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5-MEO-DMT Traditional Use
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Pablo AmaringoHuman beings have used DMT and 5-MeO-DMT in the form of the various entheogenic snuffs used in the Amazon basin for at least 2000 years, perhaps longer. These include yá-kee, yá-to, and yopo, in Colombia, epéna in Brazil and Venezuela, and paricá and nyakwána in Brazil. These snuffs are derived from the seeds of Anadenanthera species and various species of Virola, a genus of trees in the nutmeg family. Traditionally these snuffs are administered by forcefully blowing a mixture of powdered plant material up another person’s nose, sometimes using the hollowed-out bone of a bird’s leg. This rather painful method of delivery produces an out-of-body experience of approximately the same duration as smoking synthetic 5-MeO-DMT, during which the shaman undergoes a “journey” While on this journey, the shaman undergoes a transformation that allows him or her to obtain significant knowledge from direct interaction with the gods.

The origins of ayahuasca, and indeed of the tryptamine snuffs themselves, may be much older than we can realize, as they appear to predate written records, but there does seem to be some evidence that indicates that ayahuasca is the more recent invention. The first ethnographic record of ayahuasca use come from 1855, so we can be confident that it has been in use for a couple of hundred years at least. Archeological evidence of the use of the 5-MeO-DMT snuffs reach back further than the ethnographic evidence of ayahuasca use, but current speculation suggests that there could be an upper limit of detecting tryptamine alkaloids in archeological artifacts of around 1,500 to 2,000 years.


Although first reported as a primary ingredient in some of the South American snuffs, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is more commonly used as the primary entheogen in its traditional form as a brew (either cooked or cold distilled) used by indigenous South American Indian tribes and more recently amongst that continent’s Mestizo communities. It was originally known by its Spanish name yagé, but now more commonly known by one of its many local names, ayahuasca.  DMT itself is inactive when taken orally; a sophisticated enzyme in the stomach called Monoamine oxidase (MAO) that neutralizes the DMT upon contact. The DMT in ayahuasca however becomes active due to the presence of harmala alkaloids that are powerful MAOI-inhibitors that are also in the ayahuasca. These MAOI inhibitors neutralize the enzyme in the stomach that would other-wise neutralize the DMT, and the DMT is thus able to be absorbed thru the stomach lining and into the blood stream.


To have that powder blown up your nose is rather like being shot out of a rifle barrel lined with Baroque paintings and landing on a sea of electricity. It doesn’t create the distortion of reality, it creates the dissolution of reality.


Wade Davis, describing the effect of 5-MeO-DMT-containing Yanamamö snuff, during his 2003 TED talk.



Entheogenic snuffs have been in use in the Amazon basin and the Caribbean for over 2000 years. Analysis of the various plants and trees that the snuffs are made from seem to indicate that although DMT can be present, 5-Methoxy-Dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) is more often the primary entheogen involved.


Shaman snuff ritualFirst described by the great Amazonian explorers Richard Spruce and Alexander von Humboldt in the mid-1800’s, these powdered snuffs are consumed by the method of one person (generally male) blowing the snuff in gigantic quantities (up to an ounce or more!) up the nose of the other participant, often using the hollowed out leg bone of a bird, the force of which may be sufficient to drop a man to the ground ‘incapacitated’. The entheogenic effect of these 5-MeO-DMT snuffs is similar to smoking synthesized 5-MeO-DMT in effect and duration. Ethnobotanist Jonathan Ott, who is probably knows more about 5-MeO-DMT and the various tryptamine snuffs than anyone alive, has speculated that the Amazonian shamans ‘intuited’ the more complex formula for ayahuasca, through the use of the 5-MeO-DMT containing snuffs.


The Bufo alvarius  or Sonoran Desert Toad


The Bufo toad (and related genera) has held a place in humanity’s archaic consciousness since time immemorial. The earliest representations of Bufo toads (and toads generally) go back thousands of years. The appearance of toad-based artifacts is prehistoric and possibly protolinguisitc, being portrayed in ancient pictographs, paintings, and small sculpture … (Anthropologist Peter) Furst … places the use of Bufo toad venoms “all the way back to Neanderthal Man one hunderd thousand years ago.


~ Thomas Lyttle, David Goldstein, and Jochen Gartz
“Bufo Toads and Bufotenine: Fact and Fiction Surrounding an Alleged Psychedelic”
Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 1996.


Bufo alvariuIn 1965, the first scientific paper revealed the astonishing fact that of the over 285 species of Bufo toads scattered across the planet, only one – the Bufo alvarius or more commonly known as the Sonoran desert toad or Colorado River toad  - contained 5-MeO-DMT in its venom. Since the presence of 5-MeO-DMT in the entheogenic-snuffs of South America had only recently been realized (1963), the entheogenic properties of 5-MeO-DMT were still little known at this point, but the discovery of 5-MeO-DMT (up to 15%) in the venom of the Bufo alvarius made it the only true-entheogen venom –containing animal on earth.


Collecting Entheogenic Toad Venom from Bufo AlvariusThere are over 200 psycho-active plants that have been identified as being ‘celebrated’ by indigenous cultures, and to date, all known and deliberate use of natural entheogens have involved derivatives of higher plants and fungi. Therefore proof of the use of an animal-venom as an entheogen would be of great interest to contemporary anthropologists. It has also become a popular counter-culture myth that the high-plains Amerindians of the Sonoran Desert knew about the entheogenic properties of the Sonoran Desert Toad, and smoked its venom. There is however no evidence to support this belief, in either the archeological or oral records of these peoples, and if this knowledge was once known, it clearly seems to have been lost. There is however, considerable evidence of the importance of some-kind of Bufo toad in the neighboring Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec religion and iconography.


The Mystery of the Mayan Toads


The Bufo (marinus) toad plays a substantial part in the mythology of the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations of the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec, and can be found represented in these cultures art as far back as 2000BCE. Large quantities of Bufo skeletons have been found at Olmec ceremonial sites. There is some debate over whether or not they were a food source, as certain toxins in their skin are deadly. Some anthropologists have proposed that these toads were used as an entheogen source, and “evidence” for this view comes from toad representations in Aztec art. Many of these descriptions focus in detail on the toads’ parotid glands, where the major supply of their venom lies. These include a sculpture in Mexico City’s incredible National Museum of Anthropology and a glyph at the palace in Palenque, in which three circles down the toad’s back represent parotid glands.


~ James Oroc, Tryptamine Palace. 5-MeO-DMT and the Sonoran Desert Toad (2009).


In a paper published in Ancient Mesoamerica 3 (1992) under the title ”Identity of a New World Psychoactive Toad”, Wade Davis and Andrew Weil propose that the toad so venerated in the Mesoamerican mythology and iconography might not be the Bufo marinus indigenous to the wet Mexican costal lands, but the physically similar Bufo alvarius, whose habitat lies thousands of miles away, in the vast Sonoran desert. For while hallucinations and convulsions could undoubtedly result from ingesting Bufo marimus toads (as most anthropologists suggest) and might be taken to have some entheogenic force by onlookers, true poisons are rarely employed as entheogens for the simple reason that they can be lethal. So it seems unlikely that in entheogen-rich Mexico - with its long history of ritual use of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, mescaline-containing cacti, lysergic acid amide-containing morning glory seeds, and Salvia divinorum – they would venerate and develop an affinity for the exceptionally unpleasant and potentially lethal venom of the Bufo marinus, whose effects could only be considered inferior to virtually all the other entheogens available to them.


This would not be the case for the 5-MeO-DMT contained in physically similar Bufo alvarius venom – considered by many of today’s psychonauts as the most powerful entheogen available.


“While there is no physical proof that the tribes of Mesoamerica knew that the Bufo alvarius possesses venom that is psychoactive when smoked, there is some pertinent circumstantial speculation. From the wide diversity of entheogenic plants that these tribes used, it is clear that their shamans actively searched for such things, curiously experimenting with numerous natural substances, often at the risk of their own injury. According to Davis and Weil, “Many Indians regarded smoke as a sacred essence, a vehicle to the spirit world. The use of tobacco established a pattern of consuming psychoactive drugs by smoking”. They also quote the anthropologist Peter Furst:


The area to which Bufo alvarius is presently native was once inhabited by archaic desert cultures; it is also the putative homeland of the Uto-Aztecans, from which they expanded southward into Mexico as early as 1500 B.C. Was it the shamans of the pre-agricultural desert cultures who discovered the potent psychotomimetic effects of toad poison and whose ecstatic trance experiences gave rise to the now widespread belief in the toad as a transforming shamaness…?

~ Peter Furst, Anthropologist


The "archaic desert cultures" that Furst refers to are the Hohokam Indians, who are known to have traded with ancient Mesoamerican cultures to the south, and whose own culture-with ball courts, pyramidal mounds and pottery decorations - reflects an influence from those southern contacts (including their probable cultivation of tobacco, the seeds of which likely came from Mesoamerica). Davis and Weil point out that, like plant-seeds, light-weight and durable toad venom would have been easy to transport over the well-documented, extensive trade routes that were available. And the greater an entheogenic force that a substance provided, the greater its trade value would have been. Since it is only found in the Sonoran Desert area, this could have also added to its worth.


Master Teacher Bufo alvariusIt seems easy enough to believe that the Indian tribes of the Sonoran Desert could have identified Bufo alvarius venom as a potent entheogen and traded it to their southern neighbors. Perhaps the possession of such a remarkable link with the Divine is what ultimately caused the Aztec nation to believe in it’s own manifest destiny, sparking their subsequent conquest of much of what we now call Mexico. Could this venom have been a sacred treasure from their homeland, whose mythical properties they celebrated repeatedly in their art and mythology, even going as far as to pointedly represent the Bufo alvarius toad’s parotid glands in their sculpture and pictography?


We can really never know for sure. But consider this description (from Peter Furst again, Hallucinogens and Culture, 1976.) of Tlaltecuhli, the Aztec Toad “Owner (Guardian) of the earth) in her monstrous, Kali-like devouring form:


Tlaltecuhtli is of course not a toad … She is an ideal image of the toad as a mediator, by which apparently disparate states are united –life and death, air and water, death and rebirth … at once impressively fertile and also cannibalistic … metaphor for the earth as the Great Mother who is at once giver and taker of life.


~ Peter Furst, Anthropologist


While this couldn’t be submitted as even speculative evidence, it sure sounds like the experience of smoking Sonoran Desert toad venom to me!



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