Last week, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) made an online plea aimed at protecting a peculiar species of frog – the Sonoran desert toad (Bufo alvarius) – which secretes a toxin with powerful psychedelic effects, a phenomenon leading an increasing number of people to either lick the back of these toads or collect and store the toxins they secrete for later consumption. While hallucinations and euphoria are common effects of this activity, experts warn that this highly potent toxin can also cause nausea, anxiety, seizures and, in some cases, even death.
“As we say with most things you come across in a national park, whether it be a banana slug, unfamiliar mushroom, or a large toad with glowing eyes in the dead of night, please refrain from licking,” the NPS officials said.
Demand for the toads’ secretions has boomed in recent years, with a growing retreat industry offering these chemicals to visitors seeking psychedelic experiences. Sometimes, this experience is even treated as a sacred ceremony, with participants paying thousands of dollars to get access to the hallucinogenic compound.
While it is not clear how many people actually lick the toads, for decades already, users have often dried into crystals and smoked in a pipe the substance in the toxins that the toad excretes when threatened (5-MeO-DMT), in order to experience 15 to 30 minutes of intense hallucinations and euphoria. Although this substance is illegal in the United States, where it is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, it is legal in Mexico, thus attracting a large number of international visitors.
Increased interest in this experience has brought new dangers for this toad, which is found mainly in the Sonoran desert in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Already targeted by predators such as racoons, and run over on roads by motor vehicles, the toad is currently also the target of poaching, over-harvesting, and illegal trafficking, leading conservation experts to list is as “endangered” in California and “threatened” in Mexico.
The NPS’s online plea can be found here.
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By Andrei Ionescu, Earth.com Staff Writer