Toad Venom May Be The Next Psychedelic Frontier

By Paul Gaita 10/07/19

The venom produces a powerful and immediate reaction that can include immobility, extreme emotional responses and euphoria.

Image: 
Colorado river toad, Incilius alvarius
5-MeO-DMT pulls you into something meaningful and makes people feel like they belong © Viktor Löki | Dreamstime.com

feature in the New York Post highlights the growing use of toad venom among "well-off New Yorkers" for its psychedelic properties, which have been alternately described as a "total fusion with God" and a direct route to the emergency room.

The venom, drawn from Colorado River toads, produces a powerful and immediate reaction that can include immobility, extreme emotional responses and euphoria. In certain cases, the response can be disassociation and anxiety that lasts for days and requires hospitalization, but researchers have also found that the toad venom may provide relief for depression.

His First Experience With The Venom

The Post feature includes a recollection from social media influencer and life coach Barrett Pall, who described his first experience with toad venom.

"I was crying really hard, yelling, 'I'm so sorry' over and over," he said. "I saw my younger self with my parents and ex-boyfriends in places [where] I'd been hurt."

According to Pall, the venom's psychedelic properties ran their course after 45 minutes, but left him feeling "reborn." He immediately broke up with a long-term boyfriend after the experience before booking a global excursion and reaching out to his estranged father. "I was just so sure that everything I was deciding was right," he explained. "My life has never been the same since."

The venom, a milky toxin secreted by the toad when it feels threatened, contains a psychoactive ingredient, 5-MeO-DMT, which is four to six times more powerful than DMT, another naturally occurring psychedelic with a similar history of ritual uses.

It is apparently extracted from the toad's glands and then dried to a paste by "shamans" who sell it at ceremonies throughout the United States. Admission to such events can cost between $200 and $500 per person, according to the Post.

An anonymous source quoted in the feature described the reaction by attendees at one such ceremony. "Some people moaned, cried or convulsed on their backs. Others started dancing, singing or chanting."

Promising Clinical Results But Consider The Risks

The experience is not without its perils. Toad venom is considered a Schedule I classified substance, and as such, can carry fines or prison sentences if found in an individual's possession. 

The "trip" is also not without its problems. "It's such an intense experience that, in most cases, doing it at a party isn't safe," said Alan K. Davis, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the Psychedelic Research Unit at Johns Hopkins University.

Davis warned against events overseen by "shamans," whom he described as "more like drug dealers" than spiritual advisors who are ill-prepared for negative reactions by users. "If people get dosed too high, they can 'white out' and disassociate from their mind and body," he explained. "Anxiety can persist for days, and we've heard of people going to the emergency room."

Experiencing the venom in a controlled setting with experienced observers is not only advisable, according to Davis, but could also prove beneficial for those who experience depression and anxiety. A study he conducted with 362 users found that 80% of participants felt relief after consuming the venom.

"One of the hallmarks of depression is feeling disconnected and isolated," said Davis. "5-MeO-DMT pulls you into something meaningful and makes people feel like they belong."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.