Park service: Please don’t lick the hallucinogenic toads

The National Park Service has a few simple requests for guests who want to enjoy the great outdoors: collect your trash, watch your campfires, and please don’t lick the Sonoran desert toads.

The golden-eyed toads are about 7 inches long and emit a faint, low-pitched cry that can be likened to a “tut,” according to the National Park Service in a public service announcement the agency made on Halloween. The agency asked guests not to lick the toad’s potent toxin, which has hallucinogenic properties.

The venom is potent enough to make a person sick if they touch it or if they somehow get the venom in their mouth—perhaps through their tongue.

“As we say with most things you encounter in a national park, whether it’s a banana snail, an unfamiliar mushroom or a large toad with bright eyes in the middle of the night, please refrain from licking,” the agency said in one Facebook post that has now gone viral.

Vets warn pet owners that dogs and cats can die if they lick the toad’s toxins and don’t get medical attention right away.

While the National Park Service advice appears to be out of left field, this isn’t the first time a government agency has urged the public to fight the urge to lick a toad.

In 1990, the DEA warned Americans about the growing trend of toad licking, but concern at the time focused on cane toads.

“It sounds like a fairy tale gone wrong, doesn’t it?” Robert Sager, then head of the DEA lab in San Francisco, told The Times. “Well, I don’t think that’s going to be a big problem because people don’t go around licking toads out of habit.”

In 1993, the South Carolina legislature passed a law that later failed but attempted to make it illegal “to lick, kiss, or bite a cane toad, or to smoke toads.” Offenders found guilty of the crime would have done 30 days of community service at a reptile house at the Columbia Zoo, according to the State Archives.

The National Park Service struck a more tongue-in-cheek tone with a Facebook post that featured an unsuspecting Sonoran toad in a night vision photo.

“Black and white motion sensor camera footage of Sonoran desert toad staring into your soul in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona,” the caption read.

The toad is native to the Sonoran Desert, but is also found in the lower Colorado River and southeastern Imperial County on the Arizona border. The frogs usually appear during the monsoon season and are most active from March to July.

Also known as Colorado River Toad or bufo alvariusthe animal secretes the hallucinogen 5-MeO-DMT, according to a 2019 study by Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The study analyzed the effects of inhaling the vapor of dried toad secretions from the parotid gland, which is located near the toad’s eyes. Inhaling the vapor has gained popularity in naturalistic settings as a treatment for anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. The toxin is also used by people who want to hallucinate for spiritual purposes.

In popular culture, toad-licking has become an abbreviation for a psychedelic trip. In Isaac Asimov’s 1954 science fiction novel Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, tiny frogs captivate humans with telepathy, while in the animated series Futurama, a recurring character called “Hypnotoad” hypnotizes anyone who stares into her swaying eyes. Park service: Please don’t lick the hallucinogenic toads

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