Toad Venom: Weird Trip or Cancer Cure?

April 30, 2016

“It was as though I was swimming in an ocean of myself,” one Erowid user wrote of smoking toad venom. “The intensity was beyond belief.”

A naturally occurring psychedelic, toad venom—or 5-MeO-DMT—is as bizarre as it sounds. Banned in the U.S. but legal in Canada, the chemicals that make up the venom can be found in several different plant species and—as its nickname intimates—toads.

Used by ancient cultures as medicine to treat things like heart failure, tumors, and pain, the drug prompted a cycle of abuse in the 90s, one that seemed on the verge of a comeback last fall when an American overdosed and died. But with a new study out of China this month, the once-therapeutic venom may be returning to its roots.

Released this April in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the paper is the most comprehensive look at the medical benefits of toad venom and toad skin thus far. In the minds of researchers at the Macau Institute for Applied Research in Medicine and Health in China where it was performed, it’s also a significant sign that the drug’s anti-cancer agents are powerful.

“Our research provides valuable chemical evidence for the appropriate processing method, quality control and rational exploration of toad skin and toad venom for the development of anticancer medicines,” the authors conclude.

The paper, which explores 56 different steroids in venom and skin of toads, comes in the wake of a similar study out of Australia in which researchers found cane toad venom to be effective at killing cancerous prostate cells. “We could process the venom for medicine, ideally in a tablet because it tastes absolutely awful if you drink it,” one author told The Guardian.

The Australian researchers found similar anti-cancer properties in toad venom, specifically its ability to kill cancerous prostate cells. Their research was so compelling, it prompted Chinese companies to reach out asking if they could buy bundles of cane toads (which are only in Australia).

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