The Pied Piper of Psychedelic Toads

Kimon de Greef in The New Yorker:

In 2013, a charismatic Mexican doctor took the stage at Burning Man, in Nevada, to give a tedx talk on what he called “the ultimate experience.” The doctor’s name was Octavio Rettig, and he would soon become known by his first name alone, like some pop diva or soccer star. He told the crowd that, years earlier, he had overcome a crack addiction by using a powerful psychedelic substance produced by toads in the Sonoran Desert. Afterward, he shared “toad medicine” with a tribal community in northern Mexico, where the rise of narco-trafficking had brought on a methamphetamine crisis. Through this work, he came to believe that smoking toad, as the practice is called, was an ancient Mesoamerican ritual—a “unique toadal language,” shared by Mayans and Aztecs—that had been stamped out during the colonial era. He announced that he’d restored a lost tradition, and that he had a duty to share it with others. “Sooner or later, everyone in the world will have this experience,” he told an interviewer after the talk.

At the time, Octavio, who was thirty-four, was virtually unknown within the world of psychedelics—as was smoking toad. But two years later Vice made him the subject of a laudatory documentary, calling him “a hallucinogenic-toad prophet.” (The film has more than three and a half million views on YouTube.) Octavio became, as Klaudia Oliver, the organizer of the tedx talk, put it, “the Pied Piper of toad.” By Octavio’s count, he has introduced toad smoking to more than ten thousand people.

More here.