The Ethical and Ecological Considerations of Inhaling Bufotoxins from Incilius Alvarius

Bufo Alvarius

by Malin Vedøy Uthaug, Ph.D. student at the University of Maastricht, Department of Neuropsychology & Psychopharmacology.

The consumption of 5-MeO-DMT by inhaling bufotoxins from the Colorado River toad (lat. Incilius Alvarius), also known as “Bufo Alvarius”, “El Sapo/Sapito”, “Bufo”, and “Toad”, has become increasingly popular in a variety of underground ceremonial settings in recent years. Furthermore, due to the realization of the potential 5-MeO-DMT holds for therapy it has also become a new interest in psychedelic research.

When I started psychedelic research for my dissertation at Maastricht University in fall 2017, there was no research addressing the subjective effects from inhalation of bufotoxins in humans. Thus, I brought it upon myself to investigate this further as the consumption of the so-called “toad-medicine” was booming worldwide.

The primary aim of the study was to investigate whether the bufotoxins from the toad, which is known to contain significant amounts of 5-MeO-DMT, as well as other compounds, produces long-lasting changes on affect and thinking style. The second objective was to assess whether the acute and long-term effects of the bufotoxins depend on the degree of ego dissolution and altered states of consciousness that was experienced during the ceremony. The preliminary evidence of this study was presented at the Beyond Psychedelics conference in Prague in June, and the recording of this presentation is now circling around on the web.

Even though the study results are very interesting and important to highlight due to the consumption of the “toad-medicine” worldwide, I think it is of equal importance, if not more, to shed light on another side of the story. A side of the story that for once does not focus on humans.

This article aims to share information, increase awareness, and stimulate reflection about how the consumption of bufotoxins affect the toad.

5-methoxydimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) is a potent, fast-acting, natural psychoactive indolealkymine substance, which acts as a serotonin (5-HT-1-A/5-HT-2A) receptor agonist (Shen, Jiang et al. 2010, Szabo, Kovacs et al. 2014). 5-MeO-DMT was initially isolated from the bark of Dictyoloma incanescens (Pachter 1959), and has also been found in the milky-white secretion that protects the Incilius Alvarius toad against predators (Weil and Davis 1994).

This toad, also known as Bufo Alvarius, has become well-known worldwide as a “5-MeO-DMT-making-machine”. Its secretion, when inhaled through vaporization, has proven to be powerfully psychoactive within 15 seconds, causing an experience of unity reported by participants in underground ceremonies in the most repeated soundbite “we are all one” (Weil and Davis 1994).

The presence of 5-MeO-DMT in the secretion is not the only substance that makes the toad so interesting. In fact, it is also the only species whose skin contains 5-methoxyindolealkylamines as well as 5-hydroxyindole-O-methyl transferase activity (Erspamer, Vitali et al. 1967). This enzyme, among other reactions, converts bufotenine (5-OH-DMT) to the potent hallucinogen 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) (Weil and Davis 1994).

That being said, bufotoxins are the name of a collection of compounds which can be found on the toad’s skin, and in the two glands behind the eyes called the parotid glands (Tyler 1976). Several types of toxic and non-toxic substances can be found in the bufotoxins and they include the following; cardioactive agents such as for example bufagins (bufandienolides), catecholamines such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, indolealkylamines such as bufothionine, serotonin, cinobufotenine, bufotenine and dehydrobufotenine, and finally noncardiac sterols, which are non-toxic, such as cholesterol, provitamin D, gamma sitosteral and ergosterol (Chen and Kovaříková 1967). Moreover, as illustrated in the work for Erspamer and colleagues (1967) using paper chromatography, the bufotoxins include not only 5-MeO-DMT but also many other compounds. As previously mentioned, these compounds protect the toad from predators, and can, for this reason, have fatal consequences as demonstrated by reports of animals that have died after biting toads.

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Although these bufotoxins are a natural defense mechanism of the toad, humans have found a way of using them for a different purpose. At the present time, a number of people are smoking bufotoxins at underground ceremonies. Moreover, many also make use of 5-MeO-DMT from plant extract (i.e. yopo) or from a synthetic origin. A recent survey by Johns Hopkins demonstrates that use of 5-MeO-DMT, from either toad, plant extract or synthetic origin, is used infrequently and primarily for spiritual exploration (Davis, Barsuglia et al. 2018). Anecdotal, and empirical evidence demonstrates that people also use 5-MeO-DMT for treating psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder and substance abuse (Psychedelic Times, 2016). The resulting subjective effects appear to be due to the compounds ability to induce mystical experiences which have been demonstrated to have lasting beneficial effects (Garcia-Romeu, R Griffiths et al. 2014).

To be able to inhale the bufotoxins one would have to “milk the toad.” It is worth noting that the toads hibernate for most of the year, and generally appear just before summer showers, and congregate when the rains begin for reproduction (Fouquette Jr 1970). This is the time when they can be found and milked. The pamphlet titled “Bufo Alvarius, the Psychedelic Toad of the Sonoran Desert outlines detailed instructions for collecting and drying the venom;

You hold it [wearing gloves] over a flat glass plate or any other smooth, nonporous surface at least 12-inches square, the toad is held in front of the plate, which is fixed in a vertical position. In this manner, “the venom can be collected on the glass plate, free of dirt and liquid released when the toad is handled” (Most 1984).

Moreover, from the article Weil and Davis from 1994;

One Bufo Alvarius yield 0.25-0.5 gram of dried venom. Since concentrations of 5-MeO-DMT may be as high as 15% one toad may yield 75 mg of an hallucogenic drug that, when smoked, is effective in humans at doses of 3-5 mg. In other words, a single toad produces 15 or more doses of one of the most potent psychoactive drugs found I nature. A matchbox sized container would represent thousands of effective doses”.

With this in mind, it is no wonder that the harvest and consumption of the toad’s bufotoxins have increased.

The harvesting of the toad’s bufotoxins happens not only from the hands of facilitators of ceremonies, or consumers but also from toad-hunters such as the ones filmed in “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia: The Psychedelic Toadwho after harvesting the bufotoxins sell it (VICELAND 2017). In the video clip, the toad-hunters report that they have collected around 500 grams of bufotoxins over the years. This equals 5,000 doses if one dose is 100 milligrams of bufotoxin, and means that in order for one person to have the experience at least two toads must be milked.

Colorado river toad (Incilius alvarius), also known as the Sonoran desert toad.

Now how does the harvesting and consumption of bufotoxins impact the toad?

At this point in time (October 2018) the toads are classified as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Hammerson & Santos-Barrera, 2004). Although this may be true, these assessments are from 2004, and is therefore very likely to be outdated. A new assessment about the toad’s population size is highly warranted given the attention the toad has received and the consumption of the toads’ bufotoxins worldwide.

Nevertheless, it is not old news that the amphibian population worldwide is declining. Actually, their global decline was first recognized in the early 1990s (Wake 1991). As of 2010, 32% of the world’s nearly 6600 amphibian species are threatened with extinction, 43% are experiencing declines and for another 22%, there are insufficient data (Stuart, Chanson et al. 2004). This phenomenon represents the Earth’s sixth mass extinction (Wake and Vredenburg 2008). That being said, there is no single cause to the global amphibian decline, rather there may be several contributing factors (Hayes, Falso et al. 2010). As outlined in the paper by Hayes and colleagues, there are three levels of possible factors for the amphibian decline.

The first level involves 1) death (or removal) of individuals and 2) reduced recruitment within a population. (Editors note: recruitment occurs when juvenile organisms survive to be added to a population, by birth or immigration, usually a stage whereby the organisms are settled and able to be detected by an observer. Source – Wikipedia

The second level involves 1) increased disease rate, 2) decrease in nutrition, 3) predation, 4) human exploitation 5) “other mortality”, which represent everything from the death of older individuals, incidental death, to catastrophic events.

Finally, the third level involves 1) atmospheric change, 2) environmental pollutants, 3) habitat loss, 4) invasive species, and finally 5) pathogens. These levels are also suggested to interact with one another.

It is not rocket science that the above-mentioned factors also have an impact on the toad. The increasing demand for the bufotoxins for inhalation has made the toad susceptible to not only ecological disturbance through the invasion of habitat and excessive milking, but also amphibian-trafficking and black-market dynamics. Additionally, according to herpetologist Robert Anthony Villa, the largest toads are most likely to be spotted and collected over smaller toads, and if you remove the biggest toads, you remove the population’s ability to sustain itself as the bigger toads have a lot of eggs (Psychedelic Today 2018). Moreover, based on studies on snakes, we know that 80% of snakes die if you catch them, move them to a different territory and let them go. Similarly, toads have an inner-GPS that they rely on, and if a toad is taken out of their territory for milking, and then set free elsewhere, they are very likely to die because they are either simply lost, could get run over by a car, or eaten by predators. The latter is more likely to successfully happen when the toad has been deprived of their main defense mechanism.

Along with that, Villa reports that the toad is very likely to be impacted negatively by pathogens, such as for example chytridiomycosis, which is exposed to them by people when they are collected for milking and can spread to the rest of the toad population. Additionally, as the surviving toads depend on the genetic variety of other populations to sustain themselves, the toads would inbreed themselves to extinction if there are no other populations to copulate with. Finally, keeping a toad as a pet, or many in large conservations for breeding, is a huge disservice to the toad as they do not do well in captivity, and due to the factors previously stated.

Given the circumstances, it seems to me that the harvesting and consumption of bufotoxins or so-called “toad medicine” is very much the case of the “double effect” principle; with a good act, comes a bad consequence. The aforementioned are all alarming factors that could very well lead toward population decline and so to extinction. This is all startling information that calls for action.

A discontinuation of “toad medicine” in favor of synthetic 5-MeO-DMT use can diminish the current unnecessary and excessive harassment of the Incilius Alvarius species. Switching from using toad bufotoxin to synthetic 5-MeO-DMT is better for many other reasons. First, synthetic 5-MeO-DMT does not contain a cocktail of other compounds and is therefore much safer to use. Likewise, it will be much easier for researchers to re-schedule and legalize a pure substance for medical use than a complex bufotoxin. Second, synthetic 5-MeO-DMT is not any different from “toad-medicine”. In fact, the argument that “toad-medicine” is better than synthetic is a claim that is drawn from personal experience and is not a good enough argument to extend to a generality. As a matter of fact, to this date, a survey study done by lead researchers at Johns Hopkins suggests that there is no qualitative difference between toad, or 5-MeO-DMT in synthetic form (Davis et al., 2018). Finally, switching to using synthetic 5-MeO-DMT would not have any impact on the toad as they would be left in peace.

I personally think it is important that we start to reflect upon the implications our actions have on the toads and take action. It is not necessary to wait until the toads are classified as endangered before we act.

My hope and wish for the future is that all of us, be it, consumers, researchers, organizers, or facilitators, will think twice about whether experiencing 5-MeO-DMT at the expense of a species’ continued presence on this planet is worth it. Especially when there is an alternative way which is much safer to use, not any different from the effects of the bufotoxins, and does not contribute to ecocide.

The book “Homo Deus; A Brief History of Tomorrow” highlights several important and interesting topics. One of them is the power human beings have, and how this power can affect the future of the planet. One thing that Harari points out, which seems to be very fitting for this moment, is that humans have the capability to do many things, but that question is not “what we can do?”, but rather; “what should we do?” (Harari 2015). 


Chen, K. and A. Kovaříková (1967). “Pharmacology and toxicology of toad venom.” Journal of pharmaceutical sciences 56(12): 1535-1541.

Davis, A. K., J. P. Barsuglia, R. Lancelotta, R. M. Grant and E. Renn (2018). “The epidemiology of 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) use: Benefits, consequences, patterns of use, subjective effects, and reasons for consumption.” Journal of Psychopharmacology: 0269881118769063.

Erspamer, V., T. Vitali, M. Roseghini and J. M. Cei (1967). “5-Methoxy-and 5-hydroxyindoles in the skin of Bufo alvarius.” Biochemical pharmacology 16(7): 1149-1164.

Fouquette Jr, M. (1970). “Bufo alvarius.” Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles (CAAR).

Garcia-Romeu, A., R. R Griffiths and M. W Johnson (2014). “Psilocybin-occasioned mystical experiences in the treatment of tobacco addiction.” Current drug abuse reviews 7(3): 157-164.

Harari (2015). Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

Hayes, T., P. Falso, S. Gallipeau and M. Stice (2010). “The cause of global amphibian declines: a developmental endocrinologist’s perspective.” Journal of Experimental Biology 213(6): 921-933.

Most, A. (1984). Bufo alvarius: The psychedelic toad of the Sonoran desert, Venom Press.

Pachter, I. J. Z., D.E.Ribeiro, O. (1959). “Indole alkaloids of acer saccharinum (the Silver Maple), Dictyoloma incanescens, Piptadenia colubrina, and Mimosa hostilis.” J Org Chem 24: 1285-1287.

Shen, H. W., X. L. Jiang, J. C. Winter and A. M. Yu (2010). “Psychedelic 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine: metabolism, pharmacokinetics, drug interactions, and pharmacological actions.” Curr Drug Metab 11(8): 659-666.

Stuart, S. N., J. S. Chanson, N. A. Cox, B. E. Young, A. S. Rodrigues, D. L. Fischman and R. W. Waller (2004). “Status and trends of amphibian declines and extinctions worldwide.” Science 306(5702): 1783-1786.

Szabo, A., A. Kovacs, E. Frecska and E. Rajnavolgyi (2014). “Psychedelic N, N-dimethyltryptamine and 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine modulate innate and adaptive inflammatory responses through the sigma-1 receptor of human monocyte-derived dendritic cells.” PloS one 9(8): e106533.

Psychedelic Today (2018). Psychedelic Today’s 5-MeO-DMT Course;, Psychedelic Today (Unpublished).

Tyler, M. J. (1976). Frogs, Collins.

VICELAND (2017). The Psychedelic Toad. Hamiltons pharmacopeia., Vice.

Wake, D. B. (1991). “Declining amphibian populations.” Science 253(5022): 860-861.

Wake, D. B. and V. T. Vredenburg (2008). “Are we in the midst of the sixth mass extinction? A view from the world of amphibians.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Weil, A. T. and W. Davis (1994). “Bufo alvarius: a potent hallucinogen of animal origin.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 41(1-2): 1-8.

About Malin Vedøy Uthaug

Malin Vedøy UthaugMalin Vedøy Uthaug is a Ph.D. student at the University of Maastricht, Department of Neuropsychology & Psychopharmacology. She has a background in health and social psychology and is currently researching psychedelic (ayahuasca, 5-MeO-DMT, DMT, and mescaline) and yoga-induced improvements of mental health. On the side of being a student and researcher, she is a life coach and public speaker. She started her coaching project titled Love & Gratitude in September 2016 which serves as a platform to spread information related to positive psychology, and transpersonal psychology. Love & Gratitude has also become a way to bring about information about psychedelics and help to destigmatize them. She has since September 2016 delivered talks, webinars and workshops in Belgium, The Netherlands, Czech Republic, Norway, United States of America, and Colombia.

You can find more from Malin on Psychedelics Today here.

Malin Vedøy Uthaug – Exploring Ayahuasca Ceremonies and 5-MeO-DMT

Brian Pace, M.S. – Find The Others Project

Brian Pace - Find The Others

Joe Moore interviews Brian Pace. He studies Evolutionary Ecology, is a science consultant at The Third Wave, and is the director of the project, Mind Manifest Midwest, and instigator of the “Find the Others” project.

3 Key Points:

  1. Psychedelics are not just illegal, they are also taboo, and Brian’s efforts are aimed to create spaces that make it more comfortable to talk about psychedelics.
  2. Online resources are great, but having local, and real psychedelic societies to create community will help people “come out” and be comfortable talking about their experiences.
  3. Brian’s interest evolved from ecology to psychedelics when he realized the issue of global warming. The top environmental problems are selfishness and greed, and changing people’s minds with psychedelics is a big hope for the planet.


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Show Notes

  • Getting Involved with The Third Wave
    • Met Paul Austin of The Third Wave at the Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance Conference.
    • The conference was foundational in him becoming outspoken about psychedelics.
  • Ibogaine – last resort option for people suffering from addiction.
  • Brian and the team built The Third Wave with the goal to bring the conversation about psychedelics to be more comfortable among the general public.
    • It has been good about building bridges to invite all types of people to the community, not just white males. It’s important to be inclusive in this space.
  • Find the Others
    • Started at Psychedelic Science, to talk about what psychedelic societies are.
    • Aware Project by Ashley Booth (
    • Psychedelics are not just illegal, they are also Taboo – Michael Pollan
    • “Were having a cultural hangover from the upheavals we’ve had in the late 60’s and early 70’s.” – Brian
  • “We can fight taboos when we can have conversations – about that which was taboo – in the grocery store, in the bar, with our parents. I think that’s definitely what’s needed with psychedelics.” – Brian
    • Had the first psychedelic society meeting at a bar that included a presentation about plant secondary compounds and human health and ended with storytelling.
  • 20% of Americans over the age of 15 have had some experience with psychedelics, 11% with LSD. (source unsure)
  • Mitch Gomez from Dance Safe – more than 50% of the population of the U.S has done illegal compounds at age 15 and up. Psychedelics have taken a big chunk of that number.
  • Cannabis is a great help for football players and traumatic brain injury.
  • “If psychedelics are ever going to be reintegrated meaningfully in society, we are going to need some kind of mentorship.” – Brian
  • Timothy Leary – “You’re born with the right to fly”. If you start driving on LSD, you might lose that right.
  • Find the Others, Mind Manifest Midwest, The Third Wave
    • A collaborative project that allows people to speak in their own words what they are doing in their psychedelic societies.
    • Psychedelic Societies are real, local and create community.
  • MDMA for PTSD will be passed at the Federal level very quickly.
  • Evolutionary Ecology
    • Psilocybin – PhD focused on plant secondary compounds.
    • The mycorrhizae network – “the Earth’s natural internet” – Paul Stamets
  • Climate change
    • Consumption – eating meat and driving cars
    • The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy. Changing people’s mindsets with psychedelics could be an only hope.
    • “Given that psychedelics have reliably induced mystical and/or religious experiences in people throughout time and across a variety of contexts, it seems natural that we should start organizing communities that help unpack and contextualize these experiences.” – Brian
  • The status of our society
    • Why do we have to work 55 hours a week to barely afford a 2 bedroom apartment?
    • Guaranteed minimum income – an experiment in other countries.
    • What does our society look like when it is less stressed?
  • Timothy Leary
    • “Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others…”
    • Helped create the importance of set and setting.
    • Saw the inside of 36 prisons for possession of marijuana.


Mind Manifest Midwest

Find The Others Project

Aware Project


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About Brian

Brian Pace - Find the Others Project

Brian Pace, M.S. is a scientist by training and psychonaut by inclination. His interest in biology was piqued acutely as a teenager while experimenting with his own neurochemistry. For more than a decade, Brian has worked on agrobiodiversity, food sovereignty, urban cycling, and climate change in the US and Mexico. Brian is the co-founder of Mind Manifest Midwest (, a Columbus, Ohio based psychedelic society and the instigator of the Find the Others Project (, a global collaboration of the burgeoning psychedelic society movement. Since 2016, he has contributed as a strategist for The Third Wave ( At The Ohio State University, he co-created a graduate-level class entitled: Cannabis: Past, present, and future cultivation for fiber, food, and medicine. He spent a year slogging around oil and wastewater pits left by Chevron-Texaco testing mycoremediation techniques in the Ecuadorian Amazon. All pipelines leak. Plant medicine is indigenous technology. Brian completes his Ph.D. in Plant Evolutionary Ecology this semester at OSU.

Kyle and Joe – The Cost of Spiritual Emergence: Psychedelics, Spirituality and Capitalism


In this episode of Psychedelics Today, Kyle and Joe dig into and create conversation over an email received about the cost of psychedelics, the facets of capitalism and about feeling isolated after a psychedelic experience.

3 Key Points:

  1. Capitalism in psychedelics is a complex topic and includes factors such as the schooling system, the medical system, monopoly, trade, and other facets that go into the cost of psychedelics.
  2. There are other forms of therapy that don’t have to involve psychedelics or lots of money.
  3. Feeling isolated after an experience is sometimes our own blockage, by refusing to create community because a person hasn’t had the same experience as us. Psychedelics aren’t always needed for a psychedelic experience.

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Show Notes

Email concern: Some psychedelic experiences seem segregated by a price bracket.
Ketamine Therapy – believed it would help with their depression, but ended up spending a thousand dollars every two weeks.

Joe – curious that ketamine lozenges may be a cheaper option that could help.
Kyle – although the drug itself may be cheap, you’re not just paying for the lozenges, you’re paying for a therapist or a psychiatrist.
Kyle – in America, healing is a privilege. We work hard to pay for health insurance, or even if we are insured through work or family, it gets hard to pay for because of the premiums.
“I would rather pay for taking care of myself, than going out and partying with friends.”
Healing may have to be a choice sadly, you may have to ask yourself “do I want this or do I need this?”
Joe – One treatment of ketamine is beneficial for a short-term intervention in an urgent state
One session of ketamine therapy helps the user understand the situation clearer and can reduce the thoughts of suicide
Kyle – “some of my greatest healing experiences were done through my own work, with myself or with friends”

“How do you feel about the resurgence of spirituality and psychedelics and it’s capitalism?”
Joe – Going from the states to Peru to do ayahuasca to reach spiritualism isn’t the only means of spirituality. There are so many other options than capitalist outlets to find spiritual development.
Kyle – “I want to offer a lot of help, and do free workshops, but need money to survive.”
Joe – Jokingly “You’re three months behind on your rent Terrence!”

A person doesn’t need hundreds of trips to be complete and happy, Aldous Huxley says you need three to four strong trips throughout your life.
“How do we protect the planet, and how do we maintain freedom?”

To talk about Capitalism and psychedelics, we are assuming that something needs to mediate the trade or exchange for therapy. Let’s continue to educate ourselves so that we don’t blame capitalism on the fact that therapy has a cost. It’s a hard conversation to have, it’s a complex topic.
Joe – pro-socialized medicine
$30,000 for a first responder to take an overdose death away
$20-$30 for a Narcan
Let’s prevent and heal more. Capitalism does incentivize doctors and healers.
Kyle – “how can we use these as tools and not toys?”
Medicalization of psychedelics may have a potential tie to capitalism
The difference between doing it legally for an extremely high price, versus paying the market price for a gram of mushrooms (illegally) and doing the work (therapy) on your own.
Joe – Monopoly=capitalism
Kyle – the Education system
Student loan debt can be a half a million dollars to be a doctor or therapist
That debt plays an effect on how much those doctors or therapists charge

“How do you deal with isolationism that certain psychedelic experiences bring forward?”
Kyle – “this has been a huge issue in my life, this resonates with me. After having my near-death experience, I didn’t know to talk to people, how to function in the world. A near-death experience is one of the most psychedelic things. To slowly slip away and ‘die’, and come back to this place and not feel like this is where I belong, how do I exist here? It can lead to isolation. It can be extremely heavy.”
“We’re all experiencing this reality through our own lens, so we have to meet people where they are.”
The reason these experiences can make us feel lonely is that of the lack of community. Kyle believes in not just constantly going into these experiences, but more about the integration of the experiences.
Joe – Tim Leary says “Find the others”. But there are a lot of psychedelic people out there who don’t take psychedelics that can be a part of your ‘community’.
Kyle – it makes sense to feel like you need to connect with someone who has done psychedelics in order for them to understand, but we can connect with other people who may not have had psychedelic experiences.
The psychedelic experience isn’t the only way. We can also experience spiritualism and healing without psychedelics, too.
Kyle – Experience in Jamaica, the Rastas talking about home and family, “if the oil splashes up and burns me, my family isn’t here to help me, but you’re here to help me, and you can help me.”
The people around me are family, they don’t always need to have had experienced the same things as me in order to help me
Joe – group strengthens self
Robert Anton Wilson’s habit – he would order magazine subscriptions and most subscriptions aligned with his interests, and the other half were of subscriptions way outside of his interests, so he wouldn’t develop a bias.

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