The Sonoran desert toad is among the largest toads in continental North America. Measuring an average of seven inches, this species of toad is known to secrete an alkaloid on its skin that causes psychedelic-like effects when ingested.
Over the past few years, more and more people have begun taking part in a trend that involves licking the back of toads to achieve a psychedelic high. However, the alkaloid that produces these effects in humans is actually a toxin secreted by the toad to ward off predators.
On top of that, not all toads secrete this toxin; licking secretions from some toad species may cause adverse health effects and in some cases even death. Consequently, the National Park Service (NPS) recently warned visitors against licking what some call “psychedelic toads.”
Also referred to as the Colorado River toad, the Sonoran desert toad secretes psychedelics 5-MeO-DMT and DMT-derivative bufotenin. Although these compounds can be fatal when ingested by some animals, they produce psychedelic-like effects in humans.
Still, the NPS cautions, this doesn’t mean that handling toads is safe, stating that doing so could easily make you sick if the poison gets into your eyes. In some cases, some people choose to extract these alkaloids and vaporize them rather than licking them off the toads.
There is also another important factor at play here: the Sonoran desert toad is a threatened species in states where it is indigenous, such as California. Perhaps due to their psychedelic appeal, Sonoran river toad numbers have dropped dangerously low in recent years.
Early this year, wildlife experts implored the public to stop milking Colorado river toads for their alkaloids as they were in danger of completely dying out. In addition, University of Arizona Laboratory research associate and Tuscon Herpetology Society president Robert Antony Villa said that the toads are “susceptible to exploitation.”
With psychedelics currently experiencing a renaissance in both mainstream popularity and scientific research, plenty of people are looking to use them recreationally and medicinally. Studies have shown that these hallucinogenic drugs can have profound mental health benefits when paired with psychotherapy.
Millions of dollars are now being poured into psychedelic drugs, and several pharmaceutical companies such as Seelos Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: SEEL) are looking to develop the next big psychedelic drug. In the meantime, however, psychedelics remain illegal at the federal level and in most states, leading to some people using questionable means to acquire them, such as licking toads.
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