The psychoactive effects of the secretions of different varieties of toads have been known for centuries. Bufo alvarius is a semi-aquatic amphibian that lives in the Sonoran desert of Mexico. Their cutaneous glands contain more than a dozen tryptamine compounds, including bufotenin and 5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-dimethyltryptamine), but do not contain DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine), the active principle present in ayahuasca. Bufotenin and 5-MeO-DMT are two powerful psychedelic substances.
The Bufo alvarius toad, whose correct name is Incilius alvarius, is native to the American continent. It can be found in the southern part of the Arizona desert in the USA and throughout most of the Sonoran desert in Mexico, even reaching Guamúchil, Sinaloa. It’s also known as the Colorado River toad, because it inhabits the areas surrounding this river in lower California, New Mexico, Mexico and southern Arizona.
It is found mostly in the lower parts of the Sonoran desert, at altitudes ranging from sea level to 1600m. In addition to the desert, B. alvarius inhabits pastures and oak forests, where it hides in rodent burrows.
As a nocturnal toad, during most of the months from September to April it stays underground in a state of hibernation. During the breeding season, which coincides with the rainy season, it becomes very active, especially at night, and hundreds of toads roam the desert.
Bufo alvarius have large parotid glands that secrete a viscous, milky-colored substance. It is this venom that contains psychoactive alkaloids.
Toads have always played an important role in the myths, legends, religions, medical practices and healing arts of different peoples throughout the history of mankind.
We find representations of toads that go back thousands of years. Some authors have suggested that Neanderthals used toad venom for hunting, divination and as an intoxicant.
There are myths and traditions related to toads throughout history in different parts of the world such as China, Tibet, Nepal, as well as Bolivia and Europe. Myths about the use of toads in witchcraft during the Middle Ages are widespread.
Several anthropologists suggest that one toad variety, Bufo marinus has been used in Mesoamerica since ancient times for its intoxicating properties. The hypothesis regarding the use of Bufo marinus, whose secretions, like those of other toads, mainly contain bufotenin, is based on the presence of many iconographic and mythological representations of toads in the Olmec, Mayan and Aztec cultures, dating from 2000 BCE. In the archaeological remains of the Olmec culture of San Lorenzo, Veracruz, Mexico, skeletal remains of Bufo species have been found dating from 1250-900 BCE. Aztec sculptures and representations place great emphasis on the parotid glands of the toads, which is where the psychoactive secretions are located.
According to accounts from the Anglo-Dominican friar Thomas Gage, the native Mayan Poloman people of Guatemala had the habit of adding both tobacco leaves and venomous toads to their fermented beverages to increase their potency.
There has, however, been great confusion about the varieties of toads that could have been used for different purposes, as well as which alkaloids present in the secretions of the toads were responsible for the effects. As already mentioned, there are dozens of tryptamine substances in the venoms of certain toads and while the psychoactive effects are usually attributed to bufotenin and 5-MeO-DMT, the contribution of each alkaloid to the final effect has not yet been fully clarified. Moreover, some alkaloids present in the secretions of the toads of the Bufo genus can have cardiotoxic effects and be fatal, as certain reports of animals that have died after biting toads demonstrate.
Some anthropologists have suggested that it is unlikely that B. marinus was the toad used by Mesoamerican cultures for psychoactive purposes, due to the presence of bufotenin in their secretions, whose psychoactivity has been doubted in recent decades. It has been proposed that the species used was B. alvarius, whose secretions contain 5-MeO-DMT and whose morphology is practically indistinguishable from B. marinus. However, given the lack of sufficient chemical analysis, this assertion is only speculative.
Today some traditional practices of the use of psychoactive toads survive among healers of Mesoamerican and South American tribes, in which toad venom is used for magical purposes, mainly in the preparation of love potions and other uses.
While the importance of toads and their venoms in medical and religious practices and in the mythology of many ancient civilizations is indisputable, confusion remains about the varieties of toads used, as well as the modes of use and their purposes. Although possible, the traditional use of B. alvarius can not be assured.
Chemical composition and Dosage
B. alvarius gland secretions contain different alkaloids from the indolealkylamines family and their metabolites from the more common series of 5-hydroxy-indolealkylamines, as well as 5-methoxy-indolealkylamines, unusual in the secretions of toads, known as bufotoxins.
Similarly to many other varieties of toads, B. alvarius produces bufotenin (5-OH-DMT) in considerable amounts, up to 3 mg per gram of dry skin. The skin of B. alvarius also contains other sulfurous substances, one of which is bufovidrine and other cardiotoxic substances called bufogenin and bufotoxin. Some studies have regarded bufotenin to be the substance responsible for the psychoactive effects of both plants and toads, while other studies have not found signs of psychoactivity, although they have found toxic effects on a physical level. Jonathan Ott found in his bioassays that bufotenin administered by different routes (vaporized, intranasal, oral, rectal and endovenous) did have psychoactive effects at doses similar to 5-MeO-DMT.
The peculiarity of B. alvarius is that its secretions are the only ones that contain 5-MeO-DMT, or 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine of all known toad species. This is because Bufo alvarius has a special enzyme, called O-methyl transferase, which converts bufotenin into 5-MeO-DMT, a very potent psychoactive substance with psychedelic effects. The content of the secretions can reach up to 5-15% of the total dry weight in the parotid glands, which results in a considerable amount of 5-MeO-DMT. A single toad can produce up to 75mg of this substance.
5-MeO-DMT is present in several botanical varieties, such as different species of Virola, Anadenanthera and Phalaris, plants that have been used in the preparation of psychoactive snuffs since ancient times. 5-MeO-DMT has also been found in human fluids including urine, blood and cerebrospinal fluid, so it seems that the human body can also synthesize this substance.
Reports on psychoactivity and the effects of bufotenin have been controversial and different studies have drawn different conclusions. Therefore, the dosage of bufotenin and its specific effects are not clearly defined. According to Jonathan Ott’s bioassays, the doses of bufotenin are the following:
Intranasal or sublingual:
- Low dose: 20 – 30mg
- Average dose: 30 – 60mg
- High dose: 60 – 100mg
Smoked/vaporized: the dosage is similar to that of smoked 5-MeO-DMT
- Low dose: 2mg
- Average dose: 4 – 8mg
Rectal (in suppository)
Dosage of 5-MeO-DMT
5-MeO-DMT and the plants that contain it have traditionally been consumed by insufflation, or snorting, in mixtures of plants known as snuffs. The dosage of pure substance via insufflation is the following:
- Threshold dose: 3 – 5mg
- Low dose: 5 – 10mg
- Average dose: 8 – 15mg
- High dose: 10 – 25mg
The dosage of pure smoked substance is between 6 and 20 mg, and is currently the most commonly used route:
- Threshold dose: 1 – 2mg
- Low dose: 2 – 5mg
- Average dose: 5 – 10mg
- High dose: 10 – 20mg
The intravenous dosage has also been investigated, and it has been determined to be between 0.7 and 3.1mg.
There are reports of oral and sublingual doses of 5-MeO-DMT although the results are unclear. In these cases the doses are around 10mg sublingually, and 20-30mg orally. Sometimes 5-MeO-DMT is used as an additive in ayahuasca admixtures, usually due to the use of a plant that contains it. In combination with monoamine oxidase inhibitors, the oral effects can be much greater and involve significant risks, which will be mentioned later.
The effects of B. alvarius venom are not necessarily identical to those of pure 5-MeO-DMT. As has been mentioned, toad venom contains numerous substances and the role of each of them in the total effect is not known with any certainty. There are also no studies regarding the quantity of smoked toad secretions necessary to achieve psychoactive effects, although based on analyses suggesting that the secretions contain up to 15% alkaloids, it would require about 65mg of toad venom in order to obtain 10mg of 5-MeO-DMT.
When smoked/vaporized, 5-MeO-DMT presents immediate and short effects, usually less than 20 minutes in duration, although of an often unexpected and overwhelming intensity.
When the vapors of 5-MeO-DMT are inhaled, the effects are established within a few seconds and their appearance is sudden and unexpected.The maximum effects begin in less than 1 minute and last for about 5-15 minutes. Users often describe the appearance and plateau of the effects as extremely intense. Afterwards the effects disappear quickly, after about 5-15 minutes, although most people feel residual effects for up to an hour after having smoked the substance.
Experience with B. alvarius venom is usually very immersive, and produces an extreme variation in perception. Many people describe sensations of cosmic unity, of access to non-dual consciousness and deep spiritual experiences. Some people have compared it to the experience of dying and accessing states similar to those described in Buddhist and Hindu traditions such as Nirvana or Tathāgata, beyond the beyond. The loss of a sense of identity and dissolution of the ego is common, as well as oceanic sensations of merging with everything.
Also, due to the rapid and intense onset of the effects, reactions of fear and panic are common, and the experience can be overwhelming and traumatic for some people. Movements can be produced during the experience, as well as involuntary expressions of sounds such as screaming, singing, or crying without the individual being aware of it.
Via insufflation (snorting), the effects tend to be more progressive and less overwhelming than from smoking, although they can be equally intense. The total duration of the most prominent effects is around half an hour to one hour, with residual effects of up to three hours. The venom of B. alvarius is not usually used via insufflation due to its consistency; the snorted consumption of pure 5-MeO-DMT is somewhat more common.
Prevalence of Use
The prevalence of the use of 5-MeO-DMT has always been relatively low, and only a very small minority of people have used it, because until the popularization of B. alvarius, it was a very little known substance which had to be acquired from specialized online sellers, so only very knowledgeable people interested in experiencing the effects of psychedelics had access.
Recent surveys in Australia (2012) indicate that from a sample of 693 consumers of MDMA and other substances recruited, only 2% had used 5-MeO-DMT at some time. In the 2017 Global Drug Survey, 5-MeO-DMT did not even appear in the results among the substances present.
Most users of 5-MeO-DMT have typically used the synthesized substance, instead of the secretions of B. alvarius. Churches that use B. alvarius as a sacrament, such as the Church of the Toad of Light, or the Church of the Tree of Life have existed since the 1970’s, although of dubious continuity and popularity.
However, since 2015 an increase in offers of experiences with B. alvarius has been observed. Session facilitators and self-styled shamans offer sessions of “toad medicine”, in neo-shamanic formats, often during the course of ayahuasca ceremonies. Thus a new form of toad use has appeared in recent years, and has given rise to new rituals.
This new spate of offers for experiences with B. alvarius has resulted in many people who had either never heard of nor were interested in 5-MeO-DMT having now had this experience, which is why the use of Bufo alvarius has increased remarkably even while entirely lacking vetted opinions of providers.
B. alvarius is not on any list of controlled species. Neither 5-MeO-DMT nor bufotenin are on the psychotropic lists of the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971. This means that in most countries they are not controlled substances, except for those in which there is separate legislation, such as in the United States of America, where both bufotenin and 5-MeO-DMT are classified as Schedule I, and therefore their sale, possession and use is illegal. Similarly, in the United Kingdom both substances are controlled as Class A. Other European countries, such as Sweden, have also included these substances on their lists of controlled substances.
Health and Risk Reduction
5-MeO-DMT, B. alvarius and the toxins they contain pose health risks that are important to consider.
Plants containing 5-MeO-DMT have not been used traditionally in combination with plants that contain beta-carbolines (harmine/harmaline) in preparations that are to be ingested orally. Yes, there are reports of combination of these substances in psychoactive rapés (snuffs) that have been inhaled and in smoked preparations.
The combination of 5-MeO-DMT, as well as bufotenin, with beta-carbolines ingested orally and the subsequent inhibiting effects of the MAO (monoamine oxidase) involves dangerous risks. This combination can produce hyperthermia, according to studies in animals, and this deregulation of the mechanisms responsible for controlling body temperature can have serious adverse effects. There are reports of people who have died after combining beta-carbolines and 5-MeO-DMT orally, so this combination should be avoided and/or treated with great caution. In the case of combining ayahuasca and B. alvarius, it is advisable to wait 24 hours after using ayahuasca before inhaling the venom, to eliminate the inhibitory effects of the monoamine oxidase in the harmalines. In the case of first using B. alvarius, you should wait a minimum of one hour before taking ayahuasca. Regarding the risks of combining ayahuasca with B. alvarius, see:
An experience with B. alvarius/5-MeO-DMT can be overwhelming and immersive, to the point of losing external references and even controlling one’s body for some minutes. Some people move during the experience in an unpredictable way. Therefore the presence of a sober caregiver who can maintain the physical safety of the individual and the environment is highly recommended, that is to say, necessary.
The psychological risks of an experience with B. alvarius also have to be taken into account. The experience can be very pleasant and transcendent, but it can also be frightening and traumatic. Taking into account the factors of the setting, one’s previous mental state and expectations, as well as the person who administers the substance is important when deciding on the use of B. alvarius. Some people report re-experiencing the effects after the event, particularly during subsequent evenings.
Unlike other psychedelic substances, Bufo alvarius induces an experience in which one can lose awareness of being under the effects of a substance, and even lose one’s consciousness of oneself and of the environment. This disappearance of self-consciousness, or the death/dissolution of the ego, are experiences that are difficult to explain, and over which it is difficult to maintain any sense of control. Those who consider experimenting with this substance should take this into account before doing so and know that the experience can be both revealing and blissful, as well as terrifying.