What Is Bufo Alvarius? Experience, Benefits & Side Effects

By Frederic Cherri
Therapist, shamanic practitioner, teacher, coach. Frédéric is a long serving clinician & tutor of Craniosacral Therapy, retreat & workshop leader, ceremonialist and speaker. He also runs an online personal practice for deep transformation. He is available for private consultations.

Summary

Commonly known as toad venom, the secretion of the Bufo Alvarius toad — also known as the Sonoran Desert toad — contains 5-MeO-DMT and 5-HO-DMT (Bufotenine), two substances known for their entheogenic properties. Both compounds are naturally-occuring entheogens that are found in several species of plants.

What is Bufo Alvarius or 5-MeO-DMT?

The bufo toad has held a place in human mythologies and medicines worldwide since archaic times. Used by ancient peoples for a variety of purposes, its most spectacular effects, according to lore, involve magical and shamanic uses for healing and for divination. In the Middle Ages, the Bufo toad was celebrated as a panacea and persecuted as a powerful poison. More recently, in the 1960s the Bufo toad was resurrected as a countercultural icon, with people purportedly licking or smoking the secretions to get high. One of the two psychotropic components, Bufotenine, has been at the center of a scientific debate since its discovery in 1893.

The venom is a milky white substance that is excreted from the parotid glands of the Sonoran Desert Toad. It is composed of approximately 15%-20% 5-MeO-DMT, bufotenine (5-HO-DMT), and a mixture of 20+ alkaloids.
When this dehydrated secretion is burned and the user inhales the vapors released, it can be one of the most powerful psychoactive properties on the planet.

The medicine is short-acting and ranges from 15-45 minutes in length. The effects of smoking toad medicine include ego dissolution, deep emotional release, feelings of leaving the physical body, and can sometimes include spiritual  visions. Toad Medicine has been credited with anti-depressant and anti-addictive effects.

Effects of Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT

5-MeO-DMT and Bufotenine are both potent naturally-occurring entheogens. The effects kick in around 5-10 seconds after smoking the vaporised venom, and it produces an intense (overwhelming at times) entheogenic experience. Although it is over within about 30 to 40 minutes, people describe experiencing a powerful ego-dissolution that often leads to a feeling of being connected to everything in existence. The effects of smoking Bufo venom typically last about 15 to 20 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

A Bufo ceremony is often reported as a life-altering experience, causing intense and relatively short-lived effects—start to finish, about 30 minutes—that are powerfully transformative (in a good way). Participants often report that it feels like a near death experience. Toad Medicine is the best way to experience the death of ego. When administered in the appropriate setting it can be the death of negative thought patterns and self-destructive behaviors. Participants in any ancestral earth or plant medicines are always encouraged and usually guided to set an intention prior to the ceremony, and a toad medicine ceremony is very much the same.

The science and research

Today, science seems to be catching up with these mystical accounts. A growing number of researchers are studying Bufo and other hallucinogenic substances as legit treatments for many mental health conditions.

In a recent study published by the National Institutes of Health, after just a single-use, this psychedelic lifted anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—and provided an overall sustained enhancement of satisfaction with life.

Promising scientific research that proves mental health benefits may eventually change the various legal classification but for now, the substance isn’t readily available.

Preliminary research by John Hopkins University suggests that a synthetic form of 5-MeO-DMT also combats depression and anxiety. Psychedelic researcher Alan Davis, PhD, conducted a survey in 2018 of 362 adults, in which 162 self-reported suffering from anxiety or depression. After using the synthetic in a ceremonial group setting of 5 to 12 people with a sober guide, approximately 80% reported improvements in both conditions.

The combined effects of 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin (along with whatever other toxins are present in the toad venom) can be intense, and the combination with additional medications like MAOIs (including ayahuasca), or beta-carbolines is to be avoided.

History of Bufo Alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT

Some scholars have suggested that Mesoamerican civilizations used psychoactive toad venom in rituals. These suggestions are based on the presence of toad icons in temple frescos, and as our modern methods for dating and analysis are very limited in time and scope, we can’t eliminate the possibility for a long history of indigenous use of this medicine. In contemporary usage, Bufo is commonly found in neo-shamanic ceremonial settings that may include drumming, chanting, smudging and other rituals.

Whilst there is no specific available material pertaining to an unbroken ancestral lineage of this particular medicine 5-MeO-DMT has a history of ancestral 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.

Popularity and 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 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 although the synthetic version does not contain Bufotenin and other alkaloids, hence ​​effects may be milder.

Bufo has become a new interest in entheogenic 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.

Champion boxer Mike Tyson has admitted to using the drug and said, “I’ve never felt anything like that before… nothing else can supersede that,” while appearing on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. Tyson and Tony Robbins, who has also tried it, talked about their experiences on popular media.

Hunter Biden, the second son of U.S. President Joe Biden, also admitted to smoking toad venom in his 2021 memoir, Beautiful Things, in an attempt to help him break free of his addiction to crack cocaine.

What Does a Bufo Ceremony Look Like?

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 rare are the modern Bufo facilitators having undertaken formal, lineage-based, training. They do exist though, hence 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. 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.

A good Bufo ceremony will put your safety first, and be overseen by experienced professionals who can provide you with undivided attention. 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 is short-lived, but a facilitator may undertake several steps of preparation and integration before and after the ceremony. Overall a ceremony may last from 2 hours to several days, depending on how in-depth your facilitator decides to curate the experience.

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

Any sacred ancestral ceremony needs to be integrated and an experience with the Toad also requires the integration of what is experienced during the ceremony in the participant’s life in a meaningful way.

Integrating Bufo ceremony can be exemplified by healthy living and lifestyle changes. Being the best person one can be. Living the best life one can live. The medicine will always reveal what a participant needs to know. Some participants find it helpful to do further integration work with a plant medicine integration specialist after a ceremony to learn how to make healthy lifestyle changes.

Considering that Bufo can be experienced as the death of the ego it can be a challenging experience for some. It is not a recreational drug and needs to be given profound respect. To experience the medicine safely it should always be administered in an appropriate setting by an experienced facilitator with appropriate training. Although the medicine is safe, people can experience a wide range of reactions that need to be attended to with experience and care, during and after.

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. Journaling or self reflection are keys to a successful integration process. Stay in touch with your facilitator or group, and don’t be afraid to ask for support if it’s needed.

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