What is Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT?
5-MeO-DMT is a naturally-occuring entheogen that is found in several species of plant, 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 psychedelic DMT (dimethyltryptamine), and like DMT it also induces an intense experience when ingested. Typically, it is insufflated (snorted) or smoked as a powder or dried plant material.
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.
Bufo is also sometimes called ‘toad medicine’ or ‘sapito.’
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 or spiritual purposes.
Effects of Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT
5-MeO-DMT is a potent naturally-occurring entheogen. Its effects can kick in around 15 seconds after smoking it, and 5-MeO-DMT produces an intense and sometimes overwhelming psychedelic experience. Although it is over within about half an hour, people describe experiencing an overpowering ego-dissolution that often leads to a feeling of being connected to everything in existence.
Bufo venom not only contains 5-MeO-DMT, it also contains bufotenin, a close chemical analog to DMT, that may also have psychoactive properties. Although there is no conclusive evidence about bufotenin being psychoactive when smoked, many find that smoking Bufo venom produces a stronger experience than taking 5-MeO-DMT alone.
The psychedelic effects of smoking Bufo venom typically last about 15 minutes, and will totally subside after around 40 minutes. The usual psychedelic “afterglow” may last a few more hours, and some say that it can be felt for as long as days or weeks following the session.
Smoking Bufo can be physiologically risky. 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 fatal. Do not combine 5-MeO-DMT with MAOIs (including ayahuasca), or beta-carbolines. There are several reports of deaths resulting from these combinations.
The dosage of 5-MeO-DMT will depend on whether you are insufflating or smoking the powder. An average dose for insufflating is around 8-15mg, while an average dose for smoking is 5-10mg. Always start with lower doses than these if you are sensitive.
If you are taking Bufo venom, you should also consider that the psychoactive bufotenin will be present alongside 5-MeO-DMT. The active dose for bufotenin is around 30-60mg insufflated, and 4-8mg when smoked.
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 toad medicine 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.
Current use of Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT
The practice of inhaling bufotoxins from Bufo alvarius has become increasingly popular in a variety of underground ceremonial settings in recent years, creating corresponding pressure on toad populations and long-term sustainability.
A large number of Bufo shamans and facilitators have appeared in the entheogenic community, offering to administer the medicine in ceremonies aimed at addressing spiritual or physical issues.
5-MeO-DMT is also used in some ceremonial settings, ingested as powdered plant material. Synthetic 5-MeO-DMT is used by some facilitators.
Bufo has become a new interest in psychedelic research due to the potential 5-MeO-DMT holds for therapy as well as for the treatment of opioid addiction. However, the current state of research is sparse compared to research into the more well-known classic psychedelics.
What Does a Bufo Ceremony Look Like?
Because Bufo alvarius has no history of traditional use, there is no standard or ‘traditional’ style of toad medicine ceremony. Most facilitators will use aspects of traditional shamanism in their ceremonies, but these are often appropriated from a number of different cultures and it is rare for a modern Bufo facilitator to have any kind of sanctioned training.
Bufo ceremonies exist in a bit of a ‘Wild West’ – with no real oversight, consistency, or regulation. This allows some facilitators to undertake highly dangerous, negligent, or abusive practices, such as using electric shocks, or simulated drowning (read here for more on this).
A good Bufo ceremony will put your safety first, and be overseen by experienced professionals who stay sober and can give all their attention to you. You should not be forced or encouraged to do anything other than take the Bufo and then lie down in a safe and comfortable environment until the effects have passed. Sometimes facilitators may play music, blow smoke, or practice shamanic activities – but a facilitator should not need to touch you, give you other substances, or enforce suggestions upon you while you are tripping.
The experience lasts only a few minutes, but a facilitator may undertake several steps of preparation and integration before and after the ceremony. Overall a ceremony may last several days, depending on how in-depth your facilitator decides to curate the experience.
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, Bufo toad medicine has the 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, if you do not combine the medicine 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 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 gaining spiritual benefits from any psychedelic experience, and especially such an intense experience as that of Bufo or 5-MeO-DMT.
Carry on your spiritual practices after the Bufo ceremony, 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.
Journaling or self reflection are keys to a successful integration process. Read more about integration with 5-MeO-DMT and Bufo alvarius in our full guide.