7 Mind-Blowing Scientific Facts About Psychedelic Toads

These unassuming creatures are full of surprises.

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Psychedelic toads are known for the psychotropic chemicals (i.e., toad secretions, aka venoms) they have in their secretions such as 5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine) and 5-HO-DMT (bufotenin), and bufalin.1 These secretions come from the parotid glands in the skin on their back, neck, and shoulders. For centuries, South American cultures have used toad and frog secretions as components in poison arrows and darts for hunting. Since ancient times, Chinese folk medicine has used toad secretions as a local anesthetic and for treating a variety of conditions, including inflammation and cancer. The hallucinogenic secretions of toads were used by the ancient people of Mesoamerica and other cultures in religious ceremonies and for personal enlightenment.

However, there is much more to know about psychedelic toads. Here are just a few fascinating facts about them and the secretions they produce.

  1. One study found 36 hydrophilic compounds in toad skin and 22 in toad venom including nucleosides, polypeptides, amino acids, and indolealkylamines. Quantitatively, the indolealkylamine compounds (including some known psychedelics) were much higher in the venom than in the skin.2 Several of the compounds are being tested to find out if they have any beneficial effects for treating disease or illness.
  2. The chemicals secreted by some psychedelic toads contain several unexpected compounds like caffeine,2 morphine,3  norepinephrine,4,5 epinephrine,6 and dopamine.6 Although these compounds are often found in trace amounts, their presence demonstrates the complexity of toad secretions and raises interesting scientific questions about their origin and function.
  3. The secretions from a toad’s skin evolved to deter large predators.7 However, the secretions also kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa to protect toads from illness and disease.
  4. Bufadienolides and indolealkylamines are two families of chemicals in toad secretions that have been identified to contain compounds with therapeutic potential. A 2019 review article reported that 142 bufadienolides and 16 indolealkylamines had been isolated from toad secretions.8 Several of these compounds have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. Modern science has validated a variety of in vitro and in vivo pharmacologic effects for some of them including anti-tumor, cardiotonic, anti-inflammatory, anesthetic, and antimicrobial.
  5. Bufo alvarius is one species of toad whose secretions contain the psychedelic compound 5-MeO-DMT. By itself, 5-MeO-DMT has no effect in humans when taken orally because it is broken down in the gut by the enzyme monoamine oxidase. Therefore, it is usually smoked. But there is another more important reason to dry and smoke toad secretions (rather than licking a toad, for example). The skin secretions of Bufo alvarius are fatal when taken orally and can only be safely consumed when smoked.9 Scientists theorized that smoking the secretions denatures the toxic components.
  6. The psychedelic cane toad Rhinella marina is native to Central and South America. It was introduced into Australia in 1935 to help combat beetles that were feeding on sugarcane crops. As an unexpected side effect, the cane toad is now thriving in Australia, spreading fast, and has become a pest across the continent.10
  7. Traditional Chinese toad venom medicine, also called Chan Su, dates back to between the 7th and 10th centuries during the Tang Dynasty.8 At the time, its uses included treating “brain malnutrition” and sores.  Today, different formulations of Chan Su are used as topical anesthetics and to treat tumors, infections, and inflammation. Scientific studies have found that the Chan Su compound bufalin can reverse drug resistance in cancer cells, stop them from spreading and kill them.11,12,13
    References
  1. Schmeda-Hirschmann G, Quispe C, Theoduloz C, de Sousa PT, Parizotto C. Antiproliferative activity and new argininyl bufadienolide esters from the “cururú” toad Rhinella (Bufo) schneideri. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2014;155(2):1076-1085. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.06.025
  2. Zhang Y, Yuan B, Takagi N, et al. Comparative Analysis of Hydrophilic Ingredients in Toad Skin and Toad Venom Using the UHPLC-HR-MS/MS and UPLC-QqQ-MS/MS Methods Together with the Anti-Inflammatory Evaluation of Indolealkylamines. Molecules. 2019;24(1):86. doi:10.3390/molecules24010086
  3. Oka K, Kantrowitz JD, Spector S. Isolation of morphine from toad skin. PNAS. 1985;82(6):1852-1854. doi:10.1073/pnas.82.6.1852
  4. Lee HM, Chen KK. THE OCCURRENCE OF nor-EPINEPHRINE IN THE CHINESE TOAD VENOM. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1951;102(4):286-290. http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/102/4/286. Accessed June 3, 2019.
  5. Chen KK, Chen AL. The Physiological Action of the Principles Isolated from the Secretion of the South African Toad (Bufo regularis). J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1933;49(4):503-513. http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/49/4/503. Accessed June 3, 2019.
  6. Wang S, Luo Z, Wang W, Chen X, Hu Z. Simultaneous Determination of Dopamine, Epinephrine and 5-Hydroxytryptamine in Toad Venom and Common Yam Rhizome by MEKC. Chroma. 2009;70(9):1467. doi:10.1365/s10337-009-1333-3
  7. Garg A, Hippargi R, Grandhare A. Toad skin-secretions: Potent source of pharmacologically and therapeutically significant compounds. The Internet Journal of Pharmacology. 2008;5(2). doi:10.5580/18b6
  8. Wei W-L, Hou J-J, Wang X, et al. Venenum bufonis: An overview of its traditional use, natural product chemistry, pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and toxicology. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2019;237:215-235. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2019.03.042
  9. Weil AT, Davis W. Bufo alverius: A potent hallucinogen of animal origin. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 1994;41:1-8. https://wiki.dmt-nexus.me/w/images/c/c5/bufo_alvarius_-_a_potent_hallucinogen.pdf.
  10. Phillips BL, Brown GP, Greenlees M, Webb JK, Shine R. Rapid expansion of the cane toad (Bufo marinus) invasion front in tropical Australia. Austral Ecology. 2007;32(2):169-176. doi:10.1111/j.1442-9993.2007.01664.x
  11. Xie Y, Yan X, Sun L. The Mechanism of Bufalin-Induced Apoptosis of K562/A02. Med Sci Monit. 2019;25:2542-2552. doi:10.12659/MSM.915802
  12. Wang H, Zhang C, Xu L, et al. Bufalin suppresses hepatocellular carcinoma invasion and metastasis by targeting HIF-1α via the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway. Oncotarget. 2016;7(15):20193.
  13. Jing Y, Ohizumi H, Kawazoe N, et al. Selective Inhibitory Effect of Bufalin on Growth of Human Tumor Cells in vitro: Association with the Induction of Apoptosis in Leukemia HL-60 Cells. Japanese Journal of Cancer Research. 1994;85(6):645-651. doi:10.1111/j.1349-7006.1994.tb02408.x