Yannina Thomassiny and the ‘Toad Medicine’
By Irene Trejo
It has become quite common to hear stories regarding ceremonies with sacred plants. And even though being in contact with nature might be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about such events – due to the great psychological and spiritual benefits natural medicines have shown to have during years of experimentation and scientific research (psilocybin, ayahuasca, etc.) – ceremonies also happen within urban centers, such as Mexico City.
Yannina Thomassiny lives in an apparent regular house in La Santa María de la Ribera, a neighborhood near the historical center of Mexico City. Going through her front door is like stepping through a psychedelic portal; full of colors, dreamlike characters and an eclectic collection of art. ‘The Toad Woman’ (as she is often called) started to facilitate ceremonies using Bufo Alvarius years ago after having experienced an epiphany that changed the way she perceived reality. After this awakening, she decided to pursue a path of service, and so she started facilitating ceremonies among friends at her house.
Bufo Alvarius, also known as the Sonoran Desert toad, is a small reptile found in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. A toxin, extracted from the toad’s skin glands without harm, contains 5-MeO-DMT. After collecting the honey-like liquid from the toad, it can be dried and pulverized, same as synthetic DMT. The experience with Bufo DMT is known as “the ego’s death,” for it detaches whoever smokes it from the “self,” disappearing all narratives and limits, and so uniting them with the universal energy.
Yannina’s path towards becoming a shaman was a very “human” one, in the sense that it was quite real and honest. Before encountering the toad she used to be a journalist. She had an art blog called “Cassette Art” where she transformed curatorial texts into something everyone could understand and enjoy. For this, she used to smoke a joint before visiting contemporary art exhibitions, galleries, and underground spaces in Mexico City, and at the end of the tour, she read the curatorial text and went home to write about her experiences. Due to the blog’s success, different magazines and media also hired her to write about art, culture, food and travel.
Naturally, Yannina’s curiosity guided her towards psychedelics. “I started to connect with Ayahuasca, LSD, and smoked synthetic DMT, which left me perplexed. The friend with whom I smoked it with told me about the ‘Sapo’, scientifically known as Bufo Alvarius. My curiosity was so strong, that one week later, I was in the Sonoran desert smoking Bufo. It blew my mind in so many ways! I instantly knew this was my medicine. And so I started to investigate everything about it. There was very little information during that time, so, with the help of my journalistic skills, I connected with the existing community around this magical substance.” Yannina mentions the toad has been around for ages, but smoking it is something new. It wasn’t used in ancestral cultures or for cultural/spiritual purposes among indigenous communities as many would think. The Seri people of northern mexico currently work with this medicine, but the toad isn’t necessarily related to their history or traditions.
The toad woman confesses her first ceremonies as a facilitator weren’t pretty at all, and that sometimes it felt as if she was witnessing a scene from The Exorcist. However, she kept following her intuition and started learning how to contain the energy that emerged during each session. The ceremony that made her realize she truly wanted to do this for life, was when she gave sapo to an addict. After smoking the toad, he stopped consuming. Something happened to him on a conscious level that made him realize he needed to change. “The toad means letting go of everything. We are so accustomed to the self and its problems. Suddenly, this realm opens up to remind us of how beautiful and infinite life really is. We realize we can actually prepare to die in a graceful way, without attachments. It is another portal of understanding, among all the infinite ones that exist. Still, in order for its reminders and realizations to be reflected in our being, we must make a compromise with life, with the day-to-day…”
Yannina has been facilitating for seven years now, and she calculates she has served the toad around 7000 times. She compliments her practice with different disciplines and studies, such as sound therapy. “I still can’t explain how it felt the day I decided to leave journalism to become the toad woman. Sometimes I joke by saying perhaps the aliens abducted me! Now my life spins around the toad. I live in a toad universe. My way of understanding life is very toad-like. I mean, just look around!”
The ceremonies that Yannina shares are musical and they consist of different phases: first she opens up a space of trust through conversation with the person to get to know them better. She asks what kind of experiences they’ve had before and where they’re at in their life currently. “Listening and vibrating, the persons helps me predict how ‘difficult’ the ceremony will be. The more the need to control, the harder it gets,” Yannina explains. Then, after administering the medicine, and guided by the rhythm of the participant’s breath, she starts to play the bowls and the gongs. She also sings mantras and improvised sounds, and this is where she tunes in with the ambient, with other vibrations, and where she says she also feels like being dissolved. To finish, when the patient “comes back” she gives them space to integrate. “The result might be to see a person who thought their life had no meaning, to come back from a 15 minute experience with a revelation. When they realize their traumas, or whatever that wasn’t letting them move on, are pointless. This is the most beautiful feeling.”
On the other hand, she feels that a great part of her work, like she used to do with her art blog, and now with a podcast named “Sabiduría Psicodélica (psychedelic wisdom)” is to make information around psychedelics more digestible. “People tend to idealize spirituality. They see it as something inaccessible, but let’s not forget we all are in the same process. We came to experience being humans, and also to fuck up,” she says. Yannina argues that during pandemic times the role of psychedelics and self-knowledge in order to survive has been emphasized. “We’ve been witnessing how people fall into fear and how this can provoke depression, among other illnesses. When you have worked with your mind and have been in touch with ‘something else’, you understand that everything is perfect, and so you trust that you will be ok, even when you are not. In the end, the only thing that matters in life is to have the freedom of being and to enjoy. And this is what most people are missing. Medicines such as the toad helps us remember that this trip is just temporary and so we must live it fully.”
Follow Yannina’s work HERE.
Tune into her podcast about psychedelics HERE.