I have been working on a collaborative research project with one of my school mates Mandy. (Go see her blog http://chemistrytheorems.blogspot.ca/ ) and we are looking at LSD and other sources of natural hallucinogens. As part of the work which I was allocated to do was to look up a naturally occurring hallucinogen in animals! Introduce the Colorado River Toad, AKA Bufo alvarius. Because the nature of the research paralleled beautifully with my blog I decided to share all my new knowledge with the rest of you! (Whoever YOU are!)

Colorado River ToadThe colorado River Toad, also known as the bufo alvarius, is found in the Sonoran desert of Arizona, because it is a semi-aquatic amphibian it is centrally located in areas where it has direct access to water such as the natural drainage sites of rivers and streams which flow through this desert (Most, 1983). Like the ergot contaminated rye wheat flour, the venom from the colorado river toad contains compounds which result in symptoms including hallucinations after consumption. While the accused witches of salem and europe may have been experimenting with the effects of ergot poisoning, there is evidence that the venom of colorado river toads was used ceremoniously as well by the precolumbian people of the new world. Anthropologtists argue that the “ancient peoples of Mesoamerica used a toad … as a ritual intoxicant” and a “likely candidate is the Sonoran desert toad, Bufoalvarius, which secretes large amounts of the potent known hallucinogen, 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine” (Weil and Davis. 1994). While consuming the venom in its pure liquid form can be fatal, the venom can be dried and smoked to induce the hallucinogenic effects. The glands which are located in the skin of the toad secrete venom which has high concentrations of the molecule O-methylbufotenine or more formally 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine. “In parotoid and coxal glands as much as 5–15 per cent of the dry weight is made up by this compound” (Erspamera et al. 1967).

5-MeO-DMTThe hallucinogenic compound which is secreted from the glands of the colorado river toad is 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, it is an organic molecule containing two rings. The defining features of this molecule are its functional groups. From left to right they can be identified as an ether, a benzene ring, a secondary amine and a tertiary amine. It is similar to Lysergic acid diethylamide in the fact that they both have secondary amine groups in a ring and a nitrogen with two substituents attached which are not associated with the rings. However O-methylbufotenine has two methyl groups attached while LSD has two ethyl groups attached to the nitrogen.

Frogs which produce a hallucinogenic venom can be seen in popular culture, such as the Family Guy “Lets Go To The Hop” which ran in season 2 episode 14.

Family Guy - Lets Go to The Hop

  • A species of toad that secretes an LSD-like drug has appeared in Quahog, and suddenly all the teens are getting hooked on toad-licking. When the practice begins to touch even the Griffin family, Peter decides to take action by pretending to be a teenager and going back to high school. Through a creative song and dance number, Peter manages to convince the kids to kick the habit, but Meg feels jealous over the attention he gets from the other kids. Written by Jean-Marc Rocher <rocher@fiberbit.net>  ” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0576945/)

On a side note, Many people still use this toad venom as a recreational drug by milking the venom out of the glands, and catching it in its liquefied form on a glass plate. Once it is dry, the venom can be collected by scraping off the flakes and then smoking it. But it is against the law! Harboring these animals for the soul purpose of getting high is cruel.

The sources I used for this information can be seen below

  • Weil AT, Davis W. 1994. Bufo alvarius: a potent hallucinogen of animal origin. J Ethnopharmacol. 41(1):1-8.

  • Erspamera V, Vitalia T, Roseghinia M, Ceia JM. 1967. 5-Methoxy- and 5-Hydroxyindoles in the skin of Bufo alvarius. Biochemical Pharmacology. 16:1149-1164