Victoria Wueschner on harm reduction in the 5-MeO-DMT community
'The medicine can produce amazing experiences, but there is also a shadow side'.
Victoria Wueschner is a facilitator working with 5-MeO-DMT, who recently set up F.I.V.E , a website for 5-MeO-DMT education and harm reduction. She says that 5-MeO-DMT, the powerful psychedelic drug secreted by the Bufo Alvarius toad, can lead to ‘ego-death’, but can also lead to ego-inflation and Messiah complexes in facilitators. Jules Evans interviews her.
Hi Victoria, can you tell us a little bit about 5-MeO-DMT.
It comes in many forms. One of the more popular forms out there comes from the secretion of the Bufo Alvarius toad - within the secretion there's 5-MeO-DMT as well as other triptomines and alkaloids. You can also make it synthetically in the laboratory – that’s pure 5-MeO-DMT. It’s also called Jaguar and 5. There are differences between these two. With the toad variant, there’s a conservation issue. The toads are being harmed – they’re being taken out of their habitat to be milked in captivity. They’re also being over-milked, and being left defence-less, because the secretion is their defence.
The funny thing is, the experience with the synthetic chemical is the exact same as with the toad secretion . In fact, with the toad, some of the additional chemicals are cardio-toxic. That can affect people if they have an underlying heart condition. And with the toad secretion, you can’t be sure how much 5-MEO-DMT you’re giving people.
It sounds like you prefer working with the synthetic chemical?
What’s the experience like? How long does it last?
It lasts 15-45 minutes. It’s different to DMT, which gives people a very visual experience – mechanical elves, sacred geometry etc. With the peak 5-MeO-DMT experience, it’s not visual at all. We are going beyond the sense of ‘I’ – it’s ego-death, where we are everything and nothing. In that space, because there’s no me, you, it just Is, you’re just Being. It’s a homecoming, a remembrance that we’re eternal beings.
It’s important to mark these differences. DMT – you could do it with a friend watching over you. 5-MEO-DMT, on the other hand, there’s a lot of risk – asphyxiation, physical harm. We can sometimes lose control of our bodies, we might be thrashing around, vomiting. If there’s not someone there who is familiar with this experience and how to take care of your body to make sure you don’t choke on your own purge, that could end badly. We’ve heard many stories of people thinking it’s similar to DMT and they go on a journey without anyone present, and unfortunately they pass away during the session.
Because they asphyxiate?
Accidental asphyxiation when purging, or other forms of physical harm. The mind can go offline during the experience, and the mind can fight the experience because it thinks that it’s going to die. It can fight with everything it has, which looks like a full exorcism. If you don’t have someone with you, you can hit your head or otherwise harm yourself. People have no idea what’s going on with their bodies, so it’s very important to have someone with you when you take the medicine.
Can you tell us more about some of the physical harms that can arise?
We’ve heard of people serving the medicine on mountains and people jumping off the mountains and dying; or serving near water and people go into the water and asphyxiate in the water; or asphyxiating on sand. Also Rapé, an indigenous snuff, is sometimes used with 5-MeO-DMT. It should not be mixed with it, because it can get mixed with saliva and people choke on it – there have been a few deaths like that.
What is the cultural context of 5-MeO-DMT?
It’s growing exponentially, because of its transformational healing potential. But there is not an established cultural context. There is no lineage, traditions, no elders or guardians, teaching us how to hold this medicine safely with wisdom and integrity - although some Sonora tribes are now beginning to work with it.
So it’s been an interesting teething problem over the last 30 years while this medicine has been gaining traction. That’s why there’s been so much crazy stuff – multiple malpractice allegations, sexual abuse allegations, deaths. The thing is, all the crazy experiences that you hear about almost always have to do with facilitators’ negligence. That wouldn’t be something we’d have to worry about if there was a lineage. On the other hand, perhaps it’s perfect for this time, because ayahuasca or peyote belong to a particular culture. But 5-MeO-DMT belongs to everyone. And because of all the malpractice and tragedy that has happened, facilitators are all being asked to come together to work out best practices.
What are the malpractice problems in the field?
One of the biggest issues in this community with not having a lineage behind us is ego superiority. While this medicine is famous for being the ego-dissolver, if we are not doing our own personal work and we step into leadership positions, it can lead to ego-inflation. People come out of these profound experiences looking at you thinking you’re God, and it can go straight to people’s head, and people start thinking they really are God. We’ve seen multiple times where facilitators think they’re the Messiah and start cults.
Yes. It’s really unfortunate. This is the medicine of the ego. If it can go one way and dissolve our ego, why can’t it go the other way and amplify our ego. It’s very easy to sway to the shadow side. That’s why we’re asking facilitators to do the personal work to be able to work with humility, and remember that we are literally just holding a pipe and helping people to have this experience.
Once somebody has fallen into this ego trap, the ego is really good at building stories around it. If we fall into a Messiah complex and someone in the community comes and says ‘I’m noticing this leadership position is going to your head’, they will not hear that. They feel they’re being attacked. I’m speaking from experience.
That’s fascinating. I’ve heard a colleague talk about ‘I am the One’ syndrome and how it’s rife among 5-MeO-DMT users.
It can be very psychological harmful if you are sitting with a facilitator falling into the ‘I am the One’ syndrome. For example, a woman reached out to me who tried the medicine for the first time. She didn’t know where to go. And she sat with this person, who demanded that while she was on medicine she had to keep her eyes open and gaze into his. That’s called imprinting. So instead of her experience being about her own process, it became about the facilitator. There’s almost a psychic exchange there, and there can be this hierarchy where you see this person as God. That’s harmful.
Or maybe you’re going through a traumatic medicine experience, and the facilitator is using language that can be harmful. Perhaps a person is reliving a sexual trauma from their childhood, and the facilitator is saying ‘everything is fine’ when maybe it’s not. That could de-validate their experience and be re-traumatizing.
So you think facilitators can hold each other to account and act as checks and supports for each other.
Exactly. We need to be able to be a community and own our stuff. If we fall into ego traps it’s important we can hear that from others. People are coming to us for this medicine, and it can transform people’s lives for the better, or it can really harm people.
Do you see or hear about people having difficult experiences in the days or weeks after they’ve taken 5-MeO-DMT.
Yes, absolutely. That’s why container is everything. You might have a blissful profound experience, and if you don’t have a proper integration container afterwards (and sometimes even if you do) you’re running the risk of stepping into a destabilizing situation. If you’re going to sit with the medicine, make sure you’re not already in a destabilizing environment. If you’re in the middle of a divorce, your parents just died, there’s all this stuff happening – maybe this moment isn’t the right time.
On top of that, there’s a lot of different things that can happen after the experience. One is what we call ‘the falling away’. We have stepped into what you could call ‘the God frequency’ and you step back into the everyday and things just don’t fit any more. Our friends, our hobbies, our jobs, our clothes, our car…nothing fits us anymore. And we’re like, woah, none of this makes sense anymore. Also nobody around me has been through that experience, so if you have a lack of community around you, you can slip into depression because you feel alone.
There’s so many things that can happen. Meaninglessness is something people experience afterwards, sometimes. In that space, everything matters so much, but we understand how small we are in the scheme of things, so nothing matters at the same time. So we come out and wonder, wow, what do I do now, none of this really matters, is this a dream?
Can people hold on to the experience and become ego-inflated?
If people hold on to it, people can become evangelical. Like ‘every single person has to have this experience’, shouting it from the rooftops, telling all your friends and family. It can be a bit much.
The other thing is peak-chasing. There’s a likely thing the mind does – it attaches to things and makes stories. It will oftentimes say ‘this is me in my enlightened state, this is where I need to be’. And when we get back into our regular life and fall into our patterns – and the medicine is not a magic pill – they think ‘oh my goodness I’ve ruined everything, I need to go back and do 5-MeO-DMT’. So we’re chasing the peaks, not doing the integration work in between experiences, and spiritually bypassing it. The traumas and triggers will always be there, but we have a new way of observing and reacting to it. But it takes work.
Read this Vice article on ‘competitive ego death’ in the psychedelic culture.
Tell me about your organization F.I.V.E.
I believe this medicine can change the world if we approach it honestly. And to do that there needs to be education for everybody, from facilitators to avid psychonauts to people sitting for the first time. We’ve created F.I.V.E. which stands for 5-MEO-DMT Information and Vital Education. You can find it at https://five-meo.education/
This is a centralized resource hub for 5-MEO-DMT, specifically for harm reduction. There’s over 30 different pages, everything from information pages, FAQs, research articles, videos, information on retreats and integration experts, training programmes. If you’re a facilitator who wants to sharpen your tool set we have a year-long training programme, super in-depth with over 30 guest speakers. If you’re someone who sat with an unethical practitioner, you can head here to find an integration expert. Education and information is everything right now with this medicine. The mission and hope is that this hub can pave the way for safe use of this medicine.
Tell me a bit about how you ended up working with 5-MeO-DMT.
In my past I dealt heavily with depression, in my teenage years, and there was a deep sense of unworthiness and unbelonging. 5-MeO-DMT allowed me to remember who and what I was. In my first experience I experienced complete unconditional love, and it really shifted things for me. That’s why I’m doing this work. I’ve been working as a facilitator on retreats since 2019.
5-MeO-DMT sounds quite gnarly – why do people do it? You see it as a medicine?
We as humans suffer. Why? Because we feel separate. Why we feel separate is because we have severed our connection to the divine. We don’t remember that we are That. To have a full mystical experience, that reminds us that we are That, we have always been that. We are not separate, that is an illusion. If we can remember that, the way we interact with the world shifts and changes. But please approach this experience responsibly. If we do that, it can create monumental change in your life. But if we don’t do our research, it can do the opposite in your life.
For subscribers, more on some of the specific malpractice allegations against 5-Meo-DMT practitioners after the paywall. Thanks for reading and get in touch if you have information, suggestions or feedbacks.
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