Smoking toad venom
Introduction and description
Smoking toad venom might justifiably have been better classed as a form of taking drugs, but it is a sufficiently bizarre pursuit to warrant its own section. It also has especial interest as there are indications that this was once a very well used and world-wide technique.
Given that dogs that have attacked toads have been paralyzed or even killed, this activity is, shall we say, not without its risks.
Toads known to be of interest are all within the Bufo family. Within this family those known to be ‘venomous’ include:
1. Bufo alvarius
2. Bufo americanus
3. Bufo arenarum
4. Bufo asper
5. Bufo blombergi
6. Bufo bufo
7. Bufo bufo gargarizans
8. Bufo formosus
9. Bufo fowerii
10. Bufo marinus
11. Bufo melanostictus
12. Bufo peltocephalus
13. Bufo quercicus
14. Bufo regularis
15. Bufo valliceps
16. Bufo viridis
Of all these, however, the Colorado River toad (Incilius alvarius or Bufo alvarius), also known as the Sonoran Desert toad, is the most researched and the one with a proven record. This toad is found in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. The interest in this little creature is that its venom contains ‘psychoactive’ compounds.
There are several types of toxic substances found in toads, including cardioactive agents, catecholamines, indolealkylamines and non-cardiac sterols. These toxins are located in the skin and parotid glands and may be transferred by handling a toad's skin, thus actually milking the creature for its venom is not without risks.
Venomous toads, including Bufo alvarius, need respect.
Extracts of toad venom have been used in some traditional medicines such as ch’an su (probably derived from Bufo gargarizans), which has been used medicinally for centuries in China.
The toad was "recurrently depicted in Mesoamerican art," which some authors have interpreted as indicating that the effects of ingesting Bufo secretions have been known in Mesoamerica for many years.
One of the complications of this area is that the toad is also a symbol, but that its symbolism in part derives from its possible association with sorcerers who used the venom, as such symbol and substance are somewhat mixed.
Species of toad that are commonly found in Mesoamerica, like Bufo marinus or Bufo valliceps, have a pronounced cleft in the head - thus being rather useful symbolically as showing the twin horns. Like all toads, they have a fleshy mouth with toothless gums.
Many anthropologists have labelled the statues found in Mesoamerica ‘were jaguars’ but it is clear that many of these statues are of ‘toad people’, the hierophants who used toads during ceremonies for their hallucinogenic properties.
On the right we see a stone Olmec “were-jaguar”, but most probably a toad person – a hierophant.
Description, distribution and habitat of bufo alvarius
A toad is any of a number of species of amphibians in the order Anura characterized by dry, leathery skin, brown coloration, and wart-like parotoid glands. A distinction between frogs and toads, though common in popular culture, is not made in taxonomy, where toads are spread across families Bufonidae, Bombinatoridae, Discoglossidae, Pelobatidae, Rhinophrynidae, Scaphiopodidae, and Microhylidae. The characteristic features of toads are a result of convergent adaptation to dry habitats.
Toads cannot transmit warts to people through handling or skin contact. The bumps on a toad's skin help the animal blend into its environment visually by breaking up its outline. They are present on healthy specimens and are not a result of infection.
True toads are widespread and occur natively on every continent except Australia and Antarctica, inhabiting a variety of environments, from arid areas to rainforest. Most lay eggs in paired strings that hatch into tadpoles, although, in the genus Nectophrynoides the eggs hatch directly into miniature toads.
The parotoid glands on the back of their heads contain an alkaloid poison which the toads excrete when stressed. The poison in the glands contains a number of toxins causing different effects. Bufotoxin is a general term. Different animals contain significantly different substances and proportions of substances. Some, like the cane toad Bufo marinus, are more toxic than others.
The Colorado River toad can grow to about 7.5 inches (190 mm) long and is the largest toad in the United States apart from the non-native cane toad (Rhinella marina). It has a smooth, leathery skin and is olive green or mottled brown in colour. Just behind the large golden eye with horizontal pupil is a bulging kidney-shaped parotoid gland. Below this is a large circular pale green area which is the tympanum or ear drum. By the corner of the mouth there is a white wart and there are white glands on the legs. All these glands produce toxic secretions.
The Colorado River toad is found in the lower Colorado River and the Gila River catchment areas, in southeastern California, New Mexico, Mexico and much of southern Arizona. It lives in both desert and semiarid areas throughout its range. It is semiaquatic and is often found in streams, near springs, in canals and drainage ditches, and under water troughs. The Bufo alvarius is known to breed in artificial water bodies (e.g., flood control impoundments, reservoirs) and as a result, the distributions and breeding habitats of these species may have been recently altered in south central Arizona. It often makes its home in rodent burrows and is nocturnal. Its call is described as, "a weak, low-pitched toot, lasting less than a second."
The compounds in the venom
Remembering that no toad is going to be exactly like its fellow toads, an analysis that was completed by EROWID contributors determined that the following compounds were present in Bufo alvarius venom using paper chromatography:
- N,N-dimethyl-5-hydroxytrytamine; bufotenine
- N,N-dimethyl-5-methoxytrytamine; O-methylbufotenine; (5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltrypamine; 5-MeO-DMT)
- 5-methoxyindoleacetic acid
- 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid
- bufoviridine; N,N-dimethyl-5-hydroxytrytamine-O-sulfate
- 5-HT; serotonin;
- enteramine; thrombocytin; thrombotonin
- bufotalindin; hellebrigenin; (a bufogenin - cardioactive sterol)
The key component is the 5-MeO-DMT. The majority of the rest of the substances are the poison, thus the user who smokes the venom of this toad directly is inhaling a mixture of poison and 5-MeO-DMT, which has agonistic action on the 5-HT2 and 5-HT1A receptor subtypes.
Bufotenin (also known as bufotenine and cebilcin), or 5-hydroxy-dimethyltryptamine (5-HO-DMT or 5-OH-DMT), is an alkaloid found in the skin of some species of toads; in mushrooms, higher plants, and mammals. The name bufotenin originates from the Bufo genus of toads, Bufotenine was first isolated, from toad skin, and named by the Austrian chemist Handovsky at the University of Prague during World War I.
Bufotenine is not ‘active’ in the sense that many recreational drug users mean. It is of course physiologically active. According to the IUPHAR database Bufotenine is an
- 5-HT1D antagonist
- 5-HT2A antagonist
This puts bufotenin into the same class of products as Serotonin receptor antagonists.
- 5-HT1D - The receptor 5-HT1D is found in the central nervous system, and affects locomotion and anxiety. It also induces vascular vasoconstriction in the brain. An antagonist should reverse this. One could hypothesise that bufotenine acts as a form of potentiator of 5-MeO-DMT by reducing the vasoconstriction and thus speeding the drug to the brain. And it is anti-anxiety so the toad clearly wants us to die happy. Furthermore it inhibits locomotion, so we will not be able to move about, we lie down and die. It has completely different effects if it is injected into the vein of a patient, as the two American psychiatrists McLeod and Sitaram (1985) found out
a dose of 8 mg administered intravenously resulted in profound emotional and perceptual changes, involving extreme anxiety, a sense of imminent death, visual disturbance and intense flushing of the cheeks and forehead.
This is why it is not a good idea to inject toad venom.
- 5-HT2A - Atypical antipsychotic drugs like clozapine, olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone and asenapine are relatively potent antagonists of 5-HT2A as are some of the lower potency old generation/typical antipsychotics. Thus some of the activity of the 5-MeO-DMT might be toned down. Again, two more American psychiatrists - Turner and Merlis – injecting the drug into a patient:
on one occasion, which essentially terminated our study, a patient who received 40 mg intramuscularly, suddenly developed an extremely rapid heart rate; no pulse could be obtained; no blood pressure measured. There seemed to have been an onset of auricular fibrillation…extreme cyanosis developed. Massage over the heart was vigorously executed and the pulse returned to normal…shortly thereafter the patient, still cyanotic, sat up saying: ‘Take that away. I don’t like it’.
I think the message may have been toned down for the purposes of the study paper don’t you? However this is convincing enough evidence that injection of toad venom is not a good idea.
The bufagins and other poisons
Bufagins (bufandienolides) are defined as cardioactive substances found in toad venom. They have effects similar to the cardiac glycosides found in plants. Bufotoxins are the conjugation products of the specific bufagin with one molecule of suberylargine (Chen & Kovarikova, 1967) and were originally isolated from the parotoid glands of toads, but have since been seen in various plants and mushrooms (Siperstein et al, 1957; Lincoff & Mitchel, 1977; Kibmer & Wichtl, 1986).
The venom in the toad is intended to deter predators from eating it.
Thus ingestion of any part of the toad would lead to poisoning and ‘considerable discomfort’. Ingestion of the venom can be fatal. Ingestion of Bufo toad venom has resulted in several reported cases of poisoning, some of which resulted in death. Dogs who have been poisoned with bufagins develop ventricular fibrillation and symptoms resembling digitalis poisoning. Vasoconstriction may also be seen, but this may be a result of the serotonin and 5-MeO-DMT, plus tryptamines.
Secretions of the toad parotid glands causes pain and severe irritation in eyes, nose, and throat. Paralysis and seizures have been reported in both humans and animals. However, bufagins have local anaesthetic action, especially on the oral mucosa, thus a numbing of the mouth may be expected if secretions are accidentally ingested. “Salivation and vomiting were often seen in animals who attempted to ingest these toads”.
5-MeO-DMT, and interestingly enough bufotenine are classed as schedule I drugs. This has led to some amusing incidents. In November 2007, for example, a man in Kansas City was discovered with an I. alvarius toad in his possession, and charged with “possession of a controlled substance”.
Abuse of psychoactive Fauna to get a High - A review of the past & present – Drs Kautilya and Bhodka Department of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, Chennai, India.
In Arizona one may legally bag up to ten toads with a fishing license but it could constitute a criminal violation if it can be shown that one is in possession of this toad with the intent to milk and smoke its venom.
None of the states in which I. alvarius is (or was) indigenous – California, Arizona, and New Mexico – legally allows a person to remove the toad from the state. In California, I. alvarius has been designated as "endangered" and possession of this toad is illegal. In New Mexico, this toad is listed as "threatened" and, again, taking I. alvarius is unlawful.
As we can see, ingestion could be fatal, as could injection. So what is done instead?
TiKHAL – the continuation – Dr Alexander and Ann Shulgin
There is a drug use phenomena that is often referred to by the popular title of ‘toad licking’. The toad involved is the Sonora desert toad, also called the Colorado river toad, Bufo alverius… Of course the licking myth is newspaper hype – it is the venom that is active, and it is smoked. When the desert toad is stroked near the paratid glands in the neck region, there is the squirting out of this venom and when it is allowed to dry on a hard surface it takes on the texture of rubber cement. It contains up to 15% 5-MeO-DMT as well as N-methyl-5-methoxytryptamine, 5-MeO-NMT and Bufotenine
The venom is ‘smoked’ in a manner not dissimilar to opium smoking, the dried venom is heated to temperatures where it vaporises and the vapour is then inhaled.
There has been practically no research done on what is happening during this process. Different substances vaporise at different temperatures and it can only be conjectured that the 5-MeO-DMT vaporises more easily than the bufotoxins. In effect, one is actually inhaling 5-MeO-DMT. But this is pure conjecture and the risks associated with this are enormous. The term ‘Dicing with death’ hardly does justice to this practise.
Schulgin – from Christian Rasch Encyclopaedia of Psychedelic Plants
Smoking is probably the safest way to ingest Bufo marinus secretions as the burning process apparently destroys the toxic components
I could find only one genuine observation for this practise. This may be a clue. It is a wonderful observation and indeed supports the idea that it is mediated by 5-MeO-DMT. This brave little psychonaut did not come out of it totally unscathed, his spelling and grammar suffered, but he seems to view it as very positive.
There are brave psychonauts, but not many old psychonauts.
Fresh venom can easily be collected without harm to the toad. Some descriptions indicate they do have to be ‘stressed’, it is never made clear how you stress a toad. Perhaps you make it watch 18 episodes of Friends [sorry my little joke]. On the other hand, there are accounts which seem a little more practical in their advice
The venom of psychoactive toads is commonly obtained by ‘milking’ the toad's venom glands. The milking procedure does not harm the toad — it consists of stroking it under its chin to initiate the defensive venom response. The liquid venom is then collected and dried. The toad takes about a month to refill its venom glands following the milking procedure, during which time the toad will not produce venom.
You hold it [wearing gloves] over a flat glass plate or any other smooth, nonporous surface at least 12-inches square, the toad is held in front of the plate, which is fixed in a vertical position. In this manner, “the venom can be collected on the glass plate, free of dirt and liquid released when the toad is handled” (Albert Most 1984 ).
If the temperature is right and 5-MeO-DMT is the compound released by heating and inhalation, then expect a rebirth experience.
You won't 'enjoy' it, but it may be good for you - a bit like eating cod liver oil from a tablespoon [I jest].
You will need help – a lot of help.
Round the caldron go;
In the poison 'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone,
Days and nights hast thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i'the charmed pot!
Macbeth (act IV, scene 1)
They probably sniffed the fumes.
~ Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
How it works
Some of the effects are caused by the vasoconstriction leading to hypoxia
Some are due to serotonin imbalance
The mediating chemical is 5-MeO-DMT
References and further reading
Papers and Books
- David G. Spoerke, M.S., RPh – Toad Toxins
- Smith RL: Venomous Animals of Arizona. Cooperative Extension Service, College of Agriculture, Univ AZ, Tucson, 1982
- Hitt M & Ettinger DD: Toad toxicity. N Engl J Med 1986; 314:1517
- Chen KK & Kovarikova A: Pharmacology and toxicology of toad venom. J Pharm Sci 1967; 56:1535-1541.
- Daly JW & Witkop B: Chemistry and pharmacology of frog venoms. In: Bucherl W & Buckly EE (eds). Venomous Animals and Their Venoms, vol 2, Academic Press, New York, 1971
- Albert Most - Bufo alvarius: The Psychedelic Toad of the Sonoran Desert – Most was thefounder of the Church of the Toad of Light and a proponent of recreational use of Bufo alvarius venom, this booklet published in 1983 explained how to extract and smoke the secretions.
- Lazarus LH, Attila M. - The toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his skin. - Prog Neurobiol 41:473-507 (1993).
- Alkaloids of the Mexican bean beetle, Epilachna varivestis (Coccindellidae). Tetrahedron 49:9333-9342 (1993).
- Lee B. Croft, - Toadies: The Explanation of Toxicomania in American Society, - this is a satiric novel - fiction. In it Croft coined the word "bufoglossation" to describe the deliberate licking of Bufo toads for hallucinogenic purposes, and this may be the source of the misinformation about toad licking. Fiction somehow was assumed to be fact and took on a life of its own. Toad licking would be [as we have seen] somewhat unwise;
Rumors, dating from the 1970s, claimed that groups of "hippies" or teenagers were licking the psychoactive toads to get high. One version of the story has hippies in the hills of California chasing toads through the woods to get high. In another version, the infamous cane toad of Australia was said to be licked or ingested both by aborigines and Australian hippies. Cane toads were introduced to Australia in 1935 and are not a native species. Australian Aboriginals have lived in Australia for at least 60,000 years. Licking toads is not biologically practical [sic].
The EROWID entry for bufotenine can be found using this LINK
Be wary of the observations from people selling books or themselves.
- Batrachian Dreams Toad Venom & Cannabis by Czernobog aka Mr. We EROWID 020104
- Bufo alvarius: a potent hallucinogen of animal origin 017413
- Hallucinogenic drugs in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures. 015579
- Haven't Cried like that for Years Toad Venom by UmbrellaTools EROWID 020105
- I Think It's Shit Toad Venom by Anonymous EROWID 020106
- Pet Store Treasure by Shard 015541
- SmOkin' ToAdZ Toad Venom by Spiney Norman EROWID 020109
- Toad Sweat Confessional Toad Venom (Bufo alvarius) by Mr. Wednesday EROWID 020110
Wisdom, Inspiration, Divine love & Bliss
Out of time
- Homesweet Home, But Not Yet - Toad Venom by White Rabbit 017415
- Monsoons, Lightning, and the Way Toad Venom (Bufo alvarius) by exuberantmantra EROWID 020107
- Not In a Hurry to Try It Again Toad Venom by Anonymous EROWID 020108
- Touched by Death 5-MeO-DMT by Kawagyia 020111