When threatened, the Sonoran desert toad secretes poison strong enough to kill a full-grown dog, writes Simon Romero for the New York Times. The poison can also be harvested, dried, and smoked, inducing feelings of euphoria intense enough to inspire the nickname "God molecule." And as Romero explains, as "mainstream acceptance of psychedelics for treating mental disorders and addiction," grows, a retreat industry revolving around the toad's secretions is growing along with it. People pay anywhere from $250 to $8,500 for the experience, and many swear by the benefits, including Mike Tyson (who says he has smoked it 53 times, per Sports Illustrated) and Joe Rogan. But some warn the increased interest could imperil the amphibians.
Sonoran desert toads are already gone in California and considered threatened in New Mexico; continued habitat loss, highway traffic, and now the stress that "milking" puts on the toads could further endanger them. Toad farms are hopping up, but they can attract predators, a deadly fungus, and poachers. The key substance in toad poison, 5-MeO-DMT, can also be synthetically derived, but Romero finds a deep division between users who see value in the synthetic option and those who refuse to smoke anything but the toad's poison. One part of 5-MeO-DMT's appeal: Its high generally lasts up to 30 minutes, versus the hours-long vomit-filled trips other psychedelics can induce. (Read the full story, which traces the discovery that the Sonoran desert toad produces 5-MeO-DMT to 1983, an artist, and a van windshield.)