Magical Toad and Mental Illness: A Psychedelic Sonorant

In Mark Twain’s celebrated short story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, the narrator extolls the jumping capacity of a from, exclaiming, “You never see a frog so modest and straightforward as he was, for all he was so gifted.” then again, Twain was highly unlikely aware of another frog, known as Sonoran Desert toad. It turns out that the venom of this specific toad genus, Bufo alvarius, has obscenely high levels of 5-MeO-DMT, the chemical known for its ability to not only cause intense hallucinations but is increasingly being investigated as a medical treatment for depression.
Bufo alvarius is unique among frogs, even ones that create psychedelic compounds. As a High Times article points out, “Though many other toads in the Bufo family produce bufotenine, the active tryptamine [that produces the psychedelic experience], the Sonoran Desert Toad has an enzyme that converts bufotenine into 5-MeO-DMT.” That’s one unforgettable toad, no? 

And crazy as it seems, “Shamans have been harvesting and smoking the substance for decades, and thousands of people flock to the desert every year to sample it,” as reported by The trip induced by 5-MeO-DMT is incredibly intense and profound. As one user stated, “The world exploded into colors and shapes. The best way I can describe what happened is I just became part of all of those colors and shapes. I lost all physical control of my body and just blended into what I was seeing or imagining. I can’t even remember if my eyes were open or if this was all going on in my head.”

Now, thanks to a large sum of money dedicated to researching this compound, toad-created 5-MeO-DMT may be getting a jump on the market. According to, “Oxford-based startup Beckley Psytech in the United Kingdom announced August 15 that it raised $80 million to ramp up clinical trials and research using a pharmaceutical formulation of ​​5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine), a powerful compound produced endogenously by Sonoran Desert toad venom, to treat depression.”

All puns aside, the Anura-induced high creates new opportunities to help people with depression. Because while psilocybin and LSD hold great promise to help people with a variety of mental health issues, the trip these substances induce also take between 6-10 hours to complete safely in a therapeutic setting. Some patients may feel uncomfortable dedicating this much time to a therapeutic session, discouraging people from giving it a try.

Moreover, this extended time frame ultimately detracts from the efficiency of therapists, who would likely be able to see only one patient a day. But the 5-MeO-DMT trip usually only takes an hour, freeing up more time for therapy and likely attracting a wider patent base. Beckley Psytech CEO Cosmo Fielding Mellen puts it this way:  Requiring a therapist to sit with a patient for the entire duration of a psilocybin, MDMA or LSD experience which is, say, six to eight to 10 hours long, is going to be resource-intensive and expensive.” 

Sonoran Desert Toad
Sonoran Desert Toad Source:

At a recent press conference, Mellen shared his enthusiasm for the potential this research may uncover, saying, “My life’s passion has been to unlock the therapeutic potential of psychedelics as I believe these compounds could help millions of people around the world. The progress Beckley Psytech has made in attracting exceptional talent to the team and advancing our ambitious clinical development programmes over the past two years has been tremendously exciting. As we embark on our next phase of growth, our strong syndicate of expert investors will support us in bringing much-needed innovative treatments to patients suffering from neurological and psychiatric conditions.”

One of the funding partners, Prime Movers Lab, is equally excited. Speaking for Prime Movers Lab, Dr. Amy Kruse, said: “It is nearly impossible to find a team with more experience in developing psychedelic medicines for neurological conditions than the one at Beckley Psytech. The COVID-19 pandemic brought mental health to the public’s attention in a profound way. The excitement around psychedelics in the mental health market is very real because they are transformative medicines that will soon make their way into the lives of millions of people who desperately need them.”

The chemical structure of 5-MeO-DMT Source:

According to, in addition to the Phase 1 trials with intranasal 5-MeO-DMT, Beckley Psytech will use the proceeds to complete the ongoing Phase 1b trial with low-dose psilocybin in patients suffering from Short-Lasting Unilateral Neuralgiform Headache Attacks (SUNHA), a rare and debilitating headache condition estimated to affect 45,000 people in the US and Europe, and to initiate the Phase 2 trial in Treatment Resistant Depression (TRD). 

Although 5-MeO-DMT shows great potential for treating a wide variety of mental health issues, as with other hallucinogenic compounds, people need to be careful. First, don’t go licking any toads, especially Bufo alvarius.

As the magazine, warns, “You cannot ingest 5-MeO-DMT by licking a psychoactive toad as it would be destroyed in the stomach. Instead, you might find yourself feeling the effects of the many toxins present in psychoactive toad venom that could cause you to become very sick or even die. So you should refrain from touching a psychoactive with your bare skin, and you really should not lick it.” Bottom line, don’t get intimate with Jeremiah), he’ll make you green. And as Kermit can testify, “it’s not easy being green.” 

Secondly, the treatment of mental health issues is a serious challenge, especially when employing psychedelic compounds. A clinician trained and experienced in using psychedelic-assisted therapy is always recommended because such an approach often heads off potentially unforeseen problems.

As psychologists Mark Bates, Ph.D., and Elizabeth M. Nielson, Ph.D. write, “Similar to requesting a therapist that specializes in family therapy when seeking support for a family issue, it makes sense to seek a therapist who has additional training in and experience with psychedelic-related issues. Also, if traumatic memories are uncovered, as has been known to occur, therapeutic support can be especially valuable in assimilating those memories in healthy ways. Therapist competencies include empathetic abiding presence; trust enhancement; spiritual intelligence; knowledge of the physical and psychological effects of psychedelics; therapist self-awareness and ethical integrity; and proficiency in complementary techniques.” 

At the end of the day, just don’t leap to any conclusions.


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