Most people have heard the names LSD, magic mushrooms, and ecstasy before. But not everyone has heard of, say Bufo toads. Yet, even without it being a part of popular culture, or a well-known drug, it is a possible premise for a popular long-running fairy-tale. And perhaps it is this fairytale that helps explain why kissing psychedelic toads, can help treat mental illness.
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Fairytales are fun
There are different versions of this story around. The most well-known of which was published in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm, called the Frog Prince. In the story, a princess is playing with a golden ball by a spring. When she misses the ball, it falls into the spring and she cannot retrieve it. She is very sad, stating out loud how she would give up everything to get the ball back. A frog hears her and comes over. He tells her he will get her the ball if she will be his friend, which apparently in this context means living with her, sleeping on her pillow, and eating from her plate.
The princess, of course, agrees, but upon receiving her ball back, she runs off with it, ignoring her promise. The frog follows her home, and the princess runs off to consult her father the king, who tells her to respect her promises in life. So she lets the frog in and allows him to eat off her plate, but when he asks to sleep on her pillow, she refuses. When the frog threatens to tell the king that she is refusing, she picks up the frog and throws him against the wall, thus turning him back into a prince and breaking the witch’s spell he was under.
This version seems to be standard, however, in another standard version, the princess kisses the frog in order to change it into the prince. In yet another version, the princess simply allows the frog to be her friend, thereby ending the spell. It’s a kind of trippy story no matter how you look at it. Talking frogs, witch’s spells, and animal/human transformations. Even without considering the possible link between the story, and actual psychedelics, it’s kind of psychedelic anyway.
However, it just so happens, that because a popular version of the story entails the princess kissing the frog in order to break the spell, it brings up a possible tie between the story, and a species of toad that might actually make a person think another person has changed species.
What are psychedelic toads?
Well, for one thing, they’re toads and not frogs, so if there is a tie between the story and the animal, a general mistake was made in categorization. However, it’s the same as confusing a rabbit and a hare, and does little to change the idea of the connection.
In short, psychedelic toads, are toads that contain psychoactive compounds within their skin known as bufotoxins, or a compound called 5-MeO-DMT, that when smoked, or eaten, can cause a psychoactive experience, complete with hallucinations, feelings of connection, euphoria, and so on. Psychedelic drugs are themselves a subset of hallucinogens, which are a class of psychoactive drugs. Psychedelics are known for producing these effects, as well as increasing feelings of spirituality, overall wellbeing, and increasing or distorting perception.
Most well-known psychedelics come from plants like peyote or magic mushrooms, or are made in a lab like LSD. However, the compounds 5-MeO-DMT, and/or bufotoxins like Bufotenin – 5-HO-DMT, can be found in the skin of a living animal. When looking at the chemical structure, you can see that DMT is involved, and in fact, is a related cousin to these compounds, with 5-HO-DMT being 4-6 times stronger than DMT.
5-HO-DMT is a schedule I compound. So are both MDMA and psilocybin, both of which have been earmarked by the FDA as ‘breakthrough therapies’ for different forms of mental illness. This designation essentially means the drugs are being fast-tracked through medical research trials, so as to get products onto shelves. This implies that scheduling of such compounds will likely change quickly when products are available, and this could include 5-HO-DMT and other psychedelics, as well.
There are several different species of toads that have these compounds, with the most well-known species being the Incilius alvarius, or Bufo alvarius (Colorado River Toad/Sonoran Desert Toad). Usage of toads in this way dates back to the Olmec period in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, from around 1,200 BCE to approximately 400 BCE.
5-MeO-DMT, or 5-Methoxy- N,N-dimethyltryptamine, is a compound found in different plants, as well as the Bufo variety of toads. It has been used since ancient times, and it more recent scientific investigation it was found that it can assist with spiritual exploration, that it’s not addictive, and that it might be good psychotherapeutically. Effects of 5-MeO-DMT can be felt within a second of inhalation, and trips last anywhere from as short as seven minutes, to as long as 90 minutes.
Psychedelic toads and mental illness
If you thought psychedelic toads weren’t studied for mental illness, you’d be mistaken. In 2018, a study came out about the unintended anxiety-reducing and depression-reducing effects of 5-MeO-DMT. The study examined people using the drug for spiritual or recreational reasons, and found self-reported improvements on both fronts. Respondents completed an anonymous survey, which found that 80% of those who responded who had been diagnosed with depression, felt improvement, and 79% of respondents who had been diagnosed with anxiety, also saw improvement in how they felt. Few felt unchanged, and a small amount felt worse than before by a very small margin.
In another study from 2019 about psychedelic toads and mental illness, the effects of inhaling 5-MeO-DMT vapor on affect and cognition, were measured. 5-MeO-DMT comes from the parotoid glands of the Bufo alvarius toad. The goal of the study was to investigate the semi-immediate and long-term effects of inhaling this secretion. The study participants were measured before the inhalation to establish a baseline measurement, within 24 hours of it, and again a month later. Trials were conducted in different parts of Europe, and participants were given just a single inhalation of the secretion.
The results of the study showed an increase in life satisfaction ratings and convergent thinking within 24 hours after inhalation, and was maintained a full month later. Mindfulness ratings actually went up over time, and at four weeks reached a statistically significant level. Depression, anxiety, and stress ratings all went down immediately after inhalation, and also reached a statistically significant level at four weeks. Those who experienced ego dissolution or ‘oceanic boundlessness’ – a measure of the spirituality aspect experienced, reported higher levels of satisfaction, and lower levels of depression, stress, and anxiety.
In a comparison study concerning spiritual intensity, between 5-MeO-DMT and psilocybin – the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, it was found that the two substances produce spiritual experiences that are comparable. 5-MeO-DMT was administered to 20 participants who received 50 mg vaporized of the compound. The results of this were compared to a previously conducted psilocybin study, where participants received 30 mg of that compound, and the general spiritual intensity was found to be the same.
The main issue with extracting a drug from an actual living being, is that you generally kill, or harm, that actual living being. For the same reason its often frowned on for elephants to be killed for their tusks, the same can be said for indigenous toad populations, which have been affected by their capture and use as a psychedelic drug. This is one place in life where a synthetic answer is most definitely preferable to the killing of a whole species.
As research into different psychedelic compounds continues, psychedelic toads will likely come to the forefront of mental illness treatment, especially synthetic versions. Given the shorter duration time (much like DMT), and the reported positive benefits, something as strange to think of as a psychedelic toad, might actually be one of the best weapons against anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a medical professional, I have no formal legal education, and I’ve never been to business school. All information in my articles is sourced from other places, which are always referenced, and all opinions stated are mine, and are made clear to be mine. I am not giving anyone advise of any kind, in any capacity. I am more than happy to discuss topics, but should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a professional in the relevant field for more information.