A recently released open letter from concerned members of the entheogenic community has detailed years of reported abuse and malpractice from two leading facilitators of the highly psychoactive Bufo alvarius toad venom: Octavio Rettig and Gerry Sandoval.
The Open Letter, currently sitting with over 380 signatures from concerned community members, lays out the dozens of varied accusations against the pair that have surfaced in the past decade, stating that there is “overwhelming evidence” that the two Bufo facilitators have engaged in “reckless, unethical, and potentially criminal behavior.”
A brief list of reported malpractices by Octavio Rettig include: dangerous sessions leading to hospitalizations and deaths; psychological and physical violence; non-consensual interventions and abuses of power; and neglect of people who have been damaged.
A brief list of reported malpractices by Gerry Sandoval include: rape; clandestine drugging; planting drugs on people with intent to endanger them; intentional overdosing; grossly unsafe serving practices; psychological manipulation; and financial fraud.
The collective consequences, apart from death, include physical injuries, psychological trauma, ongoing mental health issues, and a shell-shocked and divided entheogenic community.
Why Are People Smoking Bufo Alvarius Toad Venom?
The practice of inhaling bufotoxins from the Bufo alvarius, also known as “Sonoran Desert Toad,” “Colorado River Toad,” “El Sapo/Sapito,” “Bufo,” and “Toad” has become increasingly popular in a variety of underground ceremonial settings in recent years, creating corresponding pressure on toad populations and long-term sustainability.
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.
Bufotoxins are the name of a collection of compounds which can be found on the toad’s skin, which the toad secretes as a venom that protects the toad from predators. The two psychoactive compounds found in the toad venom are 5-MeO-DMT and Bufotenin; both of these chemicals belong to the family of hallucinogenic tryptamines.
5-MeO-DMT is one of the more potent naturally-occurring entheogens. The effects of 5-MeO-DMT can be felt 15 seconds after smoking it, and is often described as a intense and overwhelming psychedelic experience of fractalized ego-dissolution that gives way to a feeling of “being one with the Universe.” Because Bufo venom also contains bufotenin, many find smoking Bufo venom to be a much stronger experience than smoking synthetic 5-MeO-DMT. The psychoactive effects of smoking Bufo venom typically lasts about 15 minutes, and usually completely subsides in 30 to 40 minutes. The psychedelic “afterglow” may last a few more hours, and be felt in the following days and weeks after the session.
The Origins of Bufo Alvarius Toad Shamanism
While Bufo facilitation can take place in a more neutral, clinical setting, Bufo is commonly experienced in neo-shamanic ceremonial settings, that may include chanting, drumming, smudging and other rituals. Although some facilitators claim that Bufo medicine is traditional or indigenous, there is no clear evidence to suggest that there has ever been a tradition of using Bufo secretions in shamanic practices. In fact, the practice of smoking Bufo venom is a relatively recent phenomenon. Bufo alvarius toad venom was found to contain 5-MeO-DMT in 1965; the paper containing that fact was published in 1967. Smoking toad venom only became a fringe, underground phenomenon in the mid-’80s, when the first widely distributed description of smoking Bufo alvarius toad-venom for its 5-MeO-DMT content came 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.
While there have been efforts to suggest that the Mesoamerican civilizations used psychoactive toad venom ritualistically, due to the presence of toad icons in temple frescos, this is speculation. Therefore, any practitioner who claims that their way of working with Bufo is “ancient and sacred” is exaggerating. Any “indigenous seeming” Bufo practices are examples of neo-shamanism that adapt from a variety of sources, and are not rooted in specific traditional knowledge from an unbroken ancestral lineage.
Who are Octavio Rettig & Gerry Sandoval?
Octavio Rettig and Gerry Sandoval are authors, doctors, and psychedelic practitioners who regularly facilitate sessions with the Bufo alvarius toad venom, charging on average between $200-$400 a person. Rettig (a.k.a. the Toad Prophet) is a medical surgeon from Guadalajara who travels around the world facilitating toad ceremonies with as many as 80+ participants and claims to be endorsed by the Seri people of Northern Mexico.
However, to state that an entire indigenous nation endorses your work is already a suspect claim. Indigenous communities, as many communities, are divided, with leaders expressing different points of view. The premise that toad venom is an “traditional ancient medicine” is not based on any evidence found in Mesoamerican history, is motivated by a desire to offer the “Toad Experience” as something equivalent to ayahuasca.
Conferences like the World Bufo Alvarius Congress and Beyond Psychedelics have issued public statements addressing malpractice concerns while issuing best practice guidelines for Bufo facilitation. Now this latest campaign has attempted to catalogue the more verifiable abuses of the two Bufo facilitators.
Malpractice Claims Against Octavio Rettig – Non Consent, Negligence & Avoidable Death
The primary complaints issued against Octavio Rettig is that he employs questionable and sometimes dangerous techniques during his toad ceremonies, including the nonconsensual and forceful use of rapé (tobacco snuff that is blown up the nostrils using a blowpipe) during the peak of the experience, the use of electric shocks to prevent people from lying down, and the forceful pouring of water down participants’ throats. Paired with the lack of attention he gives participants (on at least one occasion leaving someone face down and slowly asphyxiating on the ground), these practices have led to several deaths.
At least four deaths linked to Rettig’s negligence as a facilitator have been reported in the open letter. The causes of the death range from suffocation due to water in the lungs, to shock due to the intensity of the rapé administration. All the deaths were avoidable, if adequate support and medical care had been present. A criminal case of involuntary homicide (homicidio culposo) is currently being prepared in Leon against Octavio.
As one participant, who nearly died from asphyxiation, states:
“I cannot rate Octavio as a medical professional because he has not behaved like one. He was not measuring doses, was not giving 100% attention to the person he was working on, even after pouring water into the nostrils […] he hasn’t looked after me, he hasn’t apologized for leaving me in my experience to attend another, he hasn’t written back after I communicated I was still struggling. This is not shamanism, this is not healing and the way I was administered the medicine, by my standards, is an insult to the spirit of the Bufo alvarius.” – from the open letter.
It is clear that Rettig is not facilitating his sessions with sufficient care. It is misguided to think it is safe to administer large doses of rapé during the session, or force water down people’s throats, or give electric shocks, while participants are under the influence of one of the most powerful natural psychedelics in the world. If a person is in an altered state, and not physically aware of their body, it’s logical to assume that pouring water into the unconscious person’s mouth would risk choking, and blowing tobacco snuff into their nose, would cause tobacco powder to enter their lungs, risking vomiting and asphyxiation.
Even if we ignore the risks of Rettig’s techniques, and entertained the possibility that these methods supported the psychedelic experience in a necessary way, these interventions would be non-fatal, if they were delivered in an environment with adequate medical care and supervision. However, such safety measures are not present, nor have the psychedelic community found the interventions to be necessary, or even experience-enhancing in any way.
Malpractice Claims Against Gerry Sandoval – Rape, Fraud, & Clandestine Drugging
Where Rettig’s actions can be seen as gross negligence rather than intentional malice, Sandoval is harder to defend.
Sandoval has been accused of rape both within and outside of ceremonial contexts. The cases of rape all involve the use of substances to induce vulnerable states.
His abuse involves multiple people, and goes beyond sexual abuse; including leaving a partner locked up in a foreign country for weeks, after taking away her passport.
The open letter reports three cases of Sandoval purposefully planting drugs on people before they crossed a border, in some cases resulting in their imprisonment.
Sandoval has also been implicated in fraudulent activity, involving the misappropriation of funds raised for toad sanctuaries that never materialized.
“Soon after Gerry moved into our home we began to discuss the future of his now defunct Bufo Alvarius Foundation. We went to work fast, and legally established the Foundation in Washington State under my Social Security Number. It was OFFICIAL!!! Amanda was the acting Secretary, I would be the Vice President, and Gerry The President. Our associates answered the call for help building an official website as well. We were working at a fast pace because Gerry had a wealthy benefactor that was ready to contribute a large donation, $50,000 to the Foundation, with only 2 stipulations. He needed an official website, and an EIN number issued by a government agency, to prove the existence of the Foundation. Gerry had everything he needed, and the donation was sent. The donation however did not go into the Foundations Bank Account. It went directly into Gerry’s personal account.” – from the open letter.
Finally, the reported actions of Sandoval suggest he engages in willfully harmful activities, with multiple reports of him clandestinely drugging friends with high doses of psychedelics, spiking Bufo mixtures with unknown additional substances, using dangerously high doses of Bufo, and holding ceremonies in unsafe places.
If People Have Been Harmed, Why Are There No Negative Reviews?
A common objection to any criticism of Rettig or Sandoval’s methods are met with, “But I had an amazing experience with him,” or “I know lots of people who had great experiences with him – this must be fake news!”
It’s important to note that 5-MeO-DMT and DMT can elicit powerful experiences of transcendence, bliss and love just on their own, regardless of who the facilitator is or the circumstances by which the substance is administered. An individual having their first experience could be in the worst Bufo session or ayahuasca ceremony, for example, and have a profound healing experience when they are in that expanded blissful state of universal love where everything feels connected – with no idea that they were in a terrible ceremony with an unqualified facilitator.
Furthermore, Rettig and Sandoval are media-savvy psychedelic facilitators who have flooded the Internet with positive testimonials and press mentions, and have been featured in several documentaries. Anyone doing their own online research would only encounter page after page of positive reviews and adoring press. Anyone vetting either of them directly would be told to check out all the reviews.
If Octavio & Gerry Are So Dangerous, Why Do So Many People Rush to Defend Them?
It’s true that many people have been profoundly healed and have had “their lives saved” by their experiences with either facilitator. This is especially true in the case of drug addiction: Bufo and 5-MeO-DMT have shown remarkable results in cutting addiction cravings. The implications of Bufo for addiction therapy warrants more scientific research.
Here’s the deal: administering thousands of people a psychedelic substance that illicits a strong direct experience of healing coupled with unshakeable belief that healing has occurred makes for a steady stream of staunch, unwavering allies.
As mentioned, powerful psychedelic substances like 5-MeO-DMT elicit profound experiences of healing and oneness on their own. Often the most avid defenders of either facilitator would not even be able to tell you if it was the Bufo the resulted in the healing, or the facilitator himself. They readily associate the healing, life-saving experience with the facilitator, and willfully ignore any flaws or criticisms.
Even clients who have been on the receiving end of abuse – such as being kicked while in a completely insensate state on the Bufo – later post a video testimony defending Rettig’s actions in a manner similar to Stockholm Syndrome. This is the power of 5-MeO-DMT, and what makes psychedelic “gurus” so dangerous.
Here are some of the common objections raised by staunch defenders, and the common spiritual bypasses that they reflect:
Objection #1: “Unless you’ve experienced their work, you do not have the right to any negative opinions about it.”
The spiritual bypass inherent in this statement is that no objective observation of unethical conduct is possible, if the observer has not directly experienced the action being criticized.
Corresponding logic could be applied to a similar scenario:
- A person is passed out drunk. The individual who is responsible for getting the person drunk, then administers electric shock to the passed out individual, and kicks them, without having sought prior consent.
- A witness says, “This is wrong. This is abuse.”
- Another member of the drinking party says, “You have no right to judge, you did not get drunk with us!”
An extreme example or corresponding logic might be:
“You have not been raped before by this person, therefore you have no right to say that rape is bad.”
Opining that rape under the influence of a mind-altering drug is “bad” is not the same as debating the truth of whether that person delivers an objectively good Swedish massage.
Objection #2: “This is fake news. I had a good experience and I know many others who have.”
The spiritual bypass in this argument is that because one has had a good experience, or know others who have, it’s not possible that the facilitator has committed any harm, based on their own positive personal and direct experience.
Two naive and erroneous beliefs driving this statement are:
- “This news makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t like this news, therefore it is fake.”
- “I had a great experience. Therefore this person can do no harm.”
Objection #3: “You are a hater. You operate a hate site.”
The spiritual bypass in this argument is that anything negative is hateful. If you browse the content on this site, you will find that very little content on EntheoNation is negative. The Open Letter Concerning Abuses by Octavio Rettig and Gerry Sandoval exists solely for the purpose of gathering signatures that acknowledge the harmful actions of these facilitators. It’s not an online forum dedicated to discussing New Age Fraud.
Objection #4: “These allegations and negative reports are from jealousy and competition between facilitators.”
This spiritual bypass negates the experience of victims, the testimony of therapists treating these victims, as well as the best practice guidelines put forth by the industry.
Objection #5: “If a crime was committed, these people would be in jail. These people are not in jail, therefore no crime was committed.”
Bufo ceremonies are underground because the substance being administered is 5-MeO-DMT, which is illegal in most countries. For this reason, it’s very difficult to gather evidence for a criminal investigation when:
- Families do not want to be on public record or file charges because the death involves the administration of an illegal drug, 5-MeO-DMT, and this will open a criminal investigation.
- Hosts do not want to go on public record because it calls attention to their own activities hosting events involving illegal drugs.
- Psychotherapists do not want to go on record about criminal activities because it violates the privacy of their patients, and it’s up to the patient to file charges; which they may not want to do if they are in a psychologically vulnerable stage.
- Law enforcement in the countries where the crime occurred may be notoriously corrupt, so that witnesses and family of victims may feel reluctant to enter the criminal justice system.
Objection #6: “All of this is just hearsay, because people do not want to make public statements. If they are not willing to go public, their word cannot be trusted.”
Yes, indeed victims and witnesses face an incredible burden of proof, especially when many do not want any public visibility. For this reason, criminal prosecution has remained very difficult.
However, when you have multiple testimonies gathered over time, from people with no personal or financial interest (but everything to lose by speaking out), gathered by by different members of the entheogenic community, plus video documentation, there is a compelling groundswell of information that suggests that allegations of malpractice are warranted.
Objection #7: “But the facilitator saved my life! This cannot be true.”
But was it the medicine? Or was it the medicine facilitator? Powerful entheogenic experiences can indeed be lifesaving. Especially in the case of long-term drug addiction – the ability for entheogens like Bufo, iboga, and ayahuasca to cut addiction cravings is remarkable. They are also remarkable in their ability to heal trauma and PTSD, as well as improve the psychological and emotional well-being for people who have struggled with treatment-resistant depression. For these reasons, more clinical studies are needed into the therapeutic benefits of DMT-containing psychedelics.
For someone who is vulnerable and who has struggled with severe health conditions, just one application of Bufo might offer a powerful reprieve from their suffering and a shift in consciousness that supports them in breaking free from the causes and conditions of their suffering. And the person who administered this experience, appears like a savior. A Godsend. A true shaman and healer.
But here’s where some inquiry might be helpful. Some questions to ponder might be:
- What was it about the Bufo facilitator (and not the medicine) that made the experience life-saving? Was it because that person gave exemplary after-care and integration support? If there was little to no aftercare or programmatic integration support, it may have been the toad medicine that saved your life, and not the toad facilitator.
- Is this the only Bufo facilitator you’ve worked with? If this is the case, how would you know objectively whether he is good or not? Or if his method is superior to other ways of working with this medicine? If there is no point of comparison, it may have been the toad medicine that saved your life and not the toad facilitator.
- Are you certain that it wasn’t simply a matter of dosage? That in a previous experience with a different facilitator, you were served a lighter dose, and that with the “life-saving” facilitator, the dosage was greater, thereby leading to a more amplified experience? If you cannot compare dosage, it may have been a stronger application of the toad medicine that saved your life and not the facilitator.
You see, a substance like Bufo will give you the ineffable, transcendent, blissed out, “All is One and All is Love” experience by itself, regardless of who is firing up a glass pipe up to your mouth, and telling you to inhale.
Objection #8: “I had a good experience with the facilitator and I feel disrespected by these allegations.”
The spiritual bypass in this statement is that this article is about you, and it negates the harm experienced by victims and their families, the work of psychotherapists supporting those who have been harmed, and the tireless work of the psychedelic community and Conclave of 5-MeO-DMT facilitators who are working towards establishing best practices, ethical guidelines and accountability in the industry.
In fact the Open Letter addresses the fact that many people have had positive experiences with either facilitator, stating:
It’s important to note: that negligence or malpractice has occurred by all means does not negate the positive experiences of all those who have experienced toad with either facilitator. As the Open Letter states:
We readily admit that many more people may have benefited from Gerry and Octavio’s provision of the toad medicine than have been directly hurt by it. However, the material we have managed to assemble is only a fraction of what appears to be a larger pool of reports of physical injury and psychological damage from some of their sessions.
What Should You Do?
Because of the environment of drug prohibition surrounding the use of anything containing DMT, there are no governing bodies regulating the use of Bufo and other underground psychedelics. For this reason, enforcement of safety and harm reduction best practices depends entirely on the self-regulating capacity of the psychedelic community.
Here are the suggestions posed by the authors of the Open Letter Concerning Abuses by Octavio Rettig and Gerry Sandoval:
- That this Open Letter be widely distributed and hosted on different sites.
- That anyone hitherto involved in hosting or otherwise promoting Octavio Rettig or Gerry Sandoval anywhere in the world cease doing so.
- That anyone contemplating making further documentaries featuring either Octavio or Gerry, seriously consider the damage to others involved in sweeping the evidence that is now known of malpractice under the carpet.
- That anyone contemplating making future podcasts, interviews, conferences, and other media featuring either Octavio or Gerry on their public platforms seriously consider the damage to others.
- That hosts should support any further victims in coming forward with experiences of abuse.
- That members of the entheogenic community recognize and label such behaviors and practices as dangerous.
The open letter is clear that they are not trying to shut down Rettig and Sandoval’s ability to respond to this issue, but that it is imperative that we label their behaviors as dangerous, and completely at odds with the values of the Bufo and entheogenic communities. It is important that we allow this discussion to evolve, so that we can allow the whole truth to surface.
You can show your support by signing the open letter here, and by sharing the letter on social media, or to any friends or colleagues who may be considering visiting a 5-MeO-DMT retreat in future.