What Is Toad Venom? Effects of Psychedelic Mike Tyson Took Explained

The practice of smoking toad venom, a mind-altering drug that has been compared to magic mushrooms and other hallucinogens, has been gaining traction among psychedelic users across the U.S., including Mike Tyson.

At Wonderland, a Miami conference dedicated to the psychedelics industry held this month, the 55-year-old boxing legend claimed he "died" during his "first trip" under the influence of toad venom.

The New York Post reported Tuesday Tyson said: "In my trips I've seen that death is beautiful. Life and death both have to be beautiful, but death has a bad rep. The toad has taught me that I'm not going to be here forever. There's an expiration date."

Tyson, who reportedly discovered toad venom four years ago, claimed the drug has made him "more creative" and helps him focus.

Mike Tyson performing in New Jersey.
Mike Tyson performs his one-man show "Undisputed Truth" on March 6, 2020 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Donald Kravitz/Getty Images

But what are the effects of smoking toad venom and is it dangerous?

What is Toad Venom?

Toad venom comes from the venom glands of the Colorado River toad, also known as the Sonoran Desert toad (Bufo alvarius).

The rare toad species produces a venom known as 5-MeO-DMT, an extremely powerful natural psychedelic that's around four to six times more potent than its better-known cousin DMT (dimethyltryptamine).

The National Poison Center explains there was a "toad-licking fad" in the 1980s, which saw people lick toads for the alleged psychedelic or hallucinogenic effect, and 5-MEO-DMT was discovered to be the reason for it.

"However, it [5-MEO-DMT] is found on the skin of only one species and is not active when taken orally. This led some people to try to extract it, dry it, and smoke or inhale it," according to the center.

The poison center said licking toads (usually cane toads) can be dangerous and may cause muscle weakness, rapid heart rate and vomiting.

Toad venom is relatively obscure among psychedelics, according to Alan Davis, a postdoc fellow with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine's Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit. He is among the few researchers looking into the drug.

"Not many people have written about it," said Davis, adding: "It is also hard to find."

What Are the Effects of Taking Toad Venom?

The effects of the fast-acting psychedelic substance can take place within around five minutes after ingestion.

Davis told the Johns Hopkins Magazine in 2019: "The experience is going to start within 10 to 30 seconds and then you're going to be physically incapacitated for 20 to 30 minutes.

"That means you'll want to have someone who knows what's going to happen administer it to you and be there in case you have any challenging physiological experiences," he added.

According to the university, many refer to its effect as "indescribable," while others equate it with a feeling of "pure awareness."

Some have reportedly experienced a distortion of their perception of time, vision, and sound. The experience, which is over in less than an hour, reportedly leaves users with a "mood-altering perspective on their lives."

Many users have also experienced extreme nausea and confusion for days after taking the drug, according to the Addiction Center.

Some studies have shown the use of 5-MeO-DMT may potentially have psychotherapeutic effects.

In September, researchers at Beckley Psytech, a private clinical-stage biotech company based in the U.K. and dedicated to finding new psychedelic treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, were reported to be looking at whether the psychedelic compound could help treat depression.

Can Toad Venom Be Lethal?

According to a 2003 study published in the peer-reviewed Heart journal, toad venom poisoning "carries a high mortality" and it may "predominantly manifest as gastrointestinal, mental, cardiac conduction, and arrhythmic disturbances."

The National Poison Center explains Bufo toad secretions, when in the eyes or nose, can cause severe irritation and pain, as well as tissue damage. Licking or swallowing the secretions can lead to numbness of the mouth and throat, as well as severe and life-threatening effects on the heart.

Some of the effects include an irregular heart rhythm, heart blockage, reduced blood pressure and cardiac arrest. These severe effects can also take place following absorption through the skin, the center said.

Is Toad Venom Legal?

The use of 5-MeO-DMT is illegal in the U.S. Toad venom is a Schedule I classified substance, which comes with a 10-year prison sentence for possession.

Schedule I substances are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Substances in this schedule have "a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision," the Department of Justice Diversion Control Division said.

Other examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin and marijuana.

The DEA warns: "Please note that a substance need not be listed as a controlled substance to be treated as a Schedule I substance for criminal prosecution.

"A controlled substance analogue is a substance which is intended for human consumption and is structurally or pharmacologically substantially similar to or is represented as being similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II substance and is not an approved medication in the United States," the federal body said.

A poisonous cane toad in Florida.
A poisonous cane toad, which is also known as a Bufo toad, seen after being caught near a lake in West Palm Beach, Florida in March 2019. Toad venom is derived from the venom glands of the Colorado River toad, also known as the Sonoran Desert toad (Bufo alvarius). Joe Raedle/Getty Images