There are few times in your life that you are offered as elite a substance as toad venom and, not only that, but for free. This substance is hailed by the likes of Michael Pollen and even Mike Tyson as the god of all psychedelic drugs. The trip, although short, can be incredibly powerful – taking the user to an entirely different world.
Who’d have thought that the backs of a specific toad would have something so potent, so mind-altering, so difficult to find, that even the most avid of psychonauts out there would be left awe stricken. However, despite its reputation, when I was offered the chance to experience toad venom free of charge from a trained shaman I decided against it. Here’s why.
What is Toad Venom?
Before I can explain why I decided to decline the chance of a lifetime to try this god-like drug, it’s first important to know what it actually is and – of course – what it feels like. Toad venom has its name because it actually comes from the back of a Colorado river toad, also known as Bufo alvarius (Or Incilius alvarius). This specific animal is found in the Sonoran Desert – which includes California, Arizona and Northern Mexico. When the green animal feels threatened, it excretes white venom from its back in order to warn off any unwanted prey.
This venom not only poisons its enemies, but also has now been found to contain 5-Meo-DMT. When consumed as a human, this substance causes a momentous trip, but only lasting around 30 minutes. It has been described as up to 6 times stronger than its cousin DMT, which is another potent psychedelic. Michael Pollen, a respected psychedelic researcher, claims that this substance is the ‘Everest of psychedelics’. When he consumed it, he wrote:
“Rushing backward through fourteen billion years, I watched the dimensions of reality collapse one by one until there was nothing left, not even being. Only the all-consuming roar.”
Even Pollen, who had experienced all other psychedelic drugs, had not been expecting what he had experienced. In essence, toad venom is a natural but highly powerful substance.
What Does it Feel Like?
Whilst it is a natural substance, 5-Meo-DMT is illegal In the US and is considered a Schedule I drug. In fact, if found in possession of the substance, you could be looking at a 10 year jail time. However, in Mexico it is less regulated and therefore easier to get a hold of. There are many local people who use the substance for spiritual practices. In fact, in the hipster town of Tumun, you can visit and pay up to thousands of dollars to enjoy a shaman-assisted experience.
In order to consume toad venom it is not usual to actually lick it directly off the back of the animal. I know, how boring, right? Instead, the white sweat is taken off the toad and dried into a paste. This paste is then usually placed in a vape or a pipe and smoked. When the user takes the hit, the effects will come very quickly and they will – in want of a better word – be wiped out for around 30 minutes. It is described as a completely out of body experience, where your ego is left at the door.
Whilst all psychedelics trigger effects of distortion, visuals and dissociation, it is believed that toad venom is so strong that it is indescribable. However, of course, many people have tried to put words to the experience. Mike Tyson, an ex-heavyweight boxing champion, has had a controversial career to say the least. Nonetheless, whether you’re a fan of his or not, he has recently taken solace in psychedelic drugs and used them for therapy. In an interview with Joe Rogan, he described his encounter with the toad:
“I came across this thing called the toad. I smoked this medicine, drug, whatever you want to call it, and I’ve never been the same… I look at life differently, I look at people differently. It’s almost like dying and being reborn… It’s inconceivable. I tried to explain it to some people, to my wife, I don’t have the words to explain it. It’s almost like you’re dying, you’re submissive, you’re humble, you’re vulnerable — but you’re invincible still in all.”
It is evident that what Mike Tyson is semi-describing is a kind of ego death. This phenomenon is well known in the world of psychedelics, and basically describes the feeling of losing the concept of self. Without a ‘me’, suddenly one’s perception of life changes. You begin to deal with life in a different way. It becomes less about you as a protagonist in your own important story, but instead about you as part of something much larger. You are completely powerless and, in a sense, that is the most powerful thing of all. You are no longer bound to the selfish, self-deprecating and reductive ‘you’. You are now free of yourself. There is no wonder that toad venom and other psychedelic drugs are so popular with celebrities, it is these people who need to free themselves from their ego the most.
Toad Venom Shamans
Toad venom is not as easy to access as acid or psilocybin. It is much more like ayahuasca, in the sense that you usually require a shaman or trip sitter to help you, and you pay for this entire experience. It isn’t a party drug or a substance that you can use casually, it’s goal is to completely reset your mind. You can expect to pay around 200-500 dollars, but it can easily be more too.
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There are special professionals whose job is to help people through these intense trips and, whether they are or not, they claim to be talented in the art of toad venom consumption. Some of these individuals will prefer to offer 1 to 1 ‘journeys’, and others will do it in groups of 20 or more. It depends on the client and the shaman. It is their job to ensure that the set and setting is perfect – no dangerous habitat, and good vibes only. It is like a paid trip sitter. When I was approached by a woman and offered toad venom, she spoke to me about her process.
According to her, she was a celebrity toad venom shaman – meaning that she had assisted the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and even Snoop Dogg himself through their journeys. She told me that she once had an experience where a gangster had a gun when he came in and she forced him to put the gun in a locked safe before beginning the trip. He wanted it there for support and was reluctant to give it up, but she said it was essential. This woman told me that it was integral he gave up his weapon because, in her words, ‘when you take the toad you ain’t there anymore. You’re gone. You could do anything. And that guy looked strong’.
Apparently the moment he inhaled the substance he ran for the safe and she had to attempt to pin him down. Nonetheless, she mainly highlighted just how important a substance it was. She’d delt with people who felt suicidal, who had experienced serious trauma – all felt renewed after consuming toad venom. According to a study by the National Institute of Health, just one experience with the toad can completely eradicate many mental health issues.
Not only that, but it can lead to an improved outlook on life. A John Hopkins researcher surveyed 362 toad venom users. These people were used to taking the substance in group settings with 5-12 people in them, as well as a sober shaman. Out of the 362 participants, 162 of them suffered from anxiety or depression, and 80% of these reported serious improvements in their condition.
Why Didn’t I Do It?
So it’s a miracle substance. A drug that can eradicate all pain and suffering. If that is the case, then why didn’t I take toad venom? Well, to be honest, I was afraid. I have tried many drugs in my life and – for some reason – toad venom just seemed like a step too far for me. It isn’t that I’ll never do it, it’s just that my gut was telling me that this moment wasn’t the right time. She mentioned that it was important for any user to be completely sober for up to a week before consuming toad venom, so when she offered it to me free of charge, fully aware that I’d been drinking, it felt a little irresponsible.
It’s not that drinking the night before would have put me at risk necessarily, but it would have changed my trip and not allowed me to experience it to its full potential. A clear head is key, as it’s your brain that will be subconsciously taking you on that journey. I can come up with a whole load of reasons why I didn’t want to take toad venom, but the truth was that I had an instinctual feeling not to. There’s a difference between nerves and an inexplicable desire against something – this was definitely the latter.
Maybe I let an opportunity of a lifetime pass, or maybe I avoided a horrible trip. I will never know. What I do know is that the entire encounter made me want to research toad venom more and continue learning about this incredible substance. Afterall, if it really is the ‘Everest of all psychedelics’, perhaps I need to practice climbing to base camp first.
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