THE once obscure practice of smoking toad venom, a potent psychedelic drug that can cause users to encounter themselves as God, is steadily creeping into the mainstream as celebrities endorse its "healing" powers.
The venom, which is found in bufo alvarius toads and contains the chemical 5-MeO-DMT, has been touted by some of its purveyors as a miracle cure for mental health issues, such as depression and PTSD, as well as substance addiction.
Earlier this week, legendary boxer Mike Tyson, 55, credited the venom – known as bufo – with helping him to kick a dangerous cocaine habit and lose more than 100 pounds in less than three months.
Speaking during a conference in Miami, he claimed he "died" during his first trip and said using the drug has provided him with an entirely different perspective on life.
“I did it as a dare,” Tyson recalled of his first dose. “I was doing heavy drugs like cocaine, so why not? It’s another dimension. Before I did the toad, I was a wreck. The toughest opponent I ever faced was myself. I had low self-esteem. People with big egos often have low self-esteem. We use our ego to subsidize that. The toad strips the ego.
"In my trips I've seen that death is beautiful. Life and death both have to be beautiful, but death has a bad rep. The toad has taught me that I'm not going to be here forever. There's an expiration date."
Tyson, who reportedly discovered toad venom four years ago, claimed the drug has made him "more creative" and helps him be more present. He has now tripped 53 times and uses bufo up to three times a day.
Similar to the former heavyweight champion, Hunter Biden claimed in his recent autobiography that the psychoactive drug helped him stay off crack cocaine for more than a year.
"I know it sounds loopy," he wrote in Beautiful Things, "yet whatever else it did or didn’t do, the experience unlocked feelings and hurts I’d buried deep for too long. It served as a salve.”
HGTV celebrity Christina Haack has also preached the drug's apparent benefits, writing in an Instagram post back in July that bufo had helped change her mental outlook for the better.
“I met Josh when I wasn’t in a state of fear or fight-or-flight," she wrote, referencing her boyfriend Joshua Hall. "I had taken time off social, hired a spiritual coach, and smoked a Bufo toad, which basically reset my brain and kicked out years of anxiety in 15 mins.”
Many others who have taken the drug, which is considered the most powerful psychedelic on the planet, attest that it's helped them to shift anxiety, social awkwardness and has "reset" their brains, or even helped them become more spiritual and less fearful of death.
Few studies have been conducted on the drug, but some trials on a synthetic version of 5-MeO-DMT have indicated that it may indeed be an effective medicine for treatment-resistant depression.
Additionally though, what the likes of Mike Tyson, Hunter Biden, and Christina Haack have failed to mention is that there are also a number of dangers associated with taking the drug.
While toad venom is not any more "physically" dangerous than other psychedelics, it is more powerful, which comes with substantial risks of its own.
Speaking to The Sun, Martin W. Ball, Ph.D., who is a nondual entheogenic educator, author, and host of the Entheogenic Evolution Podcast, stressed the drug's potency and said taking it can mess with one's entire concept of reality.
"5-MeO-DMT is so profound and unique that it can’t really be compared to any other psychedelic and it is in a class all its own," Ball said. "Within seconds of inhaling the smoke or vapor, the subjective experience is that one is dying.
"If the individual can choose to let go and surrender into this process, then there is the possibility of having a full nondual experience of absolute oneness.
"However, if any part of the ego does not let go and surrender and deeply allow the experience to unfold, it can be extremely traumatic, difficult, frightening, and can cause lasting after-effects that are difficult to integrate."
Such lasting effect, according to Ball, can leave one questioning their own sanity, perception, and "very experience of reality itself."
While Haack and Tyson make taking bufo appear "easy and blissfully", Ball warns that taking bufo is not a decision that should be considered lightly.
"While it can be [blissful], it can also be extremely destabilizing, even when someone has a positive experience.
"How many people are truly ready to meet themselves as God?" he added. "It’s not an overstatement or hyperbole. This is what we’re dealing with here, and it should be treated accordingly.
"In worst-case scenarios, I’ve seen people who have temporarily lost their ability to use language, feel unable to function in society, and, for lack of a better phrase, are scared s**tless as a result of their 5-MeO-DMT experience.
"People should know that these are very real possibilities before choosing to explore 5-MeO-DMT."
Dr. Mike Dow, Psy.D, Ph.D, a psychedelic-assisted psychotherapist at Field Trip Health, agrees with Ball's assessment, adding that those with a history of trauma or mental illness should also err on the side of caution when it comes to bufo.
"I certainly wouldn't recommend this to people who have never tried any psychedelic," he said. "I also think that people with a history of trauma should really be using psychedelics with concurrent psychotherapy since they allow repressed memories to surface.
"With a trauma-informed therapist, like myself, it's one of the most effective treatments for PTSD. Without therapy, it can retraumatize people in a scary way.
"5-MeO-DMT is also not a fit for someone with existing psychosis (e.g., schizophrenia or bipolar I disorder). It may also be riskier for someone with a family history of these conditions."
'BLASTS YOU OFF'
The substance is not currently legal in the US, having been outlawed in 2011, but is widely available in Mexico and Canada.
It's claimed the practice of licking or inhaling Bufo toad venom has been around since the Middle Ages, but it regained popularity as part of the 1960s counterculture movement.
It's currently experiencing another resurgence of sorts, following endorsements from the likes of Tyson.
Both Dr. Ball and Dr. Dow explained that a bufo trip typically lasts for around 20 minutes – far less than other psychedelics such as LSD – and the drug kicks in almost instantly.
"It really 'blasts you off' with an experience of instant ego death–feeling totally body and formless," Dow said. "Unlike most psychedelics that come on somewhat slowly and last a long time, 5-MeO-DMT comes on within a few minutes and only lasts an average of about 20 minutes.
"It helps people to feel more connected, feel at one, reconnect with their purpose or true self and integrate disowned parts of the self."
Ball, who has taken the drug both naturally and synthetically, said the first few seconds of the trip feel as though you're dying.
"I thought, 'This is it – I’ve done it now – I’m dying and I’m never coming back,' because that’s how the ego perceives the event," he said.
"Because I was ready for it, accepted it, surrendered, and allowed it to happen with no resistance and complete embrace, I found myself in the center of all existence and experienced myself as a being made out of the energy of infinite love and consciousness."
After the drug released its hold, Ball said he immediately felt differences in himself, including the "evaporation of any fear of death, any question about the non-dual reality of God and all Being, and a deep sense of having known myself in my fullness as both God and as a human being."
Travel blogger Eli Solidum, who runs the Instagram account @thepartyingtraveler, tried bufo at a shaman's house while touring Mexico earlier this summer.
Recounting his experience to The Sun, Eli said: "The first ten seconds immediately after smoking it were the most vibrant shapes and colors and patterns I have ever seen. I lost motor function after that and the shaman slowly helped me into the ground where I closed my eyes and descended into the trip.
"The trip itself last maybe 10 minutes or less, and the experience is more of a subconscious journey than a conscious one. I don’t remember anything from my trip besides blackness, stillness, and quiet.
"Then, I woke up on the ground, grasping at the grass, almost like coming back to life after having experienced the nothingness of an afterlife."
After coming round, Eli said he found within himself a renewed appreciation for life and "all the little things that make life beautiful."
"I cried for about thirty minutes following my trip, just grateful to be alive," he added.
"I carried that attitude and renewed vigor for life with me for several months, and long after the trip, still carry a lot of those lessons and mindsets with me."
While his own experience was positively transcendent, Eli warned that the effect of the drug can "swing dangerously in both directions."
"I personally had a good experience with it, as did the friends I took it with. However, I’d recommend being in a sound state of mind with a lot of experience in psychedelics before taking it.
"I think if you aren’t in a sound state of mind, it could truly mess with your perception of reality.
"One of my other friends said she was somewhat conscious while taking it, and her main takeaway was that life is short and nothing matters. It all depends on the person and the mindset. We both took the same drug in the same place but took wildly different lessons away from it."
Eli added: "It’s hard to describe what the experience is like, but it’s crucial to have a grasp on reality in order to make sense of your trip and take away real-life lessons from what is very much a mind-bending adventure."
In the US, 5-MeO-DMT is considered a Schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), meaning it's illegal to manufacture, buy, possess or distribute it.
The DEA says the compound has "a high potential for abuse," and therefore cites it to be a high risk to public health.
"There have been reports of emergency room admissions and a death associated with the abuse of 5-MeO-DMT," the DEA ruling states.
"5-MeO-DMT has never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for marketing as a human drug product in the United States and there are no recognized therapeutic uses of 5-MeO-DMT in the United States."
Some states in the US, including California, are moving to decriminalize certain psychedelics because of their potential healing powers.
If the bill passes in the Sunshine State, drugs such as LSD, MDMA, and DMT will be legalized.
However, neither bufotenine or 5-MeO-DMT are included in the bill, so both would still be considered Schedule I controlled substances even if the bill passes.
Dr. Mike Dow said that while "we're a long way" from 5-MeO-DMT being legalized, that's something that may happen in the next seven-to-10 years when more is known about the drug.
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