The psychedelic toad experience is the most significant thing I have done in my life; it feels like it is the most important thing that will ever happen. The venom of the Sonoran Desert Toad (Bufo Alvarius) contains the tryptamine five-methoxy-N,N-demethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) which is chemically similar to, and experientially very distinct from its more famous cousin N,N-DMT.
Harvesting the venom comes at a cost to the toads. The venom is “milked” from glands that run along the toad’s body. After catching the toad, the animal is held over a hard surface, such as pyrex. A gland on the toad is squeezed, causing the venom to be released onto the surface where the venom then hardens. It is later scraped off and smoked as crystal.
This practice can be done sustainably by handling the toads gently and milking only some of the toad’s glands, then releasing it. This is important as the venom is the toad’s defense mechanism against predators. Sadly, many people who harvest the toads’ venom take all of it, or totally mishandle the toads, causing them injury and sometimes even killing them.
The toads are constrained to a fairly small geographical region. As the human population encroaches on the toads’ natural habitat, toad mortality increases from a variety of factors such as being hit by cars. The toads are also increasingly victims of natural predation as they are mesmerized by artificial light, a byproduct of human presence.
This situation is not unique to the Sonoran Desert Toad—the Ayahuasca Vine (Banisteriopsis Caapi) is also becoming more scarce as it grows in popularity. Many people who have experienced Ayahuasca and/or Toad say it is among the most significant experiences of their lives, rivaling the death of a loved one or even the birth of a child.
Given the profound impact these entheogens have on humanity, and the positive changes they bring both to individuals and society, what can we do?
There are synthetic alternatives to both, as well as other natural sources of monamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), the active ingredient in B. caapi and 5-MeO-DMT. Some people believe that you have to use the “natural” or “traditional” version to get the “right” experience. You’ll hear this debate around psilocybin mushrooms (natural) and LSD (synthetic) as well, though in the case of mushrooms and LSD the discussion is over two distinct molecules whereas in the Ayahuasca and Toad dilemma, the alternatives are the exact same molecule either found in other natural sources or synthesized in a lab. It’s also worth noting here that the smoking of toad venom only recently began to be documented and publicized in the ‘70’s. There is very little documentation on the use of 5-MeO-DMT in regards to traditional ceremonial experiences.
I have not tried 5-MeO-DMT or MAOIs from sources besides Toad and Ayahuasca respectively, so I can’t comment from personal experience. I do love tradition, and think there is something really special about both of these experiences. At times, it feels like that specialness is coming from the plant or the Toad, as though the vine or the Toad have a message for us.
Our planet is becoming increasingly unsafe for humans. For me, one of the most important lessons of the psychedelic experience is that each of us is responsible for this planet; we all must protect the biodiversity of the Earth. It may be the only path to the survival of our species. In light of that, it is of the utmost importance to preserve the animals and plants who have brought us these sacred medicines, even if it means finding alternative sources for the medicines they have given us.