The Peyote Cactus has been the basis of the religion of a number of Indian tribes in North America. The small, turnip shaped cactus is considered to be a sacred medicine that, when taken as a sacrament, allows an individual to communicate with the Creator and obtain spiritual enlightenment. When ingested, peyote produces an altered state of consciousness that may cause users to experience a wide range of reactions, such as psychic manifestations.
First documented in 1560 by the conquering Spanish, the peyote religion has since been under fire from numerous groups, including the US government and the Catholic Church. Laws prohibiting the use of peyote have been enacted to suppress the spread of the plant, and the church viewed peyote as a hindrance to the spread of Christianity in Indian populations. In the mid 1960's, as a reaction to the growing use of illegal hallucinogens, the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act declared peyote an illegal Schedule I substance.
These type substances have a "high potential for abuse" with no accepted medical use in the United States. Nevertheless, the peyote religion continued to prosper in the United States.
Al Smith is a Klamath Indian from Oregon. During his early life he was in and out of several schools that were designed to "civilize" the Indian youth that were on the reservations. In his early adulthood Smith began to drink alcohol, and he soon became an alcoholic, living on the streets until 1941, when he was drafted into the army. His drinking problem did not subside, however, and he received a dishonorable discharge for alcoholism. He continued to live aimlessly, marrying several times and bearing several children, but his drinking problems followed him wherever he went. After a particularly painful night in San Francisco, Smith finally managed to start sobering up,