The Sonoran Desert Toad


Bufo alvarius

"Of course the licking myth is newspaper hype -- it is the venom that is active, and it is smoked." - Shulgin



How 'bout them toad suckers, ain't they clods?
Sittin' there suckin' them green toady-frogs.

Suckin' them hop-toads, suckin' them chunkers,
Suckin' them leapy-types, suckin' them plunkers.

Look at them toad suckers, ain't they snappy?
Suckin' them bog-frogs sure makes 'em happy.

Them hugger-mugger toad suckers, way down south,
Stickin' them sucky-toads in they mouth.

How to be a toad sucker? No way to duck it.
Gittchyseff a toad, rear back and suck it!

-- Mason Williams 1964 --


The idea of toad licking really twisted the imagination of the public as it made it's way into popular culture through a charade of  media coverage pretending to be news. I suppose all this nonsense about licking a toad to get high makes for a good story, though. However, no toad's venom should ever be orally ingested, especially Bufo marinus, the Cane toad. And apparently, a law was passed in Los Angeles, California, stating that "toads may not be licked. The toad that is referenced in this law secretes a poison that some people were licking to produce a heroin-like high."  Sure.

"There’s even a story going around that people were using bufo marinus, a common, giant toad native to Costa Rico, that was imported into both Hawaii and Australia as an attempted control on the sugar cane beetle. The “cane toad” is very common in a lot of places, and I know a lot of people who have extracted samples of their venom, and found that it’s inactive. It doesn’t do anything. Eating it’ll make you sicker than a dog, but smoking it does nothing. But the story persists. There is an American native toad, bufo alvarius, called the Colorado River Toad, which indeed has a strong DMT-like venom, which can be smoked." Bear Owsley in an interview with Bruce Eisner on May 17, 1998.

See Identity of a New World Psychoactive Toad regarding Bufo marinus and it's apparent confusion with Bufo alvarius.

More links on the toad-licking myth:
Urban Legends
Bufo Abuse - good article from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN August 1990
Toad Licking the Latest High
kiss a toad and trip


A taste of pop culture:

LA Law 09-May-1991
    C.J. tries to defend a retiree accused of licking his Cane toads to get a high.

Beavis and Butt-head
    Episode 24. Sick 20-May-1993 and
    Episode 27. The Butt-head Experience 07-Jun-1993
Hear Beavis say, "If this toad licking thing works, we're not gonna even need the leading conniption cold remedy, huh-huh." [ribbit]

The Simpson's Missionary: Impossible 20-Feb-2000
Bart: Dad, are you licking toads?
Homer: I'm not *not* licking toads. Well, it's time to get to work. Humanitarian Homer Simpson, over and out. [walks off. Comes back and has one more toad-lick for the road, then walks off again]

Joe Cartoon Stone Flies II - toad licking at its worst!

Family Guy -  Lets Go To The Hop - After a Columbian plane crashes in Quahog, a bunch of frogs get loose on the town. Soon enough, kids find out that licking the toad creates a euphoric feeling, and it becomes the drug of choice. Peter comes up with the hilarious plan to disguise himself as a 16 year old named Lando Griffin and convince kids not to lick toad. 


Part two: This is your brain, this is your brain on toads
by Jane Musgrave

Steve James and a Colombian friend were trying to score some weed. When they couldn’t, they decided to lick a toad.

"I threw up, got a headache and was real dizzy," the now 27-year-old Broward man says of his first and only attempt to use venom from the bufo marinus toad to achieve the ultimate high. "It wasn’t the brightest thing to do. I don’t know what possessed me to do it. I guess I’m happy I’m not dead."

Experts say James, who asked that his real name not be used, isn’t just blowing smoke. Many other adventurous druggies have tried to use toad juice to get high with the same, sometimes far more life-threatening, results.

"People thought it was something you could get high with," says Dr. Richard Weisman, director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami. "Turned out it was something you could get dead with."

The same toxins that have sent many a toad-chasing dog to the great beyond can kill a human being. The only reason dogs die and humans don’t is that, in most cases, humans have more sense than to put one of the ugliest animals on the planet in their mouths, or to sample the juice oozing from warts on its head. Also, because most humans are bigger than most pets, the poison generally makes humans sick as a dog rather than killing them.

Still, the rumor persists that the venom from the bufo toad is hallucinogenic. And, actually, it is.

But while Australians have come up with complex recipes that involve boiling, baking, buttering and bolstering the venom, even adventurous drug users say the health risks are too great for a buzz that isn’t worth it.

Unfortunately for James and other brave, desperate or misinformed South Florida drug users, it’s not the bufo marinus toad that provides a non-life-threatening high; it’s the giant toad’s western cousin, the bufo alvarius toad.

And despite the much-ballyhooed talk of toad licking, you don’t slurp up the venom. Rather, you dry it and then smoke a very tiny bit - chips about the size of three match heads.

Unlike the marinus toad, the venom of the alvarius toad contains 5-MeO-DMT, a tryptamine that is one of the most powerful hallucinogens in nature. While the venom of the marinus contains 26 different chemical compounds, 5-MeO-DMT isn’t one of them.

And perhaps it’s just as well.

Leo Mercado, president of The Peyote Foundation in Kearny, Ariz., says the experience isn’t a particularly pleasant one.

For one thing, it happens incredibly quickly. Within 30 seconds, it hits and it’s over in about 15 minutes.

"It’s so shocking. You think ÔMy God, is it supposed to kill me?’ You think you’ve OD’d. You think you’re going to die," he says of the initial rush.

Rather than producing strange and colorful images or pleasantly altered views of reality, the experience is intensely thought-twisting.

"It’s like being blasted out of your ego into a total cosmic perspective," Mercado says. "You lose your total sense of self. It’s like a ride through the emotional mind. Any garbage in your life, like if you feel bad for kicking the dog or doing someone wrong, it brings it right out and rubs your face in it."

Others have described it as "a rocket ship into the void."

Even those who claim to enjoy the experience don’t make it sound inviting.

Consider this explanation offered by a Virginia woman via the Internet: "It tasted like model glue. I took a few really deep breaths and got it into my lungs. You feel it immediately creeping down your spine. Within in a minute, I was on the ground thrashing around. I had no control of my coordination and a total loss of muscle control. I couldn’t speak or anything. It was great."

Such accolades aside, Mercado says he wouldn’t recommend it, and because the experience is so intense even in alvarius-rich Arizona, few do it recreationally.

Still, he says, Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she filled the sacs of the alvarius with a mind-altering drug.

"You just milk the little glands and it dries right away. It’s so convenient," he says. "It’s just like, ÔWow, this apparently was meant to be done.’ It’s perfection in packaging."

And, some note that unlike growing marijuana or mushrooms or mixing chemicals in a tube, if you develop a fondness for toad juice, you also get a pet.

James says he loves reptiles, but he’ll stick with pot.

"I don’t want to do it ever again," he says.




Toad-Licking Blues

Thomas Lyttle

"Toad licking" or "toad smoking" are the terms that newspaper reporters attached to the ingestion of Bufo venom by users of illicit drugs. This was (and is) done with the intended purpose of getting stoned or high, or going into a trance in a Shamanic manner. (It is important to note that bufotenine - a minor constituent of all Bufo toad venoms - is not hallucinogenic.) In light of this, politicians and the courts stepped in to attempt to control this perceived drug-misuse problem.

In 1967 the Food and Drug Administration placed bufotenine in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule 1 maintains that a drug (or plant or substance) shows no redeeming medical value, is too dangerous for human research, and has a high potential for abuse.

Bufo toads are well known as part of Shamanic rituals. No mention of the oral ingestion of toad venom exists in classic Shamanic literature, however, because the bufotenine present in the venom does not cause trance or mystical experiences, and both bufotenine and the hallucinogenic 5-MeO-DMT are inactive orally.[1] Also, 5-MeO-DMT is present in only one species of Bufo toad, Bufo alvarius.

Toxic reactions in human and lower animals are common, however, and include death (in animals) from oral toad venom ingestion.[2] Toad smoking and toad licking should be profiled and studied as two distinct activities. This is an important consideration, especially when studying media reports about toad licking, which involves the oral ingestion of the venom only.

The subject of these clandestine or cult-like uses of Bufo toads presents an interesting dilemma for researchers. The very nature of such activity makes open data-gathering troublesome. Anecdotal or word-of-mouth descriptions often prove invaluable for building a tentative profile of any illegal drug activity, or a legal but persecuted drug activity. This case involves alleged illegal bufotenine use and misuse, and legal but persecuted 5-MeO-DMT misuse.

From all this (but usually with little concern for scientific facts), the media continue to print "psychedelic toad" articles, thus continuing and sensationalizing age-old Bufo toad mythologies, including the myth that bufotenine is hallucinogenic. The focus of these many popular articles are on Bufo toads and getting high from bufotenine and its analogs. This is confusing, as only one of the analogs (not bufotenine) causes hallucination.

Bufo Toad Smoking

In the late 1960s, LSD evangelist Art Kleps founded a psychedelic church called the Neo-American Church. The church's newsletter was called "Divine Toad Sweat".[3] In 1984, Bufo toad evangelist Albert Most revealed his Church of the Toad of Light with his publication of the book Bufo Alvarius: Psychedelic Toad of the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert is in New Mexico. This small booklet details how to use the Bufo toad for ritual and pleasure, as well as how to catch the Bufo alvarius toad, extract or "milk" the glandular secretions, dry them, and "enjoy the smoked venom." Most's book claims that 5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine) is the active hallucinogen, not bufotenine. He is correct, as 5-MeO-DMT is the O-methylated version of bufotenine.[4] Again, it is important to mention that 5-MeO-DMT is present in only one of the more than 200 types of Bufo toads.

Bufotenine is illegal to possess in the United States because it is a Schedule I drug, even though it is not psychoactive; 5-MeO-DMT is unscheduled and legal to possess, even though it is psychoactive. This makes 5-MeO-DMT potentially illegal in the US as an analog of bufotenine or DMT, by application of the 1987 drug analog act. Possession of only one type of Bufo toad (the type that contains both substances in endogenous forms) for the purpose of getting "stoned or high" or for sacramental use remains in legal limbo, pending legislative debate, which is ongoing at the time of this writing. Although seemingly farfetched, conspiracy to possess a (certain type of) Bufo toad may someday be a civil violation or a crime in the United States.

1. Root, G. (1990). “First, the bad news, toad licking will not get you high.” [Letter]. New Times (Miami, Florida); Horgan, J. (1990). “Bufo abuse-A toxic toad gets licked, boiled, tee’d up and tanned.” Scientific American 263 (2), pp 26-7; McKim, W. (1986). Drugs and behavior: An introduction to behavioral pharmacology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
2. Chem, M.S., C.Y. Ray, & D.L. Wu. (1991). “Biologic intoxication due to digitalis-like substance after ingestion of cooked toad soup.” American Journal of Cardiology 67 (5), pp 443-4; Uzelac, E. (1990). (Reprinted from the Baltimore Sun). “A desperation high: Crack? Coke? Croak!” Seattle Times, Jan. 30; Anonymous (1986). “It could have been an extremely grim fairy tale.” Discover 7 (8), p 12; McLeod, W.R. & B.R. Sitaram. (1985). “Bufotenine reconsidered.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 72, pp 447-50.
3. Kleps, A. (1971). The boo-hoo bible. San Cristobal, New Mexico: Toad Books.
4. Shulgin, A.T. (1988). The Controlled Substances Act. Lafayette, California: privately published; Marki, F., J. Axelrod, & B. Witkop. (1962). “Catecholeamines and methyl transferases in the South American toad, Bufo marinus.” Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 58, pp 367-9; Gessner, P.K., P.A. Khairallah, & W.M. McIsaac. (1961). “Pharmacological actions of some methoxyindolealkylamines.” Nature 190, pp 179-80.

This article copyright © 2001 Thomas Lyttle
Kick, Russ. Popular Alienation: A Steamshovel Press Reader (Disinfo Books, 2001)  pp 241-244
For the longer version with charts, images, and a formal bibliography see:
Lyttle. T. 1993. Misuse and legend in the "toad licking" phenomenon. International Journal of the Addictions. 28: 521-538. 
Inciardi, James A. and Karen McElrath. The American Drug Scene: An Anthology (Roxbury Pub., 1995), pp. 194-203. 


From personal email correspondence with Tom Lyttle in September 2002 regarding the debate as to whether bufotenine is hallucinogenic or not:

I [Tom Lyttle] wrote the lengthy paper on the toad with David Goldstein and Jochen Gartz. Ott's response to me is hilarious. First he says I'm unreliable because I never ingested bufotenine and I say its non-hallucinogenic, then Ott supports those who also have never taken toad venom but say it IS hallucinogenic. Think about the logic here.

I'm also wary of the uses of terms like "pharmacodynamics" (Ott is a great name dropper), by one person sitting in a cabin with no witnesses, let alone no lab equipment or scientific controls. By the way I'm on the editorial board of Entheos, a respected journal. 

I stand by my JPD article that the effects (with pure bufotenine) are mostly due to starving the optic nerve and sinus cavities (and the brain somewhat) of oxygen. There are a plethora of papers which describe arrhythmia surrounding the optic nerve and sinus re: bufotenine. Naturally Ott sidesteps all this.

However I think the truth of the matter lays somewhere in between Ott and myself. I am looking forward to reading Ott's new book on snuffs, and then perhaps I will re-enter the debate on bufotenine.

I will be happy to admit I'm wrong when a few folks independent of Ott support or replicate his bufotenine claims with controlled experiments. 

Regarding Ott, his work is outstanding and no doubt something happened when he ingested his bufotenine. It may come down to differences between us in defining the words "psychedelic" and "hallucination". 

Anyhow it's a lovely debate that continues. 


Tom Lyttle further elaborates on his position in an email in June 2003:

Regarding Mr. Ott, I don't take him too seriously, but you can print this letter if you want. I'm still saying the source of the bufotenine, maybe even the persons using it, connect to it's psychedelic or non-psychedelic, or deadly poison status. Ott tested bufotenine snuffs and plant versions only, not the rest of the world's bufotenine.

Ott assumes that various bufotenine molecules must be equal, according to chromatography and assay. He concludes that analysis of plant-derived versions apply across the board. This is regardless of synthetic, animal, human, mushroom or plant origin.

What he avoids mentioning in his book - even while attacking me - is that 100 papers from world-class chemists saw bufotenine a terms of poison, not psychedelic by any stretch - and they also used chromatography equipment to prove their case. Does Ott think Harris Isbell or Sasha Shulgin were pulling his leg in describing "purpling of the face" and feelings of "impending death". Rewriting Shulgin to suit, Ott changes the paper's tone emphasizing the words "showed psychoactivity", slanting things away from deadly poison. Shulgin definitely said and meant "poisoning", that's what his analysis showed. Ott says nothing of other major scientist's reports, especially the totally contradicting his snuff-sourced bufotenine as "psychedelic". Both sides used TLC equipment for purity standards, many did assays. The bulk contradict Ott. 

The major assertion in my paper, which Ott again avoids commenting on, is that bufotenine is an alchemical, magical substance. It appears as panacea or poison according to hidden "alchemic seasons", it's source (toads, scientists in a lab, plants, mushrooms, schizophrenic's blood). Even the folks who handle it could play some role, according to shamans.

Ott also avoids commenting on bufotenine as an ataxia agent (ultra-quick oxygen starvation, extreme physical/mental reactions). Bufotenine cuts oxygen off deadly fast. This fucks with the optic and sinus nerves big time, causing major sinus arrhythmia. The optic nerve sits in close proximity, it also would be affected. This, in my opinion, accounts for some totally bizarre optical effects, mistakenly called hallucination.

Ott's calling anoxia, optical nerve damage and impaired vision "hallucinatory effects" is beyond me. Again, the visuals described in human experiments seem like visual "distortion" more in liner with nerve-damage, seizure, optical migraines. Bufotenine visuals show color loss, appear in extreme black and white, fixed-pattern like checkerboards appear.

This is consistent with optical nerve damage, the theories of "hallucinatory constants". Such "constants" (square, checkerboard, filigree, etc.) which seemed specific to mescaline, got researched by early researchers like Heinrich Kluver. The theory was that "form constants" would appear when specific nerves in the eye got stimulated. This isn't hallucination however.

Photography effects were also seen by some, everything appearing as "negatives". Ott needs to read. Other forms of optic nerve damage or seizure, including optical migraines, match other bufotenine imagery. The bufotenine visuals reported by Isbell, such were quite pronounced, aren't found in Ott.

Ott needs to study synthetic bufotenine, toad bufotenine, mushroom bufotenine, every other type of bufotenine, and various bufotenine salts. His assumption that thin-layer chromatography and semi-scientific assays as comprehension, well gee whiz.

I'd even assay bufotenine according to circadian-rhythm theory, time of day consumption. The AMA recently ran ads for new circadian-based drugs w/ maximize effects, absorption, metabolism according to the time of day one takes the pill. Placebo theory might also be mentioned. Also, science papers on Ketamine and Salvia show dramatic differences in affect, according ingesting in light or dark. In the case of the totally hallucinogenic Salvia divinorum, daytime reports from user include "nothing happened". While night users reported, "I couldn't find the floor, dead Indians floated by, etc." 

My paper was on toad bufotenine, Ott's studied Anadenanthera bufotenine. This is an important distinction lost to Ott. He may be reducing everything via chemistry, chromatography, assay agenda's. In my opinion the jury is still out BIG TIME on this whole affair, until a complete assay of bufotenine from all known sources appears.

Ott was dismissive, almost rude towards my bufotenine/toad paper in his "Shamanic Snuffs". Strangely, the bulk of this 22 page paper was on toad mythology, urban legends like "toad-licking" and biographic history. A smaller section included science and medical experiments, chemistry and pharmacology, most contradicting the psychedelic bufotenine idea. 

I will admit to over-stating my case re: bufotenine not being psychedelic. I should have said "major science references contradict" instead of stating things as fact. Ott's brief nit-picking in his review was hilarious and almost sad. His seeing an obscure referencing omission as critical enough to rant on - all this in an article with 612 citations. What can I say? Dr. Shulgin was the peer-review editor assigned to me by the Journal Of Psychoactive Drugs.

Ott's long-nosed criticism of my paper says my work is "outstanding for its repetitive wrong-headedness". Says who? A bit premature, owing to the bulk of science still needed to set the issue to rest. No final word has appeared, regardless of Ott's dictums. New chromatography and assays are lacking re: the bulk of bufotenines from various sources. Ott proved that plant-bufotenine is hallucinogenic. He did not prove all bufotenine is hallucinogenic. Come back after you study the synthetic versions, toad versions, endogenous versions found in schizophrenics, mushroom versions, plus various salts. And explain to Shulgin where he went so wrong in his analysis.

I'll say I was wrong re: bufotenine being non-psychedelic - when I'm proven wrong. This won't be the case until after we see some comparative analysis. Plus see assays more creative (and more serious) than Ott's "bufotenine enema's".

Tom Lyttle 


Also see Shulgin's TiHKAL, #19. 5-HO-DMT - bufotenine - as hosted on Erowid.