Updated: Nov 2, 2022
This isn’t the psychedelic you remember from college. It isn’t an eight-hour marathon experience tripping through the woods like Alice. It’s fast-acting, short-duration — sometimes lasting as briefly as seven minutes — and is a rocket-ship ride into the center of the cosmos. In a recent European study, after one single use, the substance 5-MeO-DMT was shown to produce sustained enhancement of satisfaction with life, and easing of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson first tried 5-MeO-DMT — also called “the toad” — he said it knocked him off his feet, profoundly changing his life. “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,” Tyson said on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast last year, viewed by nearly 10 million people. “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.”
One single 50mg vaporized dose — derived from dried venom secreted by the Bufo alvarius toad — often produces hallucinogenic, boundless experiences within one second of inhalation that can last from 7 to 90 minutes, and on average lasts 20 minutes. Like Tyson, people report mystical experiences, many “seeing God,” and often sensing a better understanding of their place and function in the cosmos as a result. Shortly after use, participants tend to be totally clearheaded and 100% back to their previous ordinary state.
While this material is not currently legal in the U.S., substances with similar molecular structures containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT), like the Amazonian brew ayahuasca, recently have been decriminalized in parts of the United States. This style of medicine is being touted as a healing modality for emotional trauma and used where conventional methods like pharmaceuticals fail. Their ability to heal has prompted voters in Oakland and Santa Cruz in the state of California to opt for decriminalizing a wide range of psychedelics — such as magic mushrooms, peyote and ayahuasca — making those items the lowest law enforcement priority. Last year, Denver also followed suit passing similar resolutions around fungi containing the psychedelic psilocybin; and more recently Chicago’s City Council approved a resolution that could pave the way for decriminalization there.
So when an email landed in my inbox with the subject line “I’m a Facilitator of 5-MeO-DMT / Toad,” it was an irresistible invitation to slide down the rabbit hole. Having just heard Tyson’s description that very week, the synchronicity was mysteriously enticing. Also, there was the not-so-small Michael Pollan Effect. Since 2018, when Pollan first burst through the glass ceiling of legitimate psychedelic use with his influential book How To Change Your Mind, the idea of cognitive freedom had suddenly inched up to the forefront of the American conversation on mental health. Employing an erudite, mainstream viewpoint on mind-altering drugs, the then 62-year-old straight-edge author from Long Island — who taught at Harvard and Berkeley and penned bestselling books about the clean food movement — lent a credible air to the use of these magic molecules, including LSD, DMT and psilocybin. His perspective gave gravitas to a subject that would be otherwise derided as unsafe and unwise.
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The toad facilitator that contacted me — who in her regular, non-facilitating life works a professional job, is in her 60’s and looks no different from one of your neighbors — said she preferred to go by the name Lee to protect her identity. She explained how she came to be a facilitator of 5-MeO-DMT, for responsible use by adults interested in consciousness expansion, partly because she feels it could help people to be “a whole lot nicer to one another,” and personally because it has aided her own mental wellbeing. Suffering from social anxiety herself, she felt the toad melt away years of social awkwardness.
“One of the first things I thought after trying 5-MeO-DMT was, This is a cure for depression and PTSD,” says Lee. Now, the Zoloft she once took for more than 15 years is currently collecting dust in her medicine cabinet. She even attended a wedding last year and had no problem being there without a partner — something that would have bothered her before the toad.
Trained by Silicon Valley tech people, she says she attended a daylong introduction on 5-MeO-DMT that included the discussion of guidelines and medical questionnaires around serving people. The couple impressed her with their respect for the medicine and their pure intentions to help people. “They weren’t holding on to it like they had this sacred knowledge,” she says. “They had something they knew could help people heal themselves and they wanted to share it.”
Her descriptions after plunging into the expansiveness of toad are deeply profound, similar to Mike Tyson’s, a poetic unveiling of the underlying beauty of life: ‘a sense of sacredness, of oneness with the surrounding world, a profound positivity and comprehension of deep truths about reality and equanimity.’
These are all things that every human being would agree make up a valuable life experience. She quotes a phrase by Stanislav Grof, the noted Czech psychiatrist with over 60 years of experience in research of non-ordinary states of consciousness, to describe the overall sensation. “Experiencing 5-MeO-DMT is this amazing feeling of ‘oceanic bliss,’” she says. “By experiencing this profound connection with the universe and all living beings, one gets the feeling that we’re incredibly lucky to have even been birthed on this beautiful planet.”
Much of the recent awareness around these potentially palliative psychedelic drugs owes a great debt of gratitude to pioneering psychedelic explorers like Grof and Pollan (and a dozen other key figures before them), but also to modern researchers like Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins University. Griffiths’s rigorous academic examination of psychedelic states has been instrumental in the creation of the newly formed Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. Featured on a well-received 60 Minutes segment late last year, the center has had great success using psilocybin therapy sessions to offer relief to terminal patients facing crushing end-of-life fears.
For Lee’s part, she came to 5-MeO-DMT after years of self-reflection, meditation and therapy, and an understanding that altered states of consciousness can lead to profound insight. “I’ve been on a lifelong quest to heal myself. Even as far back as my tween years, I felt there was something going on in the universe, so it’s been a lifelong exploration for me,” she says. And she’s seen expansion occurring with others too. “I’ve had people I facilitate come out of sessions with profound feelings of hope, and as one friend told me, ‘an easing of the grip of negativity’.”
Her typical recipient tends to be educated, ranging from 30 to 75 years old and with deep trauma or with a feeling of being weighed down by something they can’t overcome. She shares how some people under the substance can be totally quiet during their internal journey, while others are decidedly not — like the man she facilitated last summer who was yelling for almost the entire 20 minutes of his experience. “The guy was screaming from joy, he was in total bliss, was very verbal and saying, ‘Wow wow WOW! We’re all one! Now I get it!’”
A cliché response perhaps, but again, wouldn’t it be nice if we could all feel that way about life?
Because access to 5-MeO-DMT is not readily available for everyone, Lee tries to provide safe use for less privileged people, for instance providing for the working poor. “The mode of practice I’m in fully supports donating to the underserved,” she says. “I know there are people who can benefit from this, so if I can just cover my basic cost, I will donate.”
Lee notes that this medicine should not be viewed as a panacea and stresses the importance of integration after the experience, or reflecting on the changes brought on post-toad. “This may not fix all of your problems,” she says. “A lot of the really beneficial part happens in the weeks or months after taking toad, when you integrate what happened to you into your everyday life. That’s when the real payoff occurs.”
In an effort to help preserve threatened Bufo alvarius populations, Lee is now solely serving synthetic versions of the substance.
Time will tell if 5-MeO-DMT makes its way from the shadows of scientific trials and a smattering of compassionate-minded people like Lee to increased access for the masses. All signs point to the use of psychedelics gaining in popularity and gaining steam as another vital mental health tool.