By Lauren Smith
Last updated: 01 December 2023 & medically reviewed by Dr. Celeste Small
5-MeO DMT is a chemical analog to DMT with similar short-lived and intense psychedelic effects, history in entheogenic rituals, natural origin, and use in treating mental health conditions. 5-MeO can be extracted from the venom of the bufo toad or the seeds of yopo trees but is more commonly synthesized.
5-MeO DMT is closely related to DMT, the psychoactive compound in ayahuasca, but induces psychedelic experiences that are somewhat different
Like DMT, 5-MeO DMT has been used in religious rituals among American indigenous peoples for thousands of years.
5-MeO DMT is also present in the seeds, bark, and leaves of trees in the South American genus Anadenanthera, such as the yopo.
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What is 5-MeO DMT?
5-MeO-DMT, or 5-Methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine, is an organic psychedelic compound found in the venom of the Colorado River toad (Bufo alvarius) and plants such as the yopo tree. When smoked or vaporized, it produces a short-lived but intense high. 5-MeO DMT is closely related to DMT, the psychoactive compound in ayahuasca, but induces psychedelic experiences that are somewhat different: less visual and more transcendent, featuring ego death and mystical experiences.
Like DMT, 5-MeO DMT has been used in religious rituals among American indigenous peoples for thousands of years. It gained popularity outside of those groups more recently, especially after best-selling author Michael Pollan documented his experience in his book How to Change Your Mind and Joe Rogan devoted several episodes of his hit podcast to 5-MeO DMT.
5-MeO DMT is also known as bufo, toad, five-methoxy, the power, and the God molecule.
Where does 5-MeO DMT come from?
Despite it being synonymous with the Colorado river toad, there are actually several sources of 5-MeO DMT.
The primary organic source of 5-MeO DMT is the Colorado River toad, also called the Sonoran Desert toad, native to northern Mexico and the southwest United States. When threatened, the toad excretes a milky white poison, called bufotoxin, from parotoid glands behind its eyes. Bufotoxin contains 5-MeO-DMT (up to 30% of its mass when dried) alongside other chemicals in the psychedelic tryptamine family including bufotenine and DMT.
The toads can be legally harvested with a license in Arizona, however, collecting them for the extraction of 5-MeO DMT is technically prohibited as the DMT compound is a Schedule I controlled substance. The explosion in popularity of the compound for recreational use has led to concerns about the over-harvesting of the toad.
Synthetic 5-MeO DMT
Despite the popularity of toad harvesting, most 5-MeO DMT available on the street has been synthesized. Until 2011, this was done in commercial laboratories, which marketed 5-MeO-DMT as a legal research drug. After 5-MeO DMT was made illegal in 2011, clandestine manufacturing continued.
5-MeO DMT is also present in the seeds, bark, and leaves of trees in the South American genus Anadenanthera, such as the yopo. Some indigenous cultures use the seeds in entheogenic rituals, toasting and grinding them and blowing the resulting powder up users' noses with tubes.
Ayahuasca is a tea used in religious ceremonies by some South American tribes, primarily brewed from a plant containing DMT such as the leaves of the chacruna shrub, and a plant such as the caapi vine that contains an MAOI enzyme inhibitor that prevents the DMT from being broken down by gastric enzymes. Sometimes plants that contain 5-MeO DMT are included in this brew. While this extends and intensifies the effect of the drug, this combination can also be toxic and even fatal.
The human body
5-MeO DMT has been detected in human bodily fluids including blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid, leading to speculation that it’s synthesized in the pineal gland or retina. Some researchers have suggested that this endogenous psychotoxin might even be behind psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.
What does 5-MeO DMT look like?
When synthesized, 5-MeO DMT is a white crystalline powder, similar to the appearance of DMT. When derived from dried toad venom, it appears as beige or yellow crystals.
Is 5-MeO DMT the same as regular DMT?
No, while 5-MeO DMT is chemically similar to DMT, hence the similar names, they’re not the same substance and create different experiences for the user.
DMT is known for its short-lived immersive visual hallucinations. Users report that they feel as if they’ve been transported to a different plane of existence. They interact with this new realm with their self and rational thought largely intact.
Dr Philip Gold, Chief of Neurodendocrine Research and Senior Investigator at the National Institute of Mental Health, and author of Breaking Through Depression: A Guide to the Next Generation of Promising Research and Revolutionary New Treatments had this to say;
5-MeO DMT acts just as quickly, and its effects are similarly brief. But its effects are less visual and more shattering. It more reliably dissolves the user’s sense of self—a process known in psychology as ego death—and makes them feel at one with the universe. 5-MeO is thought to be four to 20 times more potent than DMT in humans.
5-MeO also works differently in the human brain. While most psychedelics, including DMT, work by binding to and stimulating serotonin 5-HT2A receptors, 5-MeO DMT has a 1,000 times greater affinity for 5-HT1A receptors. This unique action may be behind its effectiveness in treating mental health conditions.
Is 5-MeO DMT legal?
5-MeO DMT is a Schedule I Controlled Substance in the United States and illegal to manufacture, distribute, buy, or possess. However, it’s generally not illegal to handle plants and toads containing 5-MeO DMT.
Effects of 5-MeO DMT
5-MeO DMT induces a short-lived psychedelic experience in users, often featuring ego dissolution, spiritual insights, and feelings of oneness with the universe. These “trips” usually last less than 30 minutes when 5-MeO DMT is smoked via a vape pen, while insufflation can extend the experience to 45 minutes. It stays in the system and is processed by the body much the same as DMT and also like DMT it may show up in specific drug tests.
Is 5-MeO DMT dangerous?
Like other psychedelic drugs, 5-MeO DMT can be dangerous. While some people may find their experiences on 5-MeO DMT eye-opening and spiritually profound, other people find them terrifying and traumatizing. Some people may experience a reoccurrence or worsening of mental health conditions such as psychosis, schizophrenia, anxiety, and panic attacks in the aftermath of using 5-MeO DMT.
5-MeO DMT is so potent that people typically take very small doses: usually 5mg or less. However, it can be difficult to determine how much 5-MeO DMT is present in a quantity of toad venom and people may accidentally take too much, leading to frightening hallucinations.
5-MeO DMT shouldn’t be consumed in the presence of an MAOI, including in ayahuasca and alongside MAOI antidepressants, as this combination has been linked with deaths. It also shouldn’t be taken alongside any other substances, either prescription or recreational, that act on serotonin, including antidepressants. Mixing multiple drugs that act on serotonin can cause serotonin syndrome, a medical emergency.
5-MeO DMT can also cause elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate, especially at higher doses. People using 5-MeO DMT may act irrationally, potentially harming themselves, and should be supervised by someone sober.
Is 5-MeO DMT addictive?
5-MeO DMT likely isn't addictive. A study of 5-MeO DMT users found that the majority use the drug infrequently, usually less than once per year and fewer than four times in their lifetime. They reported using the substance mainly for spiritual exploration. Only a fraction of respondents (8%) reported craving 5-MeO-DMT.
In fact, like other psychedelics, 5-MeO DMT has been researched for its benefit in treating addiction and other mental health conditions. Among veterans sequentially treated with ibogaine, another psychedelic, then 5-MeO DMT in a Mexican clinic, 85% reduced their alcohol consumption to non-risky levels in the 30 days following treatment. They also reported improvement in PTSD symptoms. It’s thought that the anti-addiction potential of 5-MeO DMT lies in its downregulation of a glutamate receptor that is implicated in the rewarding effects of alcohol and its occasioning of mystical experiences.