🫠 Psychonaut POV

[5-min read] Q&A with Joël Brierre, Founder & CEO

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Joël Brierre didn’t love that he’d become the de facto 5-MeO-DMT police. But with all the shadiness he’d witnessed, he couldn’t just sit on his hands either. So he and his partner—who also run Tandava Retreats—launched F.I.V.E., the most comprehensive source of 5-MeO-DMT education today.

We asked Joël how he’s bridging esoteric knowledge and clinical practice, why he only uses synthetic and never toad, and what entheogens have taught him about entrepreneurship.

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Joël Brierre Psychonaut POV
Can you share how your background in Eastern traditions led you to working with entheogens? How has yoga influenced your approach to medicine?

I first got into psychedelics back in the 90s and was a pretty hardcore psychonaut. I also used a lot of other substances during that time. I got clean in the early 2000s, and it was through yoga that I found my healing. I had a fairly traumatic upbringing in DC, and the yogic lens allowed me to start addressing those wounds. At first, I was resistant to trying yoga, but after just one class I noticed a difference in my state of awareness and my body. So I dove into yoga headfirst.

It was through my yoga practice that two of my teachers in the Virgin Islands reintroduced me to psychedelic medicines. This time, yoga gave me tools to lean into the uncomfortable aspects of the experiences, rather than trying to avoid them. I had breakthroughs that I never would have had as a teenager just trying to avoid "bad trips." I traveled the world, studied under amazing teachers, and even lived the ashram life in India for a while.

Around 2012-2013, I started serving psychedelic medicines, and the yogic lens was naturally the way I approached it. I would start people with pranayama, breathwork, and meditation to regulate the nervous system before the experience. I began incorporating yogic philosophy and Patanjali's eight limbs into the integration process as well. When I had a profound 5-MeO-DMT experience that put me back into a student mindset, I shifted my focus to providing frameworks and contexts for that powerful, ineffable medicine.

Our retreats at Tandava initially centered around the yogic lens. We called them "Samadhi Retreats." But as the psychedelic movement has shifted more towards mental health applications, our participant demographic has changed. We now work with a more diverse team, incorporating Western psychotherapy modalities alongside the Eastern wisdom traditions. The core of our approach remains the yogic roots, but we tailor our care to best serve each individual, often using the hero's journey as an overarching guide while selectively introducing spiritual concepts.

When did you stop serving Bufo alvarius venom and start using synthetic 5-MeO-DMT? Why make the switch?

I initially started with synthetic 5-MeO-DMT—or Jaguar, as it was known back then—in 1999 when it was still legal in the US. At that time, I was able to order it online. When the toad venom craze started around the same time, I tried that too, but I found the synthetic to be my preferred source.

The reason I shifted back to synthetic a few years ago is primarily due to safety and ethical concerns around the use of Bufo alvarius toad venom. With Bufo, you get a cocktail of alkaloids that can put strain on the cardiovascular system, especially for elderly or medically vulnerable participants. There's also a lot more variability in the potency of Bufo samples, which raises the risk of accidentally giving someone too large a dose.

Beyond the safety issues, I became very uncomfortable with the extractive and unethical practices that sprung up around Bufo. The toads are being taken from their natural habitats, deprived of their normal hibernation cycles, and essentially milked for their venom. There have also been reports of cartel involvement in the trade, taking advantage of the economic desperation in the Sonoran Desert region.

So around 2018, when the availability of high-quality synthetic 5-MeO-DMT increased, I made the decision to shift our retreats back to using the synthetic form exclusively. The safety profiles between Bufo and synthetic are very different, but the experience is exactly the same. I maintain that any differences perceived are due to the mind and our preconceived biases.

F.I.V.E. serves as a centralized hub for information on 5-MeO-DMT. What gaps in knowledge did you notice before launching F.I.V.E.? What’s changed since?

Before launching F.I.V.E., my partner Victoria and I saw many people being harmed by their 5-MeO-DMT experiences, either due to a lack of preparation and information for participants, or uninformed and irresponsible facilitation.

An underground group called The Conclave had put out an initial best practices document in 2018, but their secretive nature made it difficult for that information to reach the broader public. F.I.V.E. was an effort to be an above-ground, centralized hub for this vital information, drawing on the wisdom of the pioneers who had been working with the medicine for decades.

Soon, we became the people that the wider community would reach out to when they encountered harm or destabilization from 5-MeO-DMT experiences. The scale of this issue was truly terrifying. People were ending up in the hospital, and the potential for therapeutic benefit was being overshadowed by the high risk of harm when the medicine is not handled with great care.

This led us to launch the F.I.V.E. Education training program. We brought on nearly 40 expert guest teachers to cover everything from the neurological and pharmacological aspects to trauma-informed facilitation and the mystical dimensions of the 5-MeO experience. The program has been very well-received, and we're now opening our fourth cohort.

Alongside the training, we also have our F.I.V.E. Clinical arm, which licenses protocols to biotech and drug development companies working to bring 5-MeO-DMT into clinical trials. Through these strategic partnerships, we supply real-world evidence from Tandava to supplement the companies' new drug applications to the FDA.

Most clinicians aren’t trained in esoteric philosophy. How should they be thinking about these ineffable experiences if their goal is to maximize the benefits of psychedelic therapy?

The key is for clinicians to acknowledge the limits of their understanding, without feeling the need to adopt overly spiritual language. There's evidence that the mystical aspects of these experiences play an important role in their therapeutic benefits. If clinicians don't have ways to provide context for those ineffable experiences, patients' logical minds often just gloss over them after the initial neuroplastic phase.

For someone to sustain the positive effects beyond the “afterglow" period, it helps to use the frameworks and understandings that have been explored over millennia. They don't have to become monks. Simply having an openness to the idea that there are realities beyond the conceptual mind is a critical first step.

I believe both the clinical/scientific and spiritual/mystical approaches are needed for psychedelics to reach their full potential. The two sides often see each other as mutually exclusive, when in reality they can and should inform each other. It's time for both camps to acknowledge their blind spots and work together towards a more integrated model—one that avoids the pitfalls of either ungrounded spiritual exploration or the overly pathologizing tendencies of Western psychology.

How have your experiences with entheogens made you a better entrepreneur? Can you offer any advice to our readers building businesses of their own?

They've allowed me to gain a deep understanding of my own automatic patterns and trauma responses that were formed in childhood. Being able to explore and integrate those unconscious influences has been invaluable as an entrepreneur.

The entrepreneurial journey is incredibly confrontational and triggers deep issues of worthiness. Having practices of self-inquiry and nervous system regulation from my work with these medicines has allowed me to approach the challenges more pragmatically, rather than being controlled by unconscious fears and reactions.

Early on, I had unrealistic business models that got brutally critiqued by investors and consultants. But being able to absorb that feedback, learn, and rebuild was key.

I fully consider entrepreneurship to be a spiritual, hero's journey. You’re taking something that exists only in the mind and manifesting it into reality. Entrepreneurship is deadly, but man, is it fun. To me, there's nothing more mystical than building a business.

Want more from Joël?

Get vital information about 5-MeO-DMT at F.I.V.E., and learn about upcoming retreats at Tandava.

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DISCLAIMER: This newsletter is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. The use, possession, and distribution of psychedelic drugs are illegal in most countries and may result in criminal prosecution.

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