An Interview With Octavio Rettig
Octavio is one of the only people in the world working with 5-meo-DMT in a ritual setting - with UN approval. We got the chance to sit down and pick his brains. Here is what he had to say.
5-meo-DMT is considered by many to be the strongest hallucinogen currently known to society. For those who practice spiritual healing through psychedelics, it is a key able to unlock the door into the self and open up the being like no other.
One such practitioner who utilises, practices and lectures on the profound nature of such substances is Dr. Octavio Rettig. After curing his own chemical drug addictions using the compound, he reintroduced the magic of the toad to the native people of the Sonoran desert – a toad whose famous for 5-meo-DMT. His experience and insights into such healing practices with the compound have led him to authoring a book on the subject - The Toad of Dawn: 5-meo-DMT and The Rising of Cosmic Consciousness – as well as being featured in many documentary films, such as "Shamans of the Global Village" and "The Toad Prophet", and appearing as a speaker during TEDx talks on spiritual healing.
MEETING OCTAVIO RETTIG
After months of travelling, Zamnesia writer Bardot got a chance to meet the man himself at a sacred medicine ceremony - combining Kambo, a detoxifying poison from frogs, with his speciality - the venom from the Bufo alvarius toad (containing bufotenine and 5-meo-DMT). The ceremony itself was intense and overwhelming, and at the end of the first night we managed to get Octavio alone for a chat.
Bardot: First, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. I understand that allowing journalists into a serious ritual ceremony like this is unusual. And you must have had a long day!
Octavio: Yeah, I did Kambo, and it was really tough for me. I've been working a lot, my energy is a little bit drained, and I just had a really long day.
B: It looked like it. I saw you taking hits of 5-meo-DMT for yourself, whilst administering the toad medicine to others. It must be exhausting. What's the role of that, and what does it achieve for you?
O: Well, at the beginning I used to work one-on-one. The same dose that the patient took, I would also take. I started to work with this medicine, healing myself of my destructive behaviours and my synthetic drug addictions.
For me, in these group ceremonies, it would be just impossible to heal with so many people there without taking some of the medicine also. But, I guess that at some point, I began to feel that the medicine was not necessary for me anymore and I just stopped taking it. In the wintertime, I started to feel like I was again being disconnected from that energy. Later, at some point, my body started to naturally recreate the experience after doing it so many times.
The medicine is the vehicle; it's the language that we are speaking with. So, it's the only way for me to do it with others- sometimes I take more, sometimes I take less - sometimes when I serve the pipe to someone, and they don't take it, I take the full dose of the medicine ... because I can't waste it, and that's the main reason for me to take it. I sometimes take the leftovers; I sometimes take the full pipe. When I see that some experiences will be more energetically demanding than others, I also take more medicine. The medicine gives me the guidance. It's the medicine doing the healing; it's not me. It's the person and the medicine, and I also need to vibrate at the same frequency.
B: So, with that in mind, what is the role of the rattle shaking, and the Seri chants?
O: This is just for creating an atmosphere - to create the "silver cord" or the leash that links that reality and this one. It helps also to make some kind of lull in the people's senses - so they are not focused entirely on their feelings or on what's happening to them at that point. It's like a point of reference. And also, I've seen that the vibration helps them to navigate and to hook into the melody, and then they can just surf that wave easier. I think that it's a tool for accompanying people, for guiding the experience, and also for creating a culture around the medicine.
In the past, I was using just a flipping ball and my voice, and it was sometimes dangerous for what I was trying to achieve - for example, if I were to say the word "fear" to people, they would instantaneously feel the fear. I think that the Seri chants are an example, or a tiny sample of, how important the interactions with nature were in the past. The legends of this tribe are of these golden beings, who brought the knowledge and the teachings, and are the same legends that are in all the Mesoamerican tribes - the Aztecs, the Mayans - I can see that there is a direct connection between how the people are explaining their own existence, and how people are living their own lives.
All the monuments and all the artifacts that we see all over the world are connected with the divine state, and with the things that are unseen by our eyes - all the things that are hidden from the normal perception of reality. Then, you can be aware of all these different energies and elements - through the entheogens. In the past, in Mexico, only the cults for the peyote, mushrooms, and Salvia were still alive. This knowledge of the toad was completely lost - and for me, one of the biggest goals was to reintroduce these to the people that live in the desert. They are the ones that are going to take care of the toads in the future, and also because I think it belongs to them. It's a way to try and fix a really deep wound that we put in indigenous people all over the world.
Western society just exterminated and killed these ancient knowledges. Some of them survived - isolated, in the jungle, there are tribes still working with Ayahuasca, Iboga, the other medicines, but some of this knowledge was completely lost. So, it's a way to rescue it and also to create a context ... the context not coming from my mind, or rather it's not something that I'm doing, but as an elaboration. This has been shown by the medicine itself, from working with the medicine, working with the natives. Mostly at the beginning I was working just with synthetic drug addictions - crystal meth, crack, cocaine, alcoholism - but then, the elders of this community also started taking the medicine. These chants were flowing from their mouths under the influence of the medicine. It's a completely oral tradition - they didn't have any scripture or any way to share or pass on the knowledge through the generations. The language and the chanting was a way of keeping that alive.
At the beginning of the 15th century, there were around 300,000 Seri Indians in the Sonoran desert. At the beginning of the 20th century, only 300 survived. I think that the chanting, it's like a treasure, as is the medicine. And for me, it's the most effective way to share this medicine with people - standing ... staring at the sun ... opening your eyes and opening yourself to receive this medicine ... trying to stay present and aware and awake in this reality. Instead of trying to escape from reality, I try to bring this fact that we are co-creating it with the universe. Only the people can do the work in their lives for transformation and growth.
It's work that we need to do 24/7 for the rest of our lives. It's not something where you take the medicine, and everything will just be fixed - you really need to make all the changes. I see that this method, this technique, helps people connect to all the repressed feelings and emotions that they have - but at the same time, bring back the focus to the here & now. I've seen that the chants help a lot with that.
B: So, the toad medicine is something that has been lost to history - perhaps this medicine is the fabled "Soma" that ancient religions speak of?
O: Yeah, absolutely. Not only the toad medicine but other entheogens.
B: Have you tried other entheogens?
O: I've tried every sacred medicine that I've encountered in my life, and also some of the manmade substances, and I can feel and know the difference in my heart between them. I could say that for me all the different plants are different teachers, and I'm learning different lessons.
B: From the toad?
O: From all the plants, and also from the toad. All the different medicines, they are similar, but also they are different, and they show you a different part of yourself. With each one, you see yourself from a different angle, and it's necessary to have all this knowledge inside of you. You can read about it and hear all the stories, but the spirit will know the difference.
B: The toad medicine is easily transported, and you believe that this is one of the reasons why it was used widely by ancient Mesoamerican people. What method of administration do you believe they used in these ancient times?
O: The same method that I've been using today.
B: To be clear; they used a piece of glass, like a pipe?
O: It can be any kind of vessel, any kind of pottery - clay, or glass, or even metal. If you put this substance on any kind of flame it will be combusted. I think that they might have also used it in sweat lodges, like those which the Mezcals are known for using - not only for sweating, but also for breathing. Also, they have these huge devices - they call them copaleras - for burning the copal, a type of incense. They have all kinds of devices like these in their temples.
B: And they put the venom into the copaleras also?
O: Who knows? But I think that they knew about it for sure. The toad's presence, in the form of effigies and artwork, is all over all the museums, on the buildings, on the constructions, in the mythology, in the legends ... and in the medicine itself, you know? After you feel that connection with everything, then you can understand really easily why they are expressing this as the symbol of the five cardinal points, or the centre of the universe. This is not a geographical point, it's something that is really inside every one of us, it's within us. And then, I can see the relationship between the veneration of the feathered serpent and this state that is provided by the 5-meo-DMT.
By the time that people knew about the toad, we already knew everything about plants. If we are just hominids that were evolving through time in this planet, considering our food and our habits, I think that at some point, when we crossed that line from raw food to cooked food, we also started to smoke things. I can really see someone putting one of these toads on a stick, putting it inside a fire in a cave, and then people smelling this 5-meo-DMT and being transported to a state that people already knew about ... because we have 5-meo-DMT in plants. And these plants were already sacred medicines, such as Yopo which also contains 5-meo-DMT and has been used by ancient civilisations. For example, in Bolivia, we have the Yawanaco, and there you can see the presence of the tools for the snorting of Yopo - and this is from 4,500 years BC. So, this is really old, and people were using these - and plants like Ayahuasca and the mushrooms and the peyote are still being used - and they are all connected with the divine state. But, in my experience ... the toad, it's different ... in my experience, this seems to be the most potent medicine in a natural form on the planet.
I can see that people in the past were using this - we have the pipes, we have all the evidence, and I assume more that not only this one species was alive in the past. We just don't know, maybe they were made extinct already. I know that other toads also contain traces of tryptamines, but as far as I know the Bufo alvarius is the only species that contains both bufotenine and 5-meo-DMT. Our task is to share the existence of this with people, but also to try and create a culture of respect about this species, and to create a sanctuary to protect the toads - a kind of reserve. So I'm just working, talking a lot about it, and every day sharing the medicine. This is, I think, the only way for people to understand really why this is so important.
B: Scientists in the USA are now starting to experiment with intravenous administration of DMT. Have you tried other methods of administration?
O: Yes but they are not working with the toad medicine - they are using N,N-DMT, 5-meo-DMT extracted from plants, or synthesised in a laboratory. I've tried the synthetic, and I've tried the plant extracts, but in my own experience - and my humble opinion, they are not the same.
B: If someone was to, say, snort the toad venom …
O: No. If you eat or sniff the medicine, you will not be ingesting the 5-meo-DMT. 5-meo-DMT is created after combustion, with fire. If you snort or ingest it, you will be ingesting mostly bufotenine. It is also psychoactive but also lethal in doses of 400mg/kg - that means that a 70kg person will need around 21g of this chemical to kill themselves. But with 21g of bufotenine, you can give the 5-meo-DMT in a safe way to hundreds of people. So, not only would it be a waste of medicine, but also a waste of time, dangerous and inefficient.
B: Have you tried vaporizing it?
O: I've vaped the toad medicine, but it's also a waste. You feel the effects, but the onset is mild, and on the other hand, the effect is a little longer. But ... it's slower, it's softer ... and you need more medicine. A higher dose is needed to reach the right place. I haven't seen any better way to do this. I also tried some other pipes with friends, and it's the same.
B: How about the Volcano digital vaporizer?
O: Same. It's good for creating a soft first encounter with that energy - but if you want to really feel the effects, a torch lighter, and the crystal pipe is the only way to go.
B: Could you tell us a little about the Indigenous Medicine Tours Project?
O: I'm working with the United Nations Association for Venezuela. The UN has had a project with Ayahuasca and Yopo for many years, almost ten years, and two and a half years ago I was invited to Venezuela, and I shared the medicine with nearly 150 people there - including the directors of the association. They started monitoring and supervising the work that I'm doing - and then we started giving tours, working with my project.
Now we are having these retreats, combining different complementary medicines - in this one, it's the Kambo, for a physical cleanse, and then the toad. We also have a Yopo ceremony, for those who have already done the toad before - and during the retreat, the people can ask us for integration therapy. This helps people to relax and to let go of all the stress that remains from any work that they need to do. I think that it's a good way to support people on their processes, to create this camaraderie between the participants - to create a family. For me it's really good to have a team supporting me, backing me up, and also for all the people who are coming to receive the medicines - because they can have a more integral attention. And i think that this is just the beginning! The future is to create these places in different countries, working with all the different medicines, and putting these medicines available in schools of art and of ancient traditions of healing, and purification.
So, I'm really happy to work with the Venezuelan people. So far, I've visited almost 30 countries with the medicine, I've had around 6,000 ceremonies with the medicine, and I'm just so happy to see that the world is changing ... at least, my world has changed so much, in the last few years, and I want to share that.
B: Government support must be sweet!
O: Yeah, we have all the institutional support, all our papers are good, and we are doing this research as an international formal scientific endeavour - trying to collect data to further our goals of creating a sanctuary for the toads, trying to understand and explain how these medicines are working for the benefit of the people. So yeah, step by step, with a lot of caution and a lot of time, we are exploring this opportunity - and it's a blessing for everyone.
B: So, you do plan on teaching what you've learned to other people, so they can continue your work?
O: Yeah, well, I'm writing now. My first book was, like, my story, and the second book - which I'm preparing now - is about all the experiences I've learned from working with this medicine - all these years, so many people and so many places. And I want to share that knowledge, because I think that it will be, like, part of the legacy people can learn about me. And also, at some point, one of my visions is to share this knowledge. We'll have a school of this stuff, so it won't be just on my shoulders any more. First, I need to have the support of more people. I have to grow older, also, so I'll start doing that.
Many people approach me like "Hey! I want to learn!", and right now I can't do that because the future of the toad is still uncertain, and I don't want to put more pressure there. I think that everything needs to be going on at the same time, going with the flow ... and I'm just waiting for that billionaire who will help me with this project. Just seeing the people being touched by this medicine, that's more than I could ask, but I would feel much better knowing that the toad is being protected and more people on the planet have access to the medicine ... and that's the final decider for me.
B: You mentioned before that you only offer the Yopo to those who have already taken the toad.
O: In this kind of retreat, yes.
B: Why is that?
O: Because Yopo lasts a few hours ... and for me, it's really demanding to take care of people during those really long processes. So - the people that have already had the release of the toad and the Kambo, I think they can go for the Yopo. I've tried lots of medicines, and Yopo, it's really strong, and very demanding for me in terms of energy. I don't see that medicine as something for everyone. I think people shouldn't access that medicine without doing some work before.
B: 5-meo-DMT is a lot rarer than pure crystal DMT. How would you describe the differences between them?
O: 5-meo-DMT, it's completely different from the other varieties of DMT. The N,N-DMT you have from Mimosa, or Jurema, or other plants, its really visual ... it's colourful ... its righteous ... it's beautiful ... but it's nothing that you can compare to 5-meo-DMT. 5-meo-DMT is about vibration, it's about dissolution of this perception of the self, whether or not to do something you are contemplating. You are oneness, you are one with everything. And so, really there is nothing between this and regular DMT.
B: Would you describe the toad as an intelligent consciousness?
O: I think it's a universal, cosmic, perfect intelligence - made of love, and ... sound, and vibration, and sacred geometry ... and I think that it's wise, because it's just pure beauty, and perfection, and mathematics. It's a universal language that everyone can understand, and it's love, it's our emotions - it's beyond the mind, beyond the comprehension or the stories or anything related to yourself or your personal archetypes. This is something greater than all of that, and at the same time, some people say that it's nothing - because it's some kind of void. But I don't believe that it's empty. I think that the nothingness is full of everything.
B: In "Shamans of the Global Village" you mention briefly that each toad provides a different experience. Can you elaborate on that a little?
O: Well, just like in every different thing in nature there are similarities and differences. In the case of the toad, different ages, different gender, and also whether or not the toad has used his secretion - all these variables mean that it's not always the same experience with the medicine. Different toads have different concentrations. More studies on this need to be done - to try and explain and make clear all these differences and similarities.
In my experience, the only way to make a standard dose was to mix a powder with all the medicine that I had collected and to make, like, a homogeneous blend. It was not the same experience as with the flakes of one toad or two toads.
B: I've seen this big jar of flakes in the documentary when you administer the medicine to a patient, you just pick one out at random?
O: No, it's not random. I see the medicine, and I know what medicine is stronger because of the colour, the density, the whiteness of the medicine. I've been working with the medicine a lot; I individualise the dose with every person, and the medicine that I use is medicine that I collect myself - so I am sure that it's the medicine of the toad.
I'm amazed at the power of the medicine, and also of the strength, and courage, and the will of people. This is not an easy experience to watch. It's easy to do, because it's just so noisy; people throw up and yell, and outsiders think that they are suffering, but it's not like that. That's just from the outside; on the inside, it's a different story. But I can't say that there is a rate of medicine or a range of medicine that people should do. I can't say that with this medicine. I don't agree with people that say "I think that between this and this milligrams is a small dose". Predictions like this can be made with synthetics or extracts, but with the real toad medicine, I don't think that we should work with any kind of categorisation. That's impossible to do. The only way to know the medicine is through experience, and that's working with the medicine a lot.
I don't think that anyone should give this medicine to other people if they're not experienced. That's very important. I don't think that this medicine should be used recreationally, or without supervision, and I also believe that this medicine should ... it needs to be only handled by people who have training in first aid and formal medicine - so physiology, and pathology, and pharmacology. This is not another joint. I've seen people die during the toad experience - not because of the effect of the toad - because they have some condition that was not detected by them or the physicians or anyone, and also because it's impossible for me or any other physician to make a diagnosis of some things that people can have.
This medicine is more like having open surgery, or doing an extreme sport - there are always some risks involved with these things, and I believe that people should be responsible and aware. This is really serious, not something that you do just for fun. Also, the people that are administering this, they need to know that they are playing with fire, maybe, and that's why I believe that medical science also needs to be involved - you can't do this if you only have training in ritualistic ceremony-based shamanism. I am a physician, and I know about the body - and if I wasn't trained as a physician, without that knowledge, I would never, never, never, try this with other people, or myself. But so far, I have given this to my mom, to my kids, to all my dearest family and closest friends, because I believe in the medicine and I know the medicine. Even with the fatalities, or the casualties that I've had, after working for many years, I can say that this experience with the medicine is safe - but it's not for everyone. And people need to be under the supervision or the care of someone that is really trained in reanimation and resuscitation and all these kinds of things.
B: Just in case.
O: Just in case. It's better to have it and not use it, than to need it and not have it. It's something like that.
I think that this is just the beginning for these medicines. I think that we need all the medicines, not just one. We need time to learn more about them - and freedom to do so. I also believe that prohibition is something stupid. I believe that prohibition is responsible for all this confusion in people, and all these people that are ... lost. Prohibition leads to a lack of education and understanding. So, the only way to heal this, is through talking about the truth, and through creating a collective consciousness with all the individual experiences that we are having.
At some point, we will be again back home in a beautiful garden with all the things that we need - and at some point, we can also forget about all the things that we don't need any more, and just transcend this life. This might sound a little bit idealistic, but I think that it's normal. We just need to understand, and share the medicines, and to feel the same. And I think that the medicines are the way.
B: Do you think this can be achieved without them?
O: No. I don't think that I've met anyone yet who had the medicine and said "Oh yeah! I've been here! I reached this point by adopting this position, or doing this, or not doing that!" I think that I don't need to explain why these medicines are so important. They are connected with all of humankind on this planet. I think that they are the way to move forward from this madness that we create - all this disconnection from source, and thinking that only competition between people will prove that we are better, or something more. I think that these medicines are a release, a way of knowing that you are everything - that you are one with everything. And I can't see ... I don't know a better way to make this available for almost everyone.
B: Do you think that the medicine is beneficial for even those who aren't damaged or wounded in some way?
O: Yeah. I think that this is even more beneficial for people who think that they are healthy - that they are not looking for something specific.
B: Does it show them that they are looking for something?
O: Yeah. Also, you will know that you are more than your expectations. You are always something greater than your mind, and the things that you thought that you were. But I think that this is a transformative tool for people. It doesn't mind whether they are sick or not, because at the end of the day I believe that we all are addicts, and we all are seekers, and we are always in a position where we can be better. It doesn't matter who you think you are. You can always be better, and that's forever. I believe that this medicine is easy, fast and effective. It should be done; it mustbe done for as many people as possible.
B: Right on! We've seen so many people totally transformed today under your care. I must say, after seeing the work you've been doing, and how grateful the people are for this experience, you've convinced me of your legitimacy. Before we came, we typed your name into Google, and the first result that appeared claimed that you're a fraud!
O: Yeah, that was made by some of my ex-friends. It's really well elaborated. They wasted a lot of time doing that, but it's the only thing that appears on the whole internet. I don't mind. When someone is talking about you, it's always beneficial. And when people judge, and point fingers, and stuff like that, it creates curiosity.
I have nothing to hide or to appear as. I am me, and I'm doing me all the time, and I'm doing this because I trust and I know. Some people don't, and that's why they accuse. I can't tell about the rest, I can just tell about my own story and myself. And all these people, even those who are stabbing me in the back, I love them. Because at the end of the day, we are all going to the same place. I don't believe in judgments, but I also believe that everyone gets what they deserve sooner or later. So, my heart is in peace, and I will allow the universe to show me and the rest of the people who is who - and who is lying and who is not. So, I am just waiting for that to happen, and all the time just enjoying every day - because I don't know if I will be alive tomorrow. It doesn't matter.
Big thanks to Octavio for giving us an interview, and to the UN Indigenous Medicine Tours Project for being so welcoming and friendly at the retreat. For more information about 5-meo-DMT and Octavio's story, check out his book "The Toad of Dawn: 5-meo-DMT and the Rising of Cosmic Consciousness", available on Amazon.
Written by: Bardot Walker
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