The Bizarre History of Psychoactive Toads

By Chris Rhine on March 20, 2017

Psychoactive toads, properly named Bufo alvarius (colloquially known as the Colorado River toad or Sonoran Desert toad), contain a substance five times as potent as DMT. The hallucinogen is called 5-MeO-DMT, but simply licking the toad will not activate the potent psychedelic effects. An extraction is necessary to sort out its venomous ingredients and allow the user to consume 5-MeO-DMT without the life-taking poison.

The history of psychoactive toads is extremely bizarre for two reasons: First, the toads are limited to a North American geographic region that is scarcely populated and thus receives limited attention from the mainstream media and word of mouth. Second, 5-MeO-DMT is unique in that it is a psychedelic drug extracted from a living animal rather than a plant, tree or lab creation.

In short, how do you ban the venom of an amphibian? Because of this rare and contradicting condition, 5-MeO-DMT enforcement has been heavily dormant and further demonstrates the absurdity of a government banning living things like cannabis plants.

The legal and anecdotal cases surrounding the toad venom are far simpler and unassailable than substances like cannabis, LSD and even DMT. The War on Drugs and its aftermath never decimated the culture of 5-MeO-DMT, which is interesting considering how much more powerful it is compared to all other psychedelics. Here is a simplified history of the substance to show the symptoms of this absurdity.

In 1983, Albert Most produced a short pamphlet on psychoactive toads and subsequently founded the Church of the Toad of Light in the Sonoran desert (stretching from southeast California to southern Arizona and down through Mexico). These far-from-reality New Age “shamans” practice the safe extraction and usage of 5-MeO-DMT, and they sell “the official t-shirt sanctioned by the high council” for $12 a pop.  

In 1994, Bob Shepherd became the first person arrested for possession of these toads and the extracted 5-MeO-DMT, which were found in an elementary school classroom. Did you ever have toads for class pets? They could have been psychoactive. Authorities also found morphine, mescaline, LSD, ketamine and an ounce of cannabis in Shepherd’s residence, but he was able to avoid jail time by taking drug rehabilitation classes. Not bad.

Since then, fewer than 30 cases of possession have been reported among enforcement agencies with no verifiable overdoses. And among those cases, a large portion involved possession of other Schedule I to III substances in large quantities, as was the case with Shepherd.

The study of past civilizations and hallucinogens has produced many papers, books and arguments, and these anthropologists and ethnobotanists more recently uncovered a prevalence of 5-MeO-DMT in pre-Columbian initiatory rites. Their findings suggest that, before organized religions and large civilizations, societies around the world used psychedelics to transcend their reality and attain feelings of profound spirituality—essentially feeling God. Furthermore, groups of individuals within this study claim that psychedelics led to mankind’s creation of the concept of God. This hypothesis, though early and unsubstantiated, has immensely powerful answers for previously unanswerable questions surrounding God, spirituality and reality.

The reason for this growing prevalence is the internet: Communication between researchers and translators significantly increased the capacity for anthropologists and ethnobotanists to study and work together to achieve their common goal in understanding that which our society sees as illegal, inconsequential or unknown.

The two bizarre reasons help to further explain the development of new found knowledge surrounding the history of 5-MeO-DMT and psychedelics. Because certain hallucinogenic substances are found in limited geographic areas with only a handful of natives available to pass down its history (if they can be properly translated at all), many are lost to history or misrepresented as dangerous. Whether this is due to limited research funding or our unconscious fear of the unknown, it results in our fundamental detachment from the biome around us. This leads us to conclusions like: How can an amphibian be made illegal? How can plants that grow in the ground be made illegal? How can a substance that our brain produces be made illegal? Yet these are the law.

The second issue is that, because 5-MeO-DMT comes from a toad, we don’t exactly know how to classify this substance in popular culture beyond being the butt of a joke (e.g., toad-licking appears on Family Guy, The Simpsons, The Daily Show, etc.). This is powerful in turn because it appears to reach a boundary of absurdity in drug enforcement: How much money can we siphon off to control the population of the second-most abundant toad in the world?

In terms of legislation and enforcement, government agencies appear to have dropped the ball in executing and classifying psychoactive toads. In the larger psychedelic and natural substance enforcement schema, this particular substance adds another straw to the camel’s already over-burdened back. When will it collapse?

Psychoactive toad photo by Flickr/Jasper Nance.

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