Demand for this toad's psychedelic venom is booming. Some warn that it is bad for the toad.

TUCSON, Ariz. — After several combat tours as a Navy SEAL, Marcus Capone tried talk therapy. Brain injury clinics. Prescription drugs....


TUCSON, Ariz. — After several combat tours as a Navy SEAL, Marcus Capone tried talk therapy. Brain injury clinics. Prescription drugs. Nothing succeeded in relieving his crippling depression and anxiety.

Then he smoked the venom of the Sonoran Desert Toad.

“I understood why they call it the ‘God molecule’ after they got a complete central nervous system reset,” said Mr Capone, 45, who now runs a non-profit organization with his wife helping hundreds of other special ops veterans to access toad medicine.

Surf the wave of the greatest general acceptance from psychedelics to treat mental disorders and addiction, a growing retirement industry is touting the potential of the toad’s secretions. People pay anywhere from $250 for a ceremony in the woods of East Texas to $8,500 for a more gilded beachfront setting in Tulum, Mexico to consume the venom.

But in a sign of the unintended consequences of the psychedelic resurgence, scientists warn that the rush of users to obtain the toads — involving poaching, over-harvesting and illegal trafficking in the arid expanses straddling the border with Mexico — could trigger a collapse in Sonoran desert toad populations.

Advocates of toad medicine are now increasingly divided between those like Mr. Capone, who support the use of easy-to-produce synthetic versions, and purists who say they will never stop using venom collected from the toads themselves. As retreat operators adapt experiences for therapeutic, recreational, or spiritual purposes, discussions of threats to the toad are becoming increasingly contentious.

“We are a church, and this is sacred medicine,” said Brooke Tarrer, 42, a former schoolteacher from Texas who in 2015 founded Universal Shamans of the New Tomorrow, which uses toad venom. a central feature of his practices.

Ms Tarrer, whose church in Huntsville, Texas charges $250 for a venom ceremony, took a stance against what she called “people of the green movement” aimed at protecting the toad. “We will never go with synthetic,” she added.

The toad itself, found primarily in the Sonoran Desert, which straddles parts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, is already thought to have disappeared from California, where it n hasn’t been found in the wild for decades. Authorities in New Mexico classify it as endangered, citing excessive collection as a factor.

The Sonoran Desert Toad is still found in parts of Arizona and Sonora in northwestern Mexico. One of the largest toads native to North America and remarkably long-lived with a lifespan of up to 20 years, it hibernates underground for most of the year, resurfacing to breed around summer monsoon rains.

Herpetologists say the toad appears to have adapted to human-modified landscapes like irrigation ditches, suburban yards and water reservoirs on cattle ranches.

But the risks are not lacking. Motorists already kill many toads, and predators like raccoons also target them.

When the toad is threatened, it excretes toxins strong enough to kill adult dogs. A substance found in these toxins, 5-MeO-DMT, can be dried into crystals and smoked in a pipe, producing an intense experience that typically lasts 15-30 minutes, unlike other psychedelics which can involve hours. hallucinations and vomiting.

Five-MeO-DMT remains effective illegal in the United States, where it is classified as a Schedule 1 substance. But while many users choose to attend retreats in Mexico, where it is legal, ceremonies also take place in the United States, where law enforcement largely tolerates his growing popularity.

Celebrities from Chelsea Handler to Joe Rogan smoked the venom, commonly known as Five or Bufo (after the old scientific name for the toad, Bufo alvarius; it was renamed Incilius alvarius). As researchers begin to look into security of 5-MeO-DMT, reports of adverse experiences also occasionally appear.

For example, a photographer deceased in an episode in Spain in 2020 after smoking the venom. At some retreats, operators have paramedics on standby to help people who may have negative reactions.

Still, interest in Bufo is growing, with users often calling it the “god molecule,” likening its use to a religious experience.

Bernice Anderson, 50, who goes by the Mayan name of Ixca and charges $1,100 for retreats in Utah, said smoking Bufo makes some people feel like they’re dying before coming back to life .

“They’ll froth at the mouth and their eyes will roll out the back of their heads,” said Ms. Anderson, who doesn’t use synthetic 5-MeO-DMT. “That’s where the shamanic experience comes in. It’s something that has to be done very carefully.”

Still, the growing demand for the Sonoran Desert Toad’s venom is sounding the alarm. Robert Villa, president of the Tucson Herpetological Society, compared the threats to those faced by Asian river turtles, which face extinction risks because of habitat loss and the belief that they cure diseases like cancer.

“There’s a perception of abundance, but when you start eliminating large numbers of species, their numbers are going to collapse like a house of cards at some point,” Villa said.

Some warn that collecting venom also puts stress on the toad, a process often described as “milking,” in which a person strokes the amphibian under their chin to initiate a defensive response. The toad then releases a milky substance that can be scraped off, dried, and smoked.

Seeking to meet the demand, some promoters have started raising farms with hundreds or even thousands of toads. But Mr Villa also warned that such sites could become vectors for outbreaks of chytrid mushroom, a pathogen that can devastate amphibians. Predators could also target such places, he said, as coyotes and Gila monsters have done in California in places where desert tortoises are bred. Reports poaching also worry toad advocates.

Meanwhile, a growing number of herpetologists and psychedelic drug researchers cite studies which show the synthetic form, which is relatively simple productionhelped relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.

Unlike other psychedelics such as peyote or ayahuasca, which are steeped in centuries of traditions involving indigenous people, the use of Bufo is considered more recent.

Pharmacologists knew the Sonoran Desert Toad could make 5-MeO-DMT, but it wasn’t until 1983 that Ken Nelson, a reclusive artist who lived at a disused missile base in northern Texas, s traveled to the Sonoran Desert, milked a toad, dried the venom on the windshield of his pickup truck, and smoked it.

A pamphlet he wrote under the pseudonym Albert Most then circulated in the underground scene of psychedelic enthusiasts.

“That might actually be the origin story,” said Alan Davis, director of the Center for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education at Ohio State University.

Yet some of the most influential figures in the Bufo scene have promoted Indigenous relations. Dr. Octavio Rettig, a doctor from Guadalajara, Mexico, said he introduced the venom to the Seri people in northwestern Mexico in 2011 in an effort to combat crystal meth addiction.

“After they got the medicine, they started putting the puzzle together,” said Dr Rettig, 43, citing what he believes is a rescue of the Seri’s “lost traditions”. “They recognized the benefits of toad medicine.”

Bufo retreats are now available in the Seri community at which the actual toad venom is consumed. At the same time, others calling for protections for the toad have argued that promoting Indigenous connections could have disastrous effects by further depleting toad populations.

“People are hungry for the story that the toad was used ancestrally by the indigenous people of Sonora,” said Ana Maria Ortiz, a doctoral student who is conducting a toad population study at the University’s School of Human Ecology. of Wisconsin. “There’s an appeal to this narrative, and even I believed it at first.”

Ms Ortiz, who has used Bufo to help people overcome addictions, said she was aware that some users who are skeptical of the synthetic form describe an “entourage effect” involving other compounds in the natural secretions of the toad.

“A lot of other compounds in the toxins are actually cardiac glycosides that can kill you,” Ms. Ortiz said. “Synthetic 5-MeO-DMT is just as good. People need to leave toads alone.

Dr. Gerardo Sandoval, another Mexican doctor involved in introducing Bufo to new practitioners, compared the synthetic version to “watching a black and white movie”.

“Toad medicine is watching the movie in 3D,” added Dr. Sandoval, who owns a ranch in Sonora, where he raises the toads and charges $500 for a venom ceremony.

Still, Dr Sandoval said relying on the toad comes with risks. In one incident last summer, he said, intruders stole hundreds of adult toads from his ranch.

The feuds over 5-MeO-DMT may be just beginning, as Bufo pioneers also face abuse allegations. Participating in a Facebook group highlighted allegations of psychological manipulation and rape against Dr. Sandoval; he challenged them. Dr Rettig has been criticized for the deaths of people who participated in Bufo ceremonies.

Dr Rettig acknowledged that deaths had occurred, but pointed to other pre-existing health issues, such as heart problems.

“I’m a doctor,” said Dr Rettig, who estimated he had worked with thousands of people taking Bufo. “Only a madman can expect no one to suffer collateral consequences.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Demand for this toad's psychedelic venom is booming. Some warn that it is bad for the toad.
Demand for this toad's psychedelic venom is booming. Some warn that it is bad for the toad.
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