Know Your Source: Ethical Considerations in Obtaining 5-MeO-DMT

The sourcing of 5-meo-dmt extracted from the Sonoran Desert Toad is poorly understood and incorrectly reported. 

Myth #1-the toad uses the 5-meo-dmt in its glands as a defense mechanism. 

This is not true.  Every single toad collector and sanctuary person we spoke with agreed with this position. 

Members of the Church of the Sacred Synthesis spent part of this recent summer of 2022 on both the Mexican and US sides of the Sonoran Desert.  We worked with a toad Jedi who spent his 6th season living with the toads in southern Arizona and we visited a toad sanctuary and worked with the Seri people in Mexico using bufo.  We also spoke and worked with numerous toad milkers on the US side including some who had collected medicine in Mexico and who work with a different sanctuary than the one we visited.  

Snakes, Racoons, and birds of prey are the top predators of Bufo Alvarius.  Mammalian brains and retinas make 5-meo-dmt.  Snakes and birds are not affected by 5-meo-dmt since they don’t have it in their biology.  Raccoons have learned to catch the toads by their rear legs and flip them over and eat them from their underside to avoid the glands on the top of their skin. 

Seeing the toads in their natural habitat their primary defense mechanism is immediately apparent.  They are the biggest and strongest toads on the planet.  Their primary defense mechanism is to come out only at night and then if attacked run under the nearest brush.   

Leading Causes of the Decreasing Toad Population

The effects of habitat loss and climate change are immediate threats to the species.  Yet the major reason for the loss of numbers of the toads is the #2 myth-toad aficionados collecting their exudate are the primary cause in the decrease in toad populations.  This is not true.  The primary cause of their decrease is water loss in their natural habitats

Visiting a toad sanctuary on the Mexican side of the Sonoran desert, when you cross the US-Mexico border at the California/Arizona border there is no longer any water flowing in the Colorado River on the Mexican side. The river is the borderline between the two states. We got to enter the Colorado river near the Lake Havasu Reservoir, AZ less than 200 miles north of the US/Mexico border.  Here several large diversions draw from the river, providing water for the Salt River Valley of Arizona and metropolitan Southern California. The last major U.S. diversion is at Imperial Dam, where over 90 percent of the river’s flow is diverted to irrigate California’s Imperial Valley, the most productive winter agricultural region in the United States. 

All of the toads living on the Mexico side of the Colorado River around the banks do not have any livable habitat since there is no river to support them.  The leading threat to the toad’s existence is the lack of water and water table compromise. 

Each female Bufo Alvarius can lay up to 8,000 eggs in one brood.  We saw hundreds of toads living in a sanctuary, soon (with their successful breeding program) to be thousands.  Sanctuaries can sustain and grow their establishment and reseeding in their natural range, yet lack of water due to reallocation of drinking and agricultural water and shorter, less powerful, and more variable monsoon rains are the greatest concern for their natural habitat. 

Alternatives to Toad Sourced 5-MeO-DMT

We had a meeting with the CEO and Medical Director of Back Yards Algae Sciences (BYAS) who has successfully reproduced toad parotoid glands and the world’s first known cell-based 5-MeO-DMT, essentially recreating the basic parts of the cell’s structure to carry out the physiological processes of the organism.  I wish we had asked him if robots would actually do the milking of the glands. 

What about bio-reactors producing 5-meo-dmt like Ken Nelson the first human being reported to smoke toad was promoting?  With CRISPR and yeast cultures already making psilocin (4-ho-DMT) it seems like a no-brainer.   Hamilton Morris offered on Vice and in a reprinting of Ken’s book Bufo Alvarius: the Psychedelic Toad of the Sonoran Desert a green synthesis of 5-meo-dmt from mexamine (5-meo-tryptamine).  Mexamine can be synthesized from melatonin (n-acetyl-5-meo-tryptamine) which is available from sustainable plant-based sources.  

Phalaris grass (Phalaris aquatica and Phalaris arundinacea) are viable sources of 5-meo-dmt although some unwanted tryptamines can be present along with the desired molecule.  These can be cleaned up through column chromatography or minimized through selective breeding of cultivars.  There are also other plants with useful enough concentrations of 5-meo-dmt to be viable candidates. 

Toad sanctuaries, bio-reactors, green synthesis, plant-based sources, and lab-grown 5-meo-dmt are all viable solutions for the ethical sourcing of 5-meo-dmt.  What about those who milk the toads in their natural habitat?  We witnessed the ethical milking of toads in the wild and can confirm that it can be done with no harm to the animals and no cross-sharing of potential disease vectors.  We also witnessed humane treatment of the toads at the sanctuary we visited.   

We smoked legal 5-meo-dmt from Bufo Alvarius with the indigenous Seri tribe in the Mexican Sonoran desert.  We also smoked legal 5-meo-dmt extracted from Phalaris grass in Mexico where the molecule is unscheduled as it also is in Canada.   

In the summer of 2021, a toad medicine collector on the Mexican side was killed after being captured collecting by the Mexican cartel.  He was tortured before his death and many collectors in Mexico have since moved to a sanctuary model after this tragedy. 

Those who want to consume 5-meo-dmt have lots of options.  If one wants that molecule from toad, no harm toad milking and sanctuary models are available along with lab-grown toad.  If one wants it from plants, green sustainable options are available directly from plants or from precursors that come from plants. If one wants it from the fungal kingdom, kombucha cultures are toad ally viable.  

Our advice: Know your Source and invest in procurement that sustains ethical practices and fair trade for those harvesting or growing your medicine.  

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About Ian Benouis

Ian is a West Point graduate, former US Army officer, Blackhawk helicopter pilot and combat veteran. He is Patient Number One for the Mission Within which treats special operators with PTSD, TBI and addiction using iboga and toad in Mexico. Ian has been helping wounded veterans for over 7 years. Ian has moderated numerous veteran’s panels including the MAPS Psychedelic Science conference in 2018 in Austin and the Bufo Congress in 2019 in Mexico City. He has founded an ONAC church chapter which was later returned to the parent church. He is a founder of a Santo Daime church which is the US chapter of a Brazilian government approved church and has founded a number of other medicine churches in the US with his law partner Greg Lake. Ian participated in Operation Just Cause in the Republic of Panama. This operation was the largest combat operation in US history focused directly on the War on Drugs and was the largest special operations deployment ever conducted. He was a pilot-in-command and his aviation brigade flew more night vision goggle hours than any unit in the military except for the Task Force 160 Special Operations which his unit was ultimately rolled up into when the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, California military base was shut down. Ian grew up in Hawaii in the 1970’s where cannabis was decriminalized and fully integrated in to the culture. He has been healing himself for over 30 years with sacred plants, a spiritual practice, and being a student and practitioner of ethnobotany. Ian was a pharmaceutical representative for Pfizer after he got out of the Army witnessing firsthand the meteoric rise of the SSRI’s and synthetic opioids in the early 1990’s. He is a casualty of the drug war having been arrested for cannabis while in law school. Ian is an intellectual property attorney who has been working in the corporate world for over 20 years in the primary roles of VP of Sales and Marketing and General Counsel. He is a political activist in the cannabis and natural plant medicine space nationally and locally in Texas. Ian was previously the Chairman of the Board for a public policy foundation in Texas for over seven years. Ian was featured in the Spike Jonze produced episode Stoned Vets on Weediquette the cannabis focused series on Viceland on HBO with a number of other veterans protesting the VA’s policy on medical cannabis and trying to end the veteran suicide epidemic. In 2016 Ian organized a trip for six veterans with PTSD to Peru in May for a 10-day plant diet including ayahuasca and other plant medicines with three Shipibo trained shaman brothers that are third generation plant medicine healers. Ian also took some of the same veterans to Mexico for treatment with iboga and 5-Meo-DMT. This experience was captured on video and was released as a documentary in March 2017 entitled Soldiers of the Vine. He is member of the team supporting the movie From Shock to Awe a feature-length documentary that chronicles the journeys of military veterans as they seek relief from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with the help of ayahuasca, MDMA and cannabis. This movie premiered at the Illuminate Film Festival in Sedona, AZ on June 2, 2018 where it captured the inaugural Mangurama Award for Conscious Documentary Storytelling. Ian Benouis’ Drug War Story as part of Psymposia’s Drug War Stories – Catharsis on the Mall: A Vigil for Healing the Drug War. This was part of the Drug Policy Reform Conference November 20, 2016 in Washington, DC.