A milky, psychoactive secretion that oozes from the glands of a North American toad could provide a fast-acting and extremely potent treatment for depression, according to a new study.
The amphibian in question is the Colorado river toad, or Bufo alvarius to give it its proper title. Its main talent is discharging a whiteish substance that contains a compound called 5-MeO-DMT, a psychedelic tryptamine that is related to the more famous compound DMT, famously found in the mind-altering psychedelic brew ayahuasca.
When dried and smoked, this unusual toad gunge is reported to generate a short yet earth-shattering psychedelic experience, during which the ego is completely obliterated and mystical insights are supposedly accessed. Because of this, it is increasingly being used in alternative healing retreats and by underground psychedelic therapists as a treatment for a range of emotional and psychological disorders.
To investigate its efficacy, researchers used a battery of psychiatric tests to examine the impact of smoking the toad milk on 42 participants. Publishing their findings in the journal Psychopharmacology, the authors report that average depression ratings were down by 18 percent one day after inhaling the substance, while anxiety was reduced by 39 percent and stress by 27 percent.
When the team then conducted a follow-up analysis four weeks later, they found that depression ratings had dropped to 68 percent below baseline levels, while anxiety and stress were down 56 percent and 48 percent respectively.
While the mechanism behind this anti-depressant effect isn’t fully understood, the study authors suggest it could be caused by an increase in neurogenesis, with 5-MeO-DMT having previously been shown to stimulate neuronal growth and development. Alternatively, they say that the compound may help to alleviate neuropsychiatric diseases by binding to sigma-1 receptors in the brain, which then has a regulatory effect on inflammation.
Yet despite the encouraging findings of this study, the authors are cautious about presenting their work, expressing a concern that it could lead to exploitation of the toad through excessive milking and black-market trading. Fortunately, however, they point out that the animals needn’t be harmed as it is in fact quite easy to synthesize 5-MeO-DMT in the lab, and that this should be just as effective as the naturally-occurring version.
Recently, a separate study by Johns Hopkins researchers found that 80 percent of people who used synthetic 5-MeO-DMT reported a reduction in both depression and anxiety. So if toad milk doesn’t appeal, there’s a vegan option too!