Some people eager for a real taste of the American West have taken their predilections so far they are willing to lick toads to get high.
On Halloween, in what was definitely more a warning about a trick rather than a treat, the National Park Service (NPS) put out a warning for visitors not to lick Colorado river toads.
“These toads have prominent parotoid glands that secrete a potent toxin,” NPS warned. “It can make you sick if you handle the frog or get the poison in your mouth. 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.”
The Colorado river toad measures seven inches long; it emits a “weak, low-pitched toot, lasting less than a second.” It can live for 20 years while hibernating underground for most of each year, only to appear after heavy summer rains.
The “toads are found in southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Texas as well as in Florida and Hawaii,” the National Capital Poison Center explains. “These toads have poison glands on their backs and behind their eyes that produce a toxic fluid with several kinds of chemical compounds.”
NCPC adds that the toads secrete cardioactive steroids that can “cause serious, life-threatening toxicity.”
Yet “toad medicine circles” have proliferated. “People pay anywhere from $250 for a ceremony in the East Texas woods to $8,500 for a more gilded beachfront setting in Tulum, Mexico, to consume the toxin,” The New York Times noted.
“In recent years, psychedelic enthusiasts have been rounding up Sonoran Desert toads in order to obtain their secretions, which contain a powerful hallucinogenic substance called 5-MeO-DMT,” High Country News reported in June 2021. 5-MeO-DMT can be dried into crystals and then placed in a pipe to be smoked.
The toads have remained abundant in Arizona. Thomas R. Jones, Amphibians and Reptiles Program manager with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, admitted, “We think poaching takes place. And there have been some anecdotal reports of it (happening). But even our law enforcement guys don’t have a good feel for toad poaching. … that could be because it’s not on their radar.”