peyote]. Both mescaline and the drug [peyote] produce bradycardia, pupillary dilatation, headache, dizziness, clumsiness of limb movements, loss of appreciation of time, and, which is most important, characteristic visual images. The images produced by mescaline were not as vivid and brilliant as those obtained with the drug [peyote]. This might be attributable to two causes. The more likely one is that the dose chosen was too low and a somewhat higher dose, i.e. 0.175 g of the hydrochloride or 0.2 g of the sulfate, might produce images which are as beautiful as those obtained with the drug [peyote]. Alternatively, the other alkaloids might play a part in peyote (mescal) intoxication. The latter appears unlikely, since the drug [peyote] contains only small amounts of these alkaloids, relative to mescaline, and no effect was obtained with them.

Translated excerpts taken from Readings in Pharmacology, editors B. Holmstedt and G. Liljestrand, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1963, pp 208-209.