It’s Sunday afternoon and I'm enjoying the hors d’oeuvres at an engagement party mingling amongst the friends and family of the couple-to-be, taking a specific interest in the bride’s friends from Space Camp (?!) who now work at NASA ! (a story for another day).
There is always the inevitable moment at social gatherings where you are asked, “So what do you do for a living?”
My answer always surprises people and requires an in-depth explanation, so I was happy to have some attention placed on the NASA folks for a while.
The moment eventually comes, usually initiated by my best friend making the joke, “Oh she’s a corporate shaman.”
It starts off something like this:
Me: “I help facilitate psychedelic retreats and the coaching/therapy to help people prepare and integrate their experiences. We work with many leaders and execs to help them elevate their consciousness.”
New friend: “Really? That’s a job? What does that mean exactly? Which psychedelics? Do you mean like micro-dosing LSD?”
Me: “No, with medicines like ayahuasca, psilocybin and bufo in a ceremonial or therapeutic context.”
Person: “....” (looking very confused, intrigued, maybe even a bit nervous).
“Hmm so you mean magic mushrooms? and ayahuasca... I saw a documentary on that recently I think. Seems really intense. What is bufo though?”
Me: “Bufo is a super powerful psychedelic, which contains 5-MeO-DMT. It comes from the glands of the Bufo Alvarius toad. It’s believed to produce a psychedelic experience 4-6 times more powerful than ayahuasca.”
Person: “Wow…. ooohhh the toad! I’ve seen that before in a movie! You lick it right?”
Nope, not quite. But as depicted in popular media this is about as much as most people are familiar with this psychedelic medicine. Unless they’ve maybe seen this interview with Michael Pollan, which may have terrified them, or perhaps this one with Mike Tyson which might have been a little less intimidating.
But, as psychedelics like psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca garner more attention in the media for treating mental health problems, healing trauma, or as a means for spiritual exploration and enlightenment, people are starting to take notice of the sacred medicine Bufo as well.
5-MeO-DMT (aka the God molecule) is a psychedelic compound of the tryptamine class, similar but more powerful than its cousin DMT (also known as the spirit molecule). Based on studies of its pharmacological activity, the substance is believed to act mainly through serotonin receptors, specifically the 5-HT2 and 5-HT1A subtypes.
It is found naturally in a variety of trees and shrubs and in the Otac venom from the Sonoran Desert Toad species, also known as the Colorado River Toad (Bufo Alvarius), and can also be synthetically produced. Synthetic 5-MeO-DMT is also known as Jaguar. Both are known to produce a strong mystical experience.
Research in psychedelic therapy shows its effectiveness in improving general well-being and mindfulness and reducing the symptoms of psychological disorders such as anxiety and treatment resistant depression. Similar to other ancestral sacred medicines such as ayahuasca, Bufo Alvarius toad venom has been used as a healing agent for spiritual awakening by Central and South American shamans for thousands of years, originating from the indigenous peoples of the Sonoran Desert, Mexico.
Psychedelic drugs such as Ayahuasca, psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ketamine, MDMA, and ibogaine (iboga) are in the forefront of psychedelic research from institutions such as John Hopkins university and Harvard for their success treating trauma (PTSD), addiction, anxiety and depression. Often a single exposure is all it takes, with significant, sustaining results.
The research on Bufo toad venom is relatively new, but rest assured more is coming. A recent study looked at the benefits of ingesting Bufo in a naturalistic setting (rather than clinical). At Behold Retreats for example, this is done in nature, immersed in the forests and mountains, which really is something special if you compare it to ingesting it in a lab.
The Bufo Alvarius ceremony is facilitated by an expert practitioner (a medicine man/woman, shaman, guide, or healer) with another facilitator to assist and hold space for the experience to unfold. It is done in a ceremonial way, intentionally, with a respect for the spirit of the medicine.
Often studies are conducted in a clinical setting, which is why this specific study is so interesting as it mimics a similar experience to the seekers who are doing this work outside of research institutions. The results were exciting. The experience was related to a sustained enhancement of life satisfaction, mindfulness-related capacities, and a reduction of psychopathological symptoms.
The assessments were conducted at baseline, within 24hours and 4 weeks following intake with 42 individuals from several European locations.
Relative to baseline, ratings of satisfaction with life and mindfulness (non-judgement and awareness) significantly increased right after intake and either were maintained or increased over time after the 4-week period. Ratings of depression, anxiety, and stress decreased after the session, and reached statistical significance at 4 weeks.
Those who reported a psychiatric disorder mentioned that the experience helped them reduce their symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, or effectively deal with alcoholism and drug abuse.
It was also found that participants who experienced high levels of ego dissolution or oceanic boundlessness during the session displayed higher levels of satisfaction with life and lower rating of depression and stress.
This is also in line with the research on high dose psilocybin, showing that those who have had a “mystic” experience are more likely to have greater, longer-lasting benefits.
The great thing about 5-MeO-DMT - is that it has the best ability to induce strong mystical experiences, which is less of a guarantee with psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca.
But these great findings are not without caveats. Mental challenges following a 5-MeO-DMT experience have been reported, including feelings of grief, anxiety, panic, or paranoia which can resurface even weeks after the experience. The absence of professional psychological counselling or coaching and follow-up measures (integration practices) can play a big part in negative after-effects. Not to mention there was no indication of preparation measures in the study.
Vaporizing or smoking 5-MeO-DMT powder (dried toad secretion from the Bufo toad venom) is the most common mode of ingestion.
This powerful medicine usually lasts for around 15-20 minutes, saving you the multi-day trip to the Amazon jungle for 8 hour long ayahuasca sessions and a lot of purging. The immediate effect is typically felt in the first 30 seconds, with peak effects at 1-5 minutes, and the remainder of the mystical experience lasting for up to half an hour, sometimes (less commonly) up to 90 minutes.
Before you finish inhaling the vapour from a pipe, you may already begin to see fractals of light and geometric patterns taking over your vision. As you exhale, and gently release onto the ground behind you, a bright white light, brighter than anything experienced in normal waking consciousness, often appears.
Once your intention is set, you are encouraged to surrender, and release control. You may experience slight anxiety and nausea in the beginning. You will be encouraged to relax and breathe through challenging moments if they arise, and come back to the realization that this is a temporary experience facilitating healing on a very deep level.
The effects come on quite strongly and you can expect to lose control of physical coordination. It is common to experience an enhancement of tactile awareness and sensory overload, to see bright colours, moving environments, and patterns - but is not known for its visionary effects. Rather, experiences are usually characterized by physical, emotional, and conceptual shifts.
Pure bliss, an overwhelming sense of oneness, ego-death, a sense of being both within and outside of time and space, and intense emotions are often reported with the ingestion of this sacred toad.
Experiencing ego-death might be an understatement. Everything may dissolve; your body, material reality, your understanding of consciousness. The complexity and power behind this journey is ineffable.
A single inhalation is all it takes.
The journey through the universe continues from here, but there is no guaranteed specific “type” of experience. Every session is unique. One person’s experience can vary greatly from another's, even their own.
Check out these videos below for some of the closest representations in words to a journey that I have encountered.
One thing to remember is that you do not need to grasp everything that is shown to you, in fact this might be impossible for the egoic mind to make sense of. The healing comes through a deeper level of knowingness that is not logical or linear, but rather multidimensional which is recognized by the conscious and subconscious mind - your soul knows what is happening and your job is to just surrender to the process and let go of expectations.
This medicine often shows you your own life in a radically honest way, often revealing the motivations and reasons why you behave the way you do. It may show you your ego, prejudices, traumas, limiting thought patterns and behaviours, and present or repressed emotions like pride and anger which live in you so that you can release what no longer serves you and accept the healing that you need to elevate your consciousness.
With such a high vibrational medicine in your body, all the lower level vibrational energy you are holding is coming to the surface to be recognized and released, as your newer higher self does not have any space for them. It is believed that psychedelics such as Bufo activate and help to heal the pineal gland, which is linked to spiritual development. Read more about this here.
The veils protecting you against yourself over your own consciousness will be lifted, and there will be an opportunity to to accept and confront ourselves with love, acceptance, and compassion. It shows us our higher self and highest potential so that we can cultivate the qualities to become that person.
Sometimes this does not happen during a session, but can unfold a few hours, days, or even weeks after the ceremony. Insights can come through integrative practices such as breath-work, meditation, journaling, art therapy and dream analysis.
I am going to get very real with you here.
Experiences are not always pleasant or easy.
I am going to detail the separate experiences here for you as they are vastly different.
Shoot me to inter-dimensional space, why don’t you?
This was such an intense experience, with indescribable mystical effects, there is no possible way that my logical and very limited mind can wrap itself around.
Essentially it felt like travelling through an infinite amount of dimensions, “home”, oneness with something more powerful than I could ever imagine, and an inner knowing of the universe without being able to actually understand it whatsoever. As I returned to earth, I wrapped myself onto the earth and gave her a big hug. Feeling safe in her arms, a child of nature, with the warm sun brimming on my face in pure bliss.
Immediately following the experience I had crystal clarity on thoughts and complex problems I walked in with. There was not even a single doubt of the next steps I had to take in the various dimensions of my life, and there was a peace in knowing deeply what my purpose is, and connecting with the buried knowledge that already exists inside me.
Weeks later, I began to receive downloads of information from this experience. Moments of ego-dissolution and feelings of interconnectedness. Still processing - be back when/if I can explain.
A small introductory dose to have a feel for the medicine. Gentle, sparkly, beautiful. I could feel some fear and resistance at first, but as I allowed myself to breath, surrender, and "do nothing" I felt a deep sense of peace and bliss.
I felt a connection to myself. My REAL self, beyond my mind, beyond the ego. I was fully present in my body, but at the same time enjoying the serenity of my essense and the interconnectedness of the universe.
A medium sized dose. If you have trouble with surrender and letting go, the ego might fight hard at lower-medium doses. Mine certainly did. My mind would NOT LET GO. I desperately wanted to go, but I couldn’t, and this resistance was very painful.
This was a challenging experience: Mental anguish. High levels of anxiety and fear. Came out of it in relief and asked for a bigger dose next time.
Somewhere between this first medium dose and the mega dose - but still closer to the mega dose, my mind still fought. I have come to realize that my ego was protecting me against the things that were about to happen (at least this is how I see it at this moment).
This experience was also painful. Cathartic, releasing, intense. It was as if a deep, dark presence was coming out of my soul. My body lost control and my voice changed, sending vibrations through my body as this energy came out of me. As painful as this was, as confusing as this was, there was a necessary purge of something that no longer wanted to be in me.
The clarity and lightness that followed was my validation of this. Everything was so clear. There were no more questions about what I needed to do, who I am, my purpose, the safety in this world, and the joy of being alive on my path.
This is not light work and should be regarded with respect and caution, after all they are called sacred medicines for a reason. In depth and professional medical screening should be done prior to an experience to prevent serious concerns such as Serotonin Syndrome, for example. There are certain physical and mental conditions as well as medications that are contraindicated with this ancestral medicine.
The integration of such experiences can take many weeks, and sometimes months to process. Having an experienced guide during the ceremony as well as before/after to advise you on preparation and integration is extremely important.
Wellness retreats watch out - you’ve got some competition thanks to this special psychedelic substance and the growing curiosity for its healing and transformative powers. Plus you can have all the benefits of a wellness retreat, so you don’t have to forgo that sweat lodge session you’ve been longing for.
Think of a holistic yoga retreat somewhere nestled in the stunning mountains of Portugal or the tropical beaches of Mexico, but with 1-3 Bufo ceremonies, depending on the length of time of the retreat. If you have been on an ayahuasca retreat before in for example the Sacred Valley of Peru, the experience will be similar - except the Bufo ceremony is much shorter than an ayahuasca ceremony, and you (should) have more 1-1 work.
You can expect fresh vegetarian food, nature immersion, yoga, meditation, breath-work, massage, and other healing modalities. Group sizes will vary, but we always recommend either private or small groups to ensure your comfort, safety, and deeper progress.
Your ceremony will be facilitated by a medicine man or woman and additional healers or facilitators. After the ceremony, you will have time to share, integrate, spend time alone, rest, or connect with other like-minded people. Each retreat is different so I recommend asking what a normal day entails.
I would also recommend asking detailed questions about the people who work there, how many other participants will be there, what they do to help you prepare beforehand and support you afterwards, and how much 1-1 time you will get during the retreat.
For more information on 5-MeO-DMT retreats, check out our guide.
At Behold Retreats we work with Bufo in a private setting which I can confidently say is the best way to go. The intensity of this experience requires attention and support from someone who really knows what they are doing during and after the ceremony.
Many people skip over the mental and emotional preparation before a retreat or experience, which I do not recommend. Understanding the state of your mind, working on becoming mindful and aware of your thoughts and ultimately learning to shift them is a powerful practice that will help you tremendously on your journey with Bufo.
Becoming in touch and in connection with your emotions and practicing dealing with them and releasing them in healthy ways will also help during the experience itself, as well as after when challenging emotions can arise. There are many tools and techniques that can maximize your experience and prevent you from suffering from “bad trips”.
Secondly, but just as importantly, is setting an intention and letting go of expectations.
You will learn about how to set an intention and embody it with Behold Retreat’s coaching program. Your intention is an integral part of your healing journey, which you usually will receive with more. But, you could experience something completely different and if you hold too many expectations in your mind, you will likely be frustrated or disappointed.
In my personal experience, I have had expectations about previous psychedelic journeys. This caused me great anxiety and fear, as I could not understand why I was having the experience I was getting. It continued on after, where I doubted everything that I was doing. I took a real hit. It wasn’t until a few weeks later than I understood what happened and understood the importance of my unexpected and challenging experience.
If you can be open, in gratitude, for whatever the medicine shows you or doesn’t, this acceptance will prove to be more healing than resisting. Be intentional, but do not expect anything. There is a reason for your experience, it just might take time to understand.
During Behold Retreat’s program you will learn to prepare emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Emotionally you will discover and become aware of what needs to be healed and released within, starting to release before the journey and assisting you in setting a strong intention for healing to occur.
Mentally you will gain tools to become aware of internal thoughts that are shaping your reality and how to empower yourself with them. Prepare yourself to surrender and navigate the experience with ease and grace, any resistance on your part after ingestion is ineffective. Keep in mind the challenges you may encounter are beneficial for your healing. Breathe, relax, and “this too shall pass.”
Physically you will need to prepare your body for the medicine. This is a very important part of the healing process and avoids any contraindication to the spirit of the medicine.
Spiritually you want to be at a higher vibrational energy. You will learn ways to do this during your coaching program. Meditation will be integral to the process and connecting you with your inner being so you will be able to connect with your higher self during the ceremony.
Interested in learning more about a Bufo retreat experience?
You will experience your toad medicine journey in either Tulum, Mexico, the mountains of Portugal, or the coast of Spain. Check out our Portugal retreat page for inclusions.
In Portugal, it goes something like this:
Wake up around 9 am and check in with the facilitators - How do you feel? How did you sleep? What is present for you now? Are you ready for the ceremony?
We find a secluded spot in the valley of the mountains nestled in trees, grass, and flowers for the ceremony. We revisit intentions and create a sacred space. We explain what the process will be and feel into the dosage of the session. When you feel ready (all in your time), you take the first inhalation of the medicine. You are supported by both a male and female facilitator and can ask for as much or as little support during the process. After the first session, you may want to have another if it feels right for you.
Coming back to this plane of reality takes some time, you might want to rest by the natural spring water pool, journal, read in the sun, listen to music, nap, walk through the forest, or share with your facilitators. It’s your time to reflect. Maybe you want to eat some fresh fruit, healthy oatmeal, and some fresh herbal tea.
Lunch is an array of local, vegetarian/vegan bright foods, packed with vital nutrients and rich tastes.
The afternoon gives you time to attend a private yoga class or guided meditation, receive a relaxing aromatherapy massage, or a TCM acupuncture session.
After a restorative afternoon, you will meet your facilitators for a breath-work and energy healing session, which will help you release whatever has come up from your medicine work and access insights, memories, traumas, and experience powerful emotional releases. Some of the most powerful work I've seen has been the combination of medicine work with this type of integration.
Afterwards, nourish yourself with another healthy and delicious meal, amongst other like-minded people in the retreat center or your facilitators, or take some space and eat by yourself in nature. Watch the sunset as you return to your cozy cottage or glamping style accommodations.
Before bed, you will check in with your facilitators to talk about the day and the next day to follow. Everything will be in a flow with your state of being and your needs for the day. If you are having trouble sleeping, your facilitator can do some relaxing hands on healing and body work. Not to mention you can take some time to watch the milky way and incredible night sky from outside your room.
Typically you will have 3 days of medicine work, with the remaining integration days to do activities that fit your mood of the day. Your schedule will be flexible and dynamic, allowing you to go deeper into your process and be supported in the best way possible.
Before I leave, I will leave you with some basic tips and suggestions to help prepare and integrate your experience, and I HIGHLY recommend that you watch our free webinar before journeying with any psychedelic. It is very informative and will help you avoid very common mistakes when choosing and preparing for your experience. There are many tips here to help you maximize the benefits of your journey and keep you safe.
-Meditate, breath, journal in the weeks leading up to your retreat
-Exercise: walking, yoga, swimming, etc.
-Listen to positive music and media such as motivational speakers
-Avoid low frequency activities such as binge-watching TV, social media, news, spending time with negative individuals
-Cleanse your aura
-No sex a minimum of 3 days before
A plant-based diet with plenty of water is recommended, eating as light and clean as possible the 3 days leading up to your retreat.
We recommend that you follow the following dieta four days prior to your retreat, a week is best. This consists of avoiding salt, modern chemicals, artificial/canned foods, sugar, vinegar, fermented foods, spices, fats, dairy, caffeine/stimulants (coffee and tea), alcohol, marijuana, drugs, red meat, especially pork, and sex. In addition to the recommended to avoid: chocolate, banana, and avocado.
Certain medications must not be taken over various periods of time prior to the retreat as they pose major risk. This includes antidepressants (MAO inhibitors, serotonin re-uptake inhibitors), antihistamines, painkillers, tranquillizers, all stimulants (even those take orally such as nasal decongestants), diet pills, medications for Attention Deficit Disorder, and most prescription drugs. Ulcers, certain heart, liver, psychiatric conditions and epilepsy present a real danger. We strongly advise that you go through a proper medical screening intake with professionals in the industry before committing to any retreat or ceremony with Bufo.
We recommend taking some time for yourself to rest, process, and integrate. Continue to follow your dieta for at least 3 days that week if you can. Write, meditate, connect with nature, and continue your coaching program (if you are enrolled in one) to integrate your experience.
If you would like to speak to one of our plant medicine experts to find out if you’re a good fit for our psychedelic retreat program at Behold Retreats, apply for a complimentary consultation here.
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