The Sonoran Desert toad excretes a substance that can provide a vivid psychedelic experience, dubbed the “God molecule” by some. However, the largest native toad in the United States is not immortal.
Conservationists are now warning that the toad’s hallucinogenic toxin may be in high demand, putting the species at risk.
“There’s a perception of abundance,” Robert Villa, president of the Tucson Herpetological Society, told The New York Times, “but when you start removing significant numbers of a species, their numbers are going to collapse like a house of cards at some time.”
According to the Tucson Herpetological Society, the Sonoran Desert toad can grow to be more than eight inches long and 900 grams in weight. It’s mostly found in Arizona and Mexico’s Sonoran Desert, though it can also be found in California and New Mexico, according to Undark. However, it is thought to be extinct in California and endangered in New Mexico, mainly due to overcollection. The Tucson Herpetological Society describes this overcollection as the result of its “unfortunate prominence” over the last few decades.
The toad secretes a combination of chemicals potent enough to kill a dog when threatened, according to The New York Times. 5-MeO-DMT is an example of one of these poisons. This toxin can induce a 15- to 30-minute psychedelic experience when dried into crystals and smoked in a pipe. As psychedelics gain respect as treatments for mental health issues and addiction, they’ve grown in popularity as a retreat experience in both Mexico, where they’re legal, and the United States, where they’re technically a Schedule 1 substance but authorities choose to ignore them.
“After I had a full central nervous system reset, I saw why they call this the ‘God molecule,'” said Marcus Capone, a former Navy SEAL who claims the toxin cured him with anxiety and depression and now helps operate a group that provides the chemical to other Special Operations veterans.
Villa, on the other hand, is concerned that the toad will follow in the footsteps of the Asian river turtle, which is endangered in part because people believe it can heal diseases like cancer.
“Ultimately, people are self-medicating at the expense of another creature.”
The poison can be collected without killing the toad using a technique known as milking, which includes stroking the toad under its skin until the venom is released. Some contend, however, that this places undue stress on the toad.
Villa told Undark, “Toads offer those secretions in a protective setting, in a stressed and hostile situation.” “At the end of the day, they are self-medicating at the expense of another living being.”
However, there is a possibility of a compromise. According to a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology, a synthetic version can also alleviate anxiety and despair. According to The New York Times, Capone supports the use of the synthetic drug, but others do not.
“We’re a religion, and this is sacred medicine,” Brooke Tarrer, 42, told The New York Times of the Universal Shamans of the New Tomorrow, a group that employs the toxin in major rites.
Another option is to farm the toads, although Villa warns that this increases the risk of diseases like chytrid fungus spreading.
This article by Olivia Rosane was first published by EcoWatch on 23 March 2022. Lead Image: A Sonoran Desert toad. Mark Newman / Getty Images.
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