Spanish police have arrested a couple over accusations they were carrying out rituals – billed online as “international ancestral medicine” – involving an array of banned substances ranging from toad venom to ayahuasca.
The couple, aged 42 and 38, allegedly ran an association that performed ceremonies involving psychotropic substances for as much as €150 (£129) a session. Weekend retreats were also on offer at a cost of up to €350 (£300).
Police said they had analysed videos of the rituals posted online by the couple. “Clients were observed consuming in liquid form or inhaling psychotropics given to them by him [the master of the ceremonies] while she obstructed their breathing in order to retain the smoke inside of them for longer,” the Guardia Civil said in a statement. “As a consequence of this practice, clients often fell to the ground in convulsions and presented serious alterations of consciousness.”
Video released by police appears to show the couple administering a substance to a man, supporting him as he swiftly falls to the ground. As the man lies on the floor, the couple kneel over him – he plays the maracas while she beats a hand drum.
Raids on the couple’s home and association headquarters near the city of Alicante turned up 97 substances that convene the 1971 United Nations convention on psychotropic substances, police said.
Samples from a Bufo alvarius toad were found in a safe in the master bedroom, said police. Also known as the Sonoran Desert toad, the amphibian’s secretions contain a psychedelic substance known as 5-MeO-DMT, which medical researchers have studied as a possible treatment for depression and anxiety.
Its ritualistic use burst into view last year after Spanish police arrested three people, including a well-known pornographic actor, in connection with the death of a photographer who was believed to have died after inhaling toad venom during a shamanic ceremony.
Police said on Saturday that they had also found the mushroom Amanita muscaria, which transforms into a potent hallucinogen when dried, and ibogaine, a drug from a plant that grows in the rainforests of Gabon and which has been linked to slowing heart rates to dangerously low levels and interacting with the organ’s electrical signals.
The couple “did not possess any professional qualifications or training” that could allow them to supply psychoactive or hallucinogenic substances to people, police added. Both have been charged with violating public health laws.