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    Bufo alvarius ICEERS PsychePlants bufotenin 5-MeO-DMT toad Sonora desert

    Bufo Toad (Incilius alvarius): Basic Info

    ICEERS image12m - 19.09.2019

    Basic info

    The psychoactive effects of the secretions of different varieties of toads have been known for centuries. Incilius alvarius (which is commonly known by the incorrect name Bufo alvarius, or simply bufo) is a semi-aquatic amphibian that lives in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and the Southwestern United States. 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). Bufotenin and 5-MeO-DMT are two powerful psychedelic substances.

    The Incilius alvarius toad is native to North America. It can be found in the southern part of the Arizona desert in the USA and throughout most of the Sonoran Desert in Mexico, reaching as far as Guamúchil, Sinaloa. It is 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 1600 m. In addition to the desert, I. 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.

    These toads 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 humankind.

    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, 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 marinus 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 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 Incilius 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 speculative.

    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 I. alvarius is not known for certain.

    For the Yaqui peoples of the Sonoran Desert the toad is of great cultural importance, and is woven through traditional practices, such as art, stories, ritual and dances. Their traditional name for this medicine is Koarepa.

    Traditionally, they report that did not use the venom as an ingested psychoactive substance, and have indicated that narratives of historical cultural use are fabricated. These narratives have led to a modern practice of smoking toad venom that has become popularized within the psychedelic community and is leading to increased pressure on toad populations and leading to sustainability concerns.

    Chemical composition and dosage

    I. 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.

    Similar to many other varieties of toads, I. alvarius produces bufotenin (5-OH-DMT) in considerable amounts, up to 3 mg per gram of dry skin. The skin of I. 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 I. 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 this toad 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 75 mg 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.


    Bufotenin dosage
    Reports on the 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: 20-30 mg
    • Average dose: 30-60 mg
    • High dose: 60-100 mg


    • Average dose: 100 mg

    Smoked/vaporized: the dosage is similar to that of smoked 5-MeO-DMT

    • Low dose: 2 mg
    • Average dose: 4-8 mg

    Rectal (in suppository)

    • Low dose: 30 mg


    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: 3-5 mg
    • Low dose: 5-10 mg
    • Average dose: 8-15 mg
    • High dose: 10-25 mg

    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 I. 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 65 mg of toad venom in order to obtain 10 mg of 5-MeO-DMT.

    However, because of sustainability concerns regarding I. alvarius, it is recommended to seek plant-based or synthetic sources that do not put pressures on these animals and their habitat.


    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 I. 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 I. alvarius is not usually used via insufflation due to its consistency; the snorted consumption of pure 5-MeO-DMT is somewhat more common.

    Legal status

    I. alvarius (or bufo, 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.

    In the United States of America, 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.

    Biocultural conservation

    Like with plant medicines that are becoming increasingly consumed outside of their countries of origin, the increased interest in I. alvarius is impacting this medicine. As noted above, although there are modern myths circulating about the traditional use of I. alvarius venom as a medicine, the Indigenous peoples of the Sonoran Desert report that although the toad has traditional importance to their peoples, there is no historical evidence of the medicine being passed down to them. These cultural practices that honour the toad are increasingly being revived and celebrated.

    There are several important issues related to biocultural conservation of the Sonoran Desert toad. Amphibians, in general, are being affected by climate change, habitat loss, water contamination, and infectious diseases. The natural habitat of I. alvarius is under threat by disrupted water cycles, pesticides, and other environmental pressures.

    The toad hibernates during the winter and then comes out during the rainy season. It is during this season that humans are increasingly poaching the toad with the aim of harvesting the venom. Often, they are captured and not returned to their original locations, thus disturbing their natural migratory patterns, or are treated cruelly and not returned at all.

    Several organizations and leaders have asked the psychedelic community to not engage in practices with I. alvarius and to use synthetic 5-MeO-DMT instead (please note the legal section above as this substance is scheduled in several countries).

    Health and risk reduction

    5-MeO-DMT, I. 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 I. alvarius or 5-MeO-DMT, 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 I. alvarius, you should wait a minimum of one hour before taking ayahuasca. Regarding the risks of combining ayahuasca with I. alvarius or 5-MeO-DMT, see:

    Risks Associated with Combining Bufo alvarius with Ayahuasca

    An experience with I. alvarius or 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.

    The psychological risks of an experience with I. alvarius or 5-MeO-DMT 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 injection of I. alvarius or 5-MeO-DMT. Some people report re-experiencing the effects after the event, particularly during subsequent evenings.

    Unlike other psychedelic substances, I. alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT induce 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.


    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 I. 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. The 2017 Global Drug Survey does not include data on 5-MeO-DMT.

    Most users of 5-MeO-DMT have typically used the synthesized substance, instead of the secretions of I. alvarius, which is hopeful concerning the biocultural conservation issues related to harvesting venom from the toad. Churches that use the toad 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 I. 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 I. alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT 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 I. alvarius and 5-MeO-DMT has increased remarkably even while entirely lacking vetted opinions of providers.

    Categories: PSYCHEPLANTS , Others , Incilius alvarius
    Tags: 5-MeO-DMT , Bufo alvarius , information , Incilius alvarius , bufotenin

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