Their venom can be deadly to animals, but their secretions also have psychedelic effects, which is why the Sonoric desert toad has a special appeal to some people. Apparently so much so that the US National Parks Service has warned visitors not to lick the animal.
The toad is native to the Sonoran Desert, which stretches across the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Their parotid glands and warts secrete a sticky white venom that can paralyze or kill some animals, even adult dogs. In humans, the skin secretion can irritate the eyes or mouth.
"You can get sick if you touch the frog or put the poison in your mouth," said a post on the National Park Service's Facebook page last week. "As with most things you encounter in a national park, whether it's a banana snail, an unfamiliar mushroom, or a large toad with bright eyes in the middle of the night, please refrain from licking it. Thank you."
To extract its secretions, the toad is stroked under the chin until, in a defensive reaction, it expels a milky substance. This is scraped off and can be dried into crystals and smoked in a pipe. The drug can induce a hallucinogenic trip that usually lasts 15 to 30 minutes.
Studies show that toad venom can relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Toad venom, called bufotenine, is illegal in the state of California due to its psychedelic effects. In some places, however, people pay anywhere from $250 for a ceremony in the woods of East Texas to a gold-plated beach setting in Tulum, Mexico, for a retreat where they are treated with toad venom.
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Sources: NBC News. "New York Times", Oakland Zoo