The National Park Service Tells Tourists to Stop Licking Toads in Public Parks
The Sonoran desert toad secretes psychedelics that may have powerful therapeutic potential, but the park service is urging people to keep their tongues off these endangered amphibians.
Published on November 9, 2022

The National Park Service is begging park visitors to stop licking endangered toads that secrete natural forms of DMT.

This Halloween, the NPS posted a “toad-ally terrifying” social media story about Bufo alvarius, better known as the Sonoran desert toad or the Colorado river toad. 

“These toads have prominent [parotid] glands that secrete a potent toxin,” the post explains. “It can make you sick if you handle the frog or get the poison in your mouth. 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 refrained from mentioning exactly why people would be interested in licking random amphibians, but psychonauts know what's up. Bufo alvarius toads secrete two psychedelic alkaloids, 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin, which can induce powerful hallucinogenic effects and euphoria when ingested by humans or other animals. Licking these toads is indeed the easiest way to consume these natural psychedelics, but some people will “milk” the alkaloids from the toads and smoke or vape them later.

The popularity of this natural psychedelic has exploded during the medicinal psychedelic renaissance of the past decade. Mike Tyson famously said that he has smoked toad venom over 50 times, and Joe Rogan has discussed it on his podcast. Military veterans have also set up clandestine toad-assisted therapy sessions for fellow PTSD patients. And apparently toad licking is becoming so popular now that the feds felt the need to tell people to stop.

The NPS post may seem like typical government anti-psychedelic rhetoric, but it does actually bear some merit. The strength of these natural secretions varies from toad to toad, and extreme doses of venom can cause anxiety, nausea, seizures, or in rare cases, death. In 2020, porn star Nacho Vidal was arrested when a photographer died after smoking toad at a regular “mystic ritual” that he was hosting.

The growing popularity of toad licking is also bad news for the amphibians themselves. Licking a toad may be relatively harmless, but the process of catching and milking these chill amphibians can injure or kill them. Some people will also deliberately kill the toads and remove their skin to maximize the yield of psychedelic alkaloids. These amphibians are now endangered, and the increasing popularity of toad licking may well push them to extinction.

5-MeO-DMT has not been as thoroughly researched as more popular psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin, but preliminary studies have suggested that it may also have powerful therapeutic potential. A 2019 study found that this psychedelic made subjects more accepting and less depressed, and a more recent study reports that controlled dosages are perfectly safe for therapeutic use. 5-MeO-DMT can be synthesized in a lab, however, so it is possible to explore and experience these benefits without further endangering toads.

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Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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