Please stop licking psychedelic toads, warns National Park Service

Please stop licking psychedelic toads, warns National Park Service

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The US government has an unusual request: Please don’t lick the psychedelic toadstools.

The National Park Service this week issued a warning to visitors to refrain from licking the great Sonoran Desert Toad as they attempt to reach a state of hallucinogenic illumination of the “powerful toxin” that amphibians naturally secrete.

These toads, also known as Colorado River toads, “have prominent parotoid glands that secrete a potent toxin,” the Park Service advised. “It can make you sick if you handle the frog or put the poison in your mouth,” he warned.

“As we say with most things you encounter in a national park, whether it’s a banana slug, an unfamiliar fungus, or a big bright-eyed toad in the middle of the night, please refrain from licking.”

Although it is unclear how many people roam national parks in search of toads, and there is no data to suggest it is widespread, the practice is well known in popular culture and among celebrities.

Bufotenin, a milky white substance also known as “5-MeO-DMT,” is a natural psychedelic that toads secrete, according to Drug Science, an international scientific research group.

It can be snorted, inhaled or smoked and induces a “short but intense psychedelic or ‘trip’ experience” lasting approximately 30 minutes, with hallucinogenic effects that are “significantly stronger” than those induced by the primary psychoactive molecule found in ayahuasca-like substance, the group says.

The research body said it is a “popular myth” that people can get high by licking toads. In fact, it can be “dangerous”, causing poisoning and even death in humans, the group said.

Prominent figures including former boxing champion Mike Tyson, comedian Chelsea Handler and President Biden’s son Hunter Biden have publicly discussed 5-MeO-DMT therapy or toad venom rituals.

British scientist James Rucker, a psychiatrist at King’s College London, told the Washington Post on Tuesday he welcomed the warning, referring to reports of people licking the cold-blooded creatures in Asia and elsewhere outside the United States. “I imagine the vast majority of people are looking for a cheap psychedelic experience,” he said. “I would warn people against that.”

The chemical bufotenin and other natural medicines can be “transformative,” with potential benefits for people with depression and alcoholism, said Rucker, who is conducting similar clinical research trials. “They stir the mind and can induce feelings of euphoria and ecstasy,” he added.

However, he warned that they can also induce panic, paranoia and severe anxiety, as well as buried feelings which can be difficult to process and manage without professional support.

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Drugs are often described as “psyche enhancers,” Rucker said. “They can be very positive, beautiful, and awe-inspiring experiences,” he said, and “catalyze a reconnection with self and others.” But he warned that people should beware of the “hype and hope” associated with these psychedelic drugs.

Bufotenin can also be found in some trees and plants, and its use in the seeds as a “shamanic snuff” dates back nearly 3,000 years in spiritual ceremonies in Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil, according to Drug Science. The chemical works by rapidly crossing the blood-brain barrier and mimicking the neurotransmitter serotonin, resulting in hallucinations and euphoric mood, among other impacts.

The substance is mostly illegal in the United States, classified as a Schedule I drug with no approved medical use. However, the secretions may have limited research use, with approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration.

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Calling the creatures “terrifying toads,” the Park Service described the Sonoran Desert Toad as one of the largest toads found in North America, typically measuring about seven inches long. Stocky, short-legged amphibians normally make a “weak, low-pitched toet, lasting less than a second,” in their call, he added.

The somewhat solitary toads are found in parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and occasionally California, and they typically live for at least 10 years.

According to the Oakland Zoo, adult toads normally have “dark olive-green leathery skin and a smooth, creamy-white underside,” with an enlarged white wart near the angle of the jaw that also secretes a toxin.

The creatures release the powerful chemicals from glands just behind their eyes as a “defensive” mechanism against “animals that harass this species,” according to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The potent toxins can be potent enough to kill adult dogs that scoop toads into their mouths, causing symptoms such as excessive salivation and irregular heartbeat, he added.

The toads remain underground for much of the year, emerging during the summer rainy season from May to July. They are nocturnal during the hot summer months and live mainly on beetles, spiders, lizards, and occasionally smaller toads in desert brush or woods.

“I’m sure Toads would also appreciate having their dignity and autonomy preserved,” Rucker told the Post. “The toad wants to be left alone. We should respect that.


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