A hallucinogenic toad in peril
How a Sonoran Desert species got caught up in the commodification of spiritual awakening.
Late on a Thursday evening in July 2018, three intruders were caught on a wildlife camera at the Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area, a park north of Phoenix. Holding flashlights, they scoured a Mexican lily-filled pond near a popular hiking trail, on the hunt for Sonoran Desert toads. One girl squealed as she held up a fat one — both hands wrapped around its belly — and dropped it into a plastic bag. Later, a young man wearing a tattered cowboy hat and a tank top came into view, his face and hand looming large in the camera frame as he clenched a grocery bag. A jumble of legs pressed frantically into the thin plastic, captive amphibians trying to escape their new prison.
“That is like the last thing I expected to see,” Kevin Smith, Spur Cross Ranch’s sole park ranger, said. He estimates, from the footage, that the thieves grabbed at least a dozen toads. Though the recordings — and the story’s peculiar nature — made local and national news, briefly causing a stir, the culprits were never caught. What happened to the creatures isn’t hard to guess, however: In recent years, psychedelic enthusiasts have been rounding up Sonoran Desert toads in order to obtain their secretions, which contain a powerful hallucinogenic substance called 5-MeO-DMT.
In “toad medicine circles” — underground ceremonies that take place across the country in swanky areas from Malibu and Santa Fe to what one participant described as “on the floor of a chic apartment on the Upper West Side” of New York City — the psychedelic has become the latest trendy shortcut to spiritual awakening. Ceremony participants often lie down on the ground, on blankets and sarongs, and smoke the dried secretions — a Schedule 1 drug — , which induce an otherworldly state that lasts for about half an hour. Many who’ve undergone the experience refer to the poison as a “god molecule” that has cured their addictions or helped them achieve a deeper connection to the Earth. Toad altars, T-shirts and tattoos all profess a worship of the species.
Read the rest of the story at https://www.hcn.org/issues/53.7/south-wildlife-a-hallucinogenic-toad-in-peril/