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The Sonoran Desert toad can alter your mind — it’s not the only animal

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The adage “all attention is good attention” may be true for marketers — not so for the Sonoran Desert toad. Last fall, the U.S. National Park Service sent out a message on Facebook asking visitors to “refrain from licking” the toad (technically Incilius alvarius but commonly called Bufo alvarius). That message came months after a New York Times article covered the booming interest in the psychedelic compound that the toad excretes from its skin — along with the “poaching, over-harvesting and illegal trafficking” that have accompanied that interest.

People don’t typically lick the toads to get high, says Robert Villa, a community outreach specialist at the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill. The secretions the toads produce are toxic when ingested. They “work orally, through the mucous membranes, and cause really dangerous side effects, like cardiac arrest,” Villa says.

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