The Sonoran Desert Toad


Bufo alvarius


Toads, the garden-variety news reporter, and a study of the relationships between myth, poor (or non-existent) research, inaccurate reporting, and human stupidity. 


August 10, 1989

TOAD LICKERS BEWARE: The latest way to get high is toad licking. A popular lick victim: the Colorado River Toad. When agitated, it secretes a hallucinogenic chemical through its skin. But the party practice could be fatal - some toads emit a cardiac toxin. ``If you pick the wrong toad, you won't only get high, you'll get dead,'' warns University of Michigan amphibian expert Carl Gans.

Copyright 1989 Gannett Co., Inc. All rights reserved.
Record Number: 205360


Los Angeles Times
January 31, 1990

Licking Toads Leaves More Than a Bad Taste in the Mouth
Trends: It may indeed be a 'desperation high,' but licking a toad is the latest way to hallucinate.
by Ellen Uzelac

Licking toads will not give you warts or produce a fairy prince, but it might get you high.

It isn't exactly an epidemic, but the Drug Enforcement Administration says toad licking is the latest way to hallucinate.

"It sounds like a fairy tale gone wrong, doesn't it?" said Robert K. Sager, chief of the DEA's laboratory in San Francisco. "Now, I don't think this is going to be a great problem because people don't go around licking toads as a habit."

The culprit: the Cane toad.

"They're beautiful toads," Sager said. "People like them."

The Cane toad, which can grow to the size of a dinner plate, produces a toxin called bufotenine, which the toad secretes to ward off predators. When licked raw or cooked, the toxin acts as a hallucinogen.

In the Southwest recently, several dogs have died after eating Cane toads, and the DEA has had bufotenine turn up at its research labs from time to time after drug arrests.

The green-and-red toads produce the same toxin that is found in amanita mushrooms, cohoba seeds and other plants. South American Indians have used the toxin for years in religious ceremonies because of its mind-altering qualities, and some tribes have used it in blowguns to kill dinner.

Bufotenine is considered a controlled, dangerous substance and is therefore illegal. However, it is not against the law to own a Cane toad, a favorite of aquarium aficionados.

"If you had a toad, we would have to prove you were licking it on purpose, or you had given it to someone to lick on purpose," Sager explained.

The Cane toad has come into some renown in Australia, where four people died last year after partaking of its marbled flesh. (Depending on the size of the toad and the concentrations of toxin consumed, bufotenine can be fatal). The toad was imported to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 to kill the grayback beetle, which was destroying sugar cane in Queensland. The toad adapted beautifully, multiplied by the millions and ate everything--except for the beetle.

Last fall, officials in Brisbane, Australia's third-largest city, announced an elaborate plan to eradicate the toads, which today pose a major threat to the continent's fauna and wildlife.

In her book, "Cane Toads: An Unnatural History," Stephanie Lewis describes a toad population so out of control that when she mows her lawn, she encounters "one cane toad to every two square meters," leaving "all the trimmings of carcasses, guts and stench" in the cut grass.

(The problem also was the subject of an irreverent--and acclaimed--documentary. The film, titled "Cane Toads," is in limited release.)

In recent years, toad licking has become popular in the Australian outback, prompting Queensland's government to classify toad slime as an illegal substance under its Drug Misuse Act.

"That's how this whole cycle started--a lack of dope in the Australian outback," said Sager. "There, they are killing the toads, drying the skins and making tea. Yummy, huh?

"This is what you call a desperation high. It's the sort of thing you do when you run out of dope," he added. "It's bizarre behavior. Man has always found ways to get (high), and he's found some weird ways to do it."

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1990
Record Number: 000013503


The Miami Herald (FL)
February 10, 1990

by Herald Staff

Following nationally publicized accounts last week that toad-licking is the latest recreational drug habit, the Monroe County sheriff's office hopped into action.

In a press release, Sheriff J. Allison DeFoor announced he was seeking a $5,213 electronic toad detector from Japan and a $30,000 beagle specially trained in the swamps of Louisiana. The beagle will sniff out the toad, the release said, but not lick it.

The slimy secretion from the Bufo marinus toad has been identified by federal drug agents as a hallucinogen; it can also kill dogs, cats and even humans in large doses.

That much is true. The sheriff's plan, however, was a hoax.

Only at the end of the press release was it revealed that sheriff's spokeswoman Becky Herrin was pulling peoples' legs. "This is a joke," it said. "We in the sheriff's office feel a little humor is needed once in a while. Have a nice day, and a nice laugh, on us!"

Caption:photo: Bufo Toad (FROG) secretes hallucinogenic slime.
Copyright (c) 1990 The Miami Herald
Record Number: 9001110262


Los Angeles Times
March 11, 1990

Legislators Toady to Chickens, Marmots
by Mitchell Landsberg

You probably didn't know that the national welfare was threatened by an epidemic of toad-licking. You might not be aware... 

It turns out, for instance, that there are people who get their kicks licking toads. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, South American cane toads secrete a hallucinogenic toxin that can get the licker as high as a tree frog.

Legislators in Georgia and South Carolina have introduced bills to outlaw the practice.

"They say these frogs grow to the size of a dinner plate," said horrified Rep. Pat Harris of South Carolina. "I don't want to see somebody walk across the Statehouse grounds with a frog on a leash and pick him up and lick him."

You may laugh...

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1990
Record Number: 000032026


August 4, 1994

Arizona says people step one toad over the line
by Gene Sloan

Getting high on nature is taking on a whole new meaning in Arizona.

The state's newest recreational activity? Toad licking.

Officials with the Arizona Department of Fish and Game are not amused.

"It's hard to say if it's prevalent or if it's just a few misguided individuals looking for a cheap high," says Rory Aikens. "But we've caught people with the toads."

The critter in question is the Colorado River toad (Bufo alvarius), found from the Mexican border to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and in parts of southeast California.

The toad deters predators - but evidently not humans - by secreting a milky white substance that includes a powerful combination of bufotenine (classified as a psycho-active drug under Arizona law) and a drug called dimenthyltryptamine.

Aficionados get their high by either licking the toads directly or by drying the secretion, then smoking it.

"It's poisonous and dangerous," warns Aikens.

Undercover agents have already made several arrests.

Copyright 1994 Gannett Co., Inc. All rights reserved.
Record Number: 453908


More news reports:

Wall Street Journal
March 7, 1994

Los Angeles Times
April 19, 1994