Please do not milk the toads. Sounds like a simple enough request, yet conservationists are now having to go to great lengths in order to convince people to stop tickling the glands of the Sonoran Desert toad, or Bufo alvarius, as it is more formally known. With a little stimulation, said glands secrete a white goo that contains an incredibly potent psychedelic compound called 5-MeO-DMT, although researchers are concerned that over-milking may threaten the survival of the species.
At the forefront of the campaign to protect the toad is Robert Villa, a researcher at the University of Arizona Desert Laboratory. In a bid to spread the message regarding the need to give the amphibians a break, he recently appeared on an episode of the psychedelics-based show Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia, which is produced by Vice.
The purpose of the episode was to demonstrate that is in fact possible to synthesize 5-MeO-DMT with relative ease, meaning there really is no need to harass any desert critters in order to get high. To achieve this, host Hamilton Morris teamed up with chemists in a Mexican laboratory and was able to produce the drug from a compound called mexamine, which occurs in low levels in the human body and is closely related to neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin.
Digging deeper into the history of this trippy slime, Morris tracked down a man named Ken Nelson, supposedly the first person ever to smoke the toad’s secret sauce. In 1983, Nelson released a pamphlet explaining how to extract and consume the substance, sparking the craze for psychedelic toad milk.
While the substance is toxic when ingested orally, it can be dried and smoked in order to produce an incredibly intense trip, generally lasting between 10 and 30 minutes. Some people claim that the slime was previously used by ancient cultures in Mesoamerica, but scientists are yet to find any direct evidence for this and are generally agreed that it had never been smoked by any human prior to Nelson.
In recent decades, the Sonoran Desert toad’s natural habitat in northern Mexico and the southern United States has been severely encroached on by human development, and the species is thought to have disappeared altogether from California. Clearly, the last thing it needs is to be harassed, displaced, and abused by people looking for a psychedelic experience.
To raise funds for their conservation campaign, Villa and Morris have re-released Nelson’s 1983 pamphlet, but have added instructions on how to create a synthetic version of the compound. Part of the money raised is also being donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, in homage to Nelson, who suffered from the condition before passing away last year.
Coincidentally, a recent study in the journal ACS Omega outlines a new method for synthesizing 5-MeO-DMT that is 99.86 percent pure. According to the authors, psychedelic research is currently being hindered by a lack of access to pure research chemicals, yet they believe their method could now be used to produce the drug for clinical trials.
Previously, the majority of human studies involving 5-Meo-DMT have relied on secretions harvested from toads, although a recent trial at Johns Hopkins University found that a synthetic version of the compound is effective at alleviating depression.