What is Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT?
5-MeO-DMT is a naturally occurring entheogen found in several species of plants, and most popularly in the venom of the Bufo alvarius toad. Also known as the Sonoran Desert Toad, Colorado River Toad, Bufo, and El Sapo/Sapito; Bufo alvarius is found living in Northwestern Mexico and some Southern US states.
5-MeO-DMT is a relative of the classic “jungle spice” or DMT (dimethyltryptamine), and like DMT it also induces an intense experience when ingested.
The dried venom of the Bufo alvarius toad contains both 5-MeO-DMT and another psychotropic substance known as bufotenin (5-HO-DMT), and so the Bufo experience is different from a pure 5-MeO-DMT experience.
Although some 5-MeO-DMT-containing plants have a history of traditional use, there is no evidence of any indigenous Bufo alvarius practices. Modern ceremonies using either 5-MeO-DMT plants or Bufo alvarius venom are growing in popularity, and are used for healing and spiritual purposes.
Effects of Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT
5-MeO-DMT is a potent naturally-occurring entheogen. Its effects begin around 15 seconds after inhalation. Typically over in about half an hour, people describe experiencing an overpowering ego-dissolution that often leads to a feeling of being connected to everything in existence.
Smoking Bufo can be physiologically risky if there are other contraindications present. The combined effects of 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin (along with whatever other toxins are present in the toad venom) can be very intense, and when additional medications are brought into the equation, effects can be compounded and fatal. Do not combine 5-MeO-DMT with MAOIs (including ayahuasca), or beta-carbolines. There are several reports of deaths resulting from these combinations.
Your facilitator should be asking for a list of any medications you may be on, and what other major medical history you may have in relation to mental health/mental illness. If you are on any medications, please be sure to do your own research, and ask a medical professional if you feel the need.
History of Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT
You may come across facilitators claiming that Bufo medicine is traditional or indigenous. However there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Bufo secretions have ever been used in traditional shamanic practices. Most likely, the practice of smoking Bufo venom is a relatively new phenomenon. Bufo alvarius toad venom was first found to contain 5-MeO-DMT in 1965, and the paper that proved this was published in 1967. It was in the mid-’80s when smoking toad venom became a fringe, underground phenomenon, after the first description of smoking Bufo alvarius toad-venom for its 5-MeO-DMT content was published in the form of an extraordinary pamphlet titled “Bufo alvarius: The Psychedelic Toad of the Sonoran Desert” by Albert Most (Venom Press, Denton, Texas), in 1984.
Some scholars have suggested that Mesoamerican civilizations used psychoactive toad venom in rituals, but these suggestions are based on the presence of toad icons in temple frescos, and is mostly speculation. Therefore, anyone who claims that their way of working with Bufo is “ancient and sacred” is at the very least exaggerating. In contemporary usage, Bufo is commonly found in neo-shamanic ceremonial settings, that may include drumming, chanting, smudging and other rituals. Any “indigenous seeming” Bufo practices like this are examples of neo-shamanism that have been amalgamated from a variety of traditions, and are not rooted in specific 5-MeO-DMT knowledge from an unbroken ancestral lineage.
5-MeO-DMT has a history of shamanic use in the form of some plant-based snuffs. Practices of inhaling powdered plants such as yopo stretch as far back as the 8th century. The ground and dried seeds of 5-MeO-DMT-containing plants were blown into the subject’s nostrils by shamans, in ceremonies using specially-crafted pipes. The practice has been found in Chile, Venezuela, and other South American countries.
Legality of Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT
5-MeO-DMT is not a prohibited substance in most countries, as it was not included in the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances in 1971. However, both the United States and United Kingdom have classified 5-MeO-DMT as a Class A/Schedule I substance. Other countries may have included it on their lists of illegal substances.
Bufotenin, the other psychotropic substance in Bufo alvarius venom, is also not regulated in most places – however again, both the US and UK have it listed as a Class A/Schedule I substance.
Healing with Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT
As a profound and intense entheogen, toad medicine has a therapeutic potential to treat a number of conditions such as depression, anxiety, and opioid addiction.
Bufo experiences are primarily sought out for personal development reasons. Seekers hope that the powerful mystical experience of complete ego dissolution and “One with the Universe” experience that it elicits will provide freedom and a new perspective that will allow the individual to break free of limiting patterns and the grip of old traumas.
Scientific research on the therapeutic benefits of Bufo venom inhalation is extremely limited, however one study has shown its potential to treat depression and anxiety. The survey recruited over 350 people who had been participants in Bufo group sessions, and showed that people who had been suffering from depression or anxiety were very likely to experience improvements in their conditions after the session. 80% of people with depression said that their symptoms were improved, and 79% of people with anxiety reported improvements.
5-MeO-DMT also shows promise in the alleviation of drug and alcohol addiction – in underground settings Bufo venom is being used in the treatment of cocaine and opioid addiction. Some addiction treatment centers use 5-MeO-DMT in conjunction with iboga to help participants have a mystical experience that can boost the anti-addictive effects of iboga. One study of proteins in artificial human organs found that 5-MeO-DMT reduced the levels of a receptor involved in addiction (mGluR5), suggesting that it could have its own anti-addictive properties, and another survey of 5-MeO-DMT users showed that 66% of people with alcoholism found improvements after taking the substance.
However it should not be taken lightly, or considered as a “one-and-done” pharmaceutical or pill. Its effects can be traumatic as well as healing, and some amount of preparation and awareness of the risks is required for a beneficial Bufo alvarius experience.
The physical risks of Bufo and 5-MeO-DMT are reasonably low, as long as you do not combine the venom with anything else, or take a very high dose. As such, it is important to avoid being on any medications (especially MAOIs or beta-carbolines) while taking Bufo or 5-MeO-DMT, and you should not take any other plant medicines (especially ayahuasca) in the same 24-hour period as your Bufo alvarius experience.
The psychological risks of Bufo and 5-MeO-DMT are the same as any other powerful entheogen. Because they can disrupt/impact your mind and worldview in a very significant way, they have the potential to cause psychological trauma if not handled correctly. Preparing for your experience by starting a spiritual practice or setting a clear intention are basic tips; as well as making sure you have a trusted and experienced Bufo facilitator.
Having a poorly trained or negligent facilitator is another big risk in a Bufo alvarius retreat. There have been a number of deaths reported during ceremonies due to the malpractice of facilitators who have not paid enough attention or care to the participants. Checking out the reputation of your facilitator is a crucial step in the preparation for a Bufo alvarius retreat.
These following tips on preparation for a Bufo alvarius experience are adapted and simplified from the extensive “Best Practices” document that you can find here.
Research your facilitator beforehand! Make sure they have considerable experience in administering Bufo, and guiding people safely towards a healing experience. Make sure they are reputable by googling their name alongside keywords such as “Fraud,” “Death,” “Scandal,” or “Fake.”
Try to look up reviews of their retreat, or find experience reports from previous guests. Abusive or negligent facilitators are very good at hiding any negative press online, so make sure you research your facilitator thoroughly.
If you are unsure about anything, ask the facilitator directly – you should always expect direct replies from any good facilitator. You should be clear on exactly what the ceremony will involve, and how the facilitator will be working with you during the experience. Make sure they offer some kind of integration after the ceremony, so you are not left in a vulnerable state.
A good facilitator will not “oppressively enforce” their practices or will on you during a ceremony. They should be there for your safety and guidance, and should not engage in any forceful or restraining physical touch. They should have a relatively small group of participants, so they can give adequate care to each of you, and should be willing to meet any specific requirements that you may have for the space or the ceremony.
Prepare for the session by engaging in some spiritual practices, such as meditation, walks in nature, or journaling. This will provide you with a foundation that you can return to if you start to feel fear or anxiety during the experience.
Setting yourself a clear intention for the Bufo retreat will also make it more likely that you will have a beneficial experience. It can be a rock to hold on to if you get lost during the ceremony, and will also help you with integration afterwards.
Integration is crucial for an individual seeking lasting change and gaining any personal/spiritual benefits from any psychedelic experience, and especially such an intense experience as that of Bufo or 5-MeO-DMT.
In order to better assist my clients with integration, I provide my clients with my personal integration and implementation services.
It is healthy and well intentioned to have your own meditation practice established before you choose to sit with the toad so that when you begin your integration, you have a method in which you are comfortable accessing. Whether that is through yoga, movement, dance, massage, talk therapy, or nature. Continuing on with your own meditation practices after the ceremony is important as this will help you integrate and accept the lessons of the experience. Stay in touch with your facilitator or group, and don’t be afraid to ask for support if it’s needed.