Tripping on psychedelic frogs
There is an Amazonian frog called Phyllomedusa Bicolor or the Sapo which I have been reading about for years. It is totally different from the psychedelic toads found in North America. The Sapo’s venom produces an effect much closer to morphine than LSD, but really it’s not like either of those things. It’s a distinctly vomitous dissociative experience unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered.
There has been a lot written about the chemistry of the venom, and it has been said to have a diverse array of effects. Some people think it’s a miracle opioid which will yield new non-addictive painkillers. Others think it’s a super-potent stimulant and appetite suppressant, and even a strange psychedelic capable of tuning hunters on to the mindset of their prey.
In the 80s researchers found one of the constituents of Sapo venom in the urine of autistic children, and developed an entire theory of autism around it. I had to find out what this frog really does, but supposedly it cannot produce its venom in captivity. The only way to experience its unique trip is to travel down the Amazon River and catch one yourself, which is exactly what I did.
— VICE Correspondent Hamilton Morris
A Primer: psychedelic frogs
The first problem with toad licking on psychedelic frogs is that it isn’t just any toad that will get you high. The most famous culprit — one that has sent a lot of dogs on bad trips — is the cane toad which is psychedelic frogs. It and its general family, the family bufonidae, will secrete the stuff that can be sniffed, injected, or ingested to get people hallucinating.
The stuff itself is called 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine. The chemical gets into the body and acts as a serotonin agonist, binding to serotonin receptors and releasing a lot of the feel-good substance into the body. People who take 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine report a full-body rush and powerful hallucinations…. although notably, most people who take 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine, generally do so in purified form. It is, for the most part, not licked off the back of a thing that sleeps in a soup of brackish water and alligator urine.
As it’s not much in the psychedelic frogs interest to get people high, it secretes some other stuff as well. One of the chemicals it secretes probably could be used to treat people medically. It’s a cardiotoxic steroid which is a close cousin to digitalis, the chemical produced by the foxglove. Digitalis is used to treat people with irregular heartbeats. Its use is carefully calibrated, as there isn’t much difference between a dose that saves a person’s life and a dose that kills them (toads are not known for their mastery of pharmacology).
A psychedelic frogs version of the toxin releases massive bursts of adrenalin in the person or animal that ingests it; the adrenalin first increases the heart rate and then causes fibrillation. Enough of the toxin causes irregular heartbeat, seizures, and death.
Just as a bonus, psychedelic frogs secrete substances that weaken muscles and cause extreme nausea, too. So the overall effect of toad licking can cause a person to have vivid hallucinations, a racing heart, and muscles too weak to carry their constantly-vomiting body to the bathroom, let alone the hospital.
The toad’s primary defense system are glands that produce a poison that may be potent enough to kill a grown dog.These parotoid glands also produce the 5-MeO-DMT and Bufotenin (which is named after the Bufo genus of toads); both of these chemicals belong to the family of hallucinogenic tryptamines. When vaporized, a single deep inhalation of the venom produces strong psychoactive effect within 15 seconds. After inhalation, the user usually experiences a warm sensation, euphoria, and strong visual and auditory hallucinations, due to 5-MeO-DMT’s high affinity for the 5-HT2 and 5-HT1A serotonin receptor subtypes.