Please stop licking psychedelic toads, National Park Service warns

The U.S. government has an unusual request: Please don’t lick psychedelic toads.

The National Park Service issued a warning this week to visitors to refrain from licking the large Sonoran Desert toad as they try to reach a state of hallucinogenic enlightenment from the “potent toxin” that the amphibians naturally secrete.

These toads, also known as Colorado River toads, “have prominent parotoid glands that secrete a potent toxin,” the Park Service advised. “It can make you sick if you handle the frog or get the poison in your mouth,” it warned.

“As we say with most things you come across in a national park, whether it be a banana slug, unfamiliar mushroom, or a large toad with glowing eyes in the dead of night, please refrain from licking.”

While it’s unclear how many people are wandering through national parks in search of toads, and there is no data to suggest it is widespread, the practice is well known in popular culture and among celebrities.

Bufotenin, a white milky substance also known as “5-MeO-DMT,” is a natural psychedelic that the toads secrete, according to Drug Science, an international scientific research group.

It can be snorted, inhaled or smoked and induces a “short but intense psychedelic experience or ‘trip’ " of around 30 minutes, with hallucinogenic effects that are “significantly stronger” than those induced by the primary psychoactive molecule found in the similar substance ayahuasca, the group said.


The research body said it is a “popular myth” that people can get high by licking toads. In fact, it can be “dangerous,” causing poisonings and even fatalities in humans, the group said.

Prominent figures including former boxing champion Mike Tyson, comedian Chelsea Handler and President Biden’s son Hunter Biden have publicly discussed 5-MeO-DMT therapy or toad-venom rituals.

British scientist James Rucker, a psychiatrist at King’s College London, told The Washington Post on Tuesday that he welcomes the warning, referencing reports of people licking the coldblooded creatures in Asia and elsewhere outside the United States. “I imagine the vast majority of people are looking for a cheap psychedelic experience,” he said. “I would caution people against it.”

The bufotenin chemical and other naturally occurring drugs can be “transformative,” with potential benefits to those suffering from depression and alcoholism, said Rucker, who carries out similar clinical research trials. “They stir up the mind, and they can induce feelings of euphoria and ecstasy,” he added.

However, he cautioned that they can also induce panic, paranoia and severe anxiety, as well as bring up buried feelings that can be hard to process and manage without professional support.

The drugs are often described as “amplifiers of the psyche,” said Rucker. “They can be very positive, beautiful, awe-inspiring experiences,” he said, and “catalyze a reconnection with the self and others.” But he warned that people should be wary of the “hype and hope” associated with such psychedelic drugs.

Bufotenin can also be found in some trees and plants, and its use in seeds as “shamanic snuffs” can be traced back almost 3,000 years in spiritual ceremonies in Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil, according to Drug Science. The chemical works by quickly passing the blood-brain barrier and emulating the neurotransmitter serotonin, which leads to hallucinations and a euphoric mood, among other impacts.

The substance is mostly illegal in the United States, classified as a Schedule I drug with no approved medical use. However, the secretions can have some limited use in research, with approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration.

Calling the creatures “toad-ally terrifying,” the Park Service described the Sonoran Desert toad as one of the largest toads found in North America, usually measuring about seven inches long. The chunky, short-legged amphibians normally make a “weak, low-pitched toot, lasting less than a second,” in their call, it added.

The somewhat solitary toads are found in parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and sometimes California, and they generally live at least 10 years.

Adult toads normally have “dark olive-green leathery skin above and a smooth creamy-white underside,” according to Oakland Zoo, with an enlarged white wart near the angle of the jaw that also secretes a toxin.

The creatures release the potent chemicals from glands just behind their eyes as a “defensive” mechanism against “animals that harass this species,” according to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The powerful toxins can be strong enough to kill full-grown dogs that pick up the toads in their mouths, causing symptoms including excessive salivation and an irregular heartbeat, it added.

The toads remain underground much of the year, emerging in the summer rainy season from May to July. They are nocturnal during the hot summer months and live primarily off beetles, spiders, lizards and sometimes smaller toads in desert scrub or woodlands.

“I’m sure the toads would appreciate their dignity and autonomy being preserved, too,” Rucker told The Post. “The toad wants to be left alone. We should respect that.”