Pregnancy Category None

Uses. This drug occurs naturally in a number of plants and animals, apparently including trace amounts in humans. Rainforests in the Amazon and deserts in the U.S. Southwest have been key regions for natural sources of the drug, although plants and animals with the substance are found elsewhere as well. Accounts about natural products containing bufotenine reach back to ancient times. Amanita mushrooms containing the substance are believed to have been available to ancient Vikings, and some students of the topic wonder if the drug powered the Vikings' famed Berserker rage, in which they would descend upon opponents and attack them (just as modern soldiers sometimes take drugs to improve performance in battle). Native American religious use of a bufotenine snuff called cohoba was reported in 1496. Although bufotenine gained notoriety from research conducted by the U.S. military and Central Intelligence Agency in hopes that the substance would be effective in brainwashing efforts, the drug is perhaps best known for its presence in skins of certain toads. This source is speculated as the origin of fairy tales about wondrous experiences that happen when a woman kisses a frog. Such toads were a traditional component of witches' brews.

A tropical aphrodisiac compounded from the dried venom of toads has been found to contain bufotenine. A traditional Chinese medicine called Chan Su is rubbed on a spot of the body to numb the area and is also used for heart ailments and to fight nosebleeds; Chan Su is prepared from toads and contains bufotenine. Other toad venom preparations have been used to relieve toothache, to help bleeding gums, to promote urination, and to help people cough up phlegm.

Drawbacks. When scientists administered bufotenine to some individuals they showed alarming physical symptoms ranging from faces turning purple to production of so much saliva that medical observers intervened to prevent the person from breathing it into her lungs and drowning. Other physical effects can include high blood pressure and a feeling that one's air supply is inadequate. Researchers who gave the substance to dogs reported that they howled in an unnerving manner for hours.

Although bufotenine lowers pulse rate, it has been described as a heart stimulant. Overdose from products with the substance can cause death from heart failure, although the fatal poisoning may be from chemicals other than bufotenine in the products.

Abuse factors. Stories claim that licking bufotenine toads can produce hallucinations. Some persons familiar with the animals scoff at those tales, but there is a known case of a child being poisoned from licking one. Controversy arose when an Australian horse won a race and tested positive for bufotenine, a substance banned from the sport. Lacking any other explanation, bewildered observers at first jokingly speculated that the horse had eaten a toad, but investigators later focused on a variety of pasture grass containing bufotenine.

Typically toad venom is harvested, dried, and smoked. One authority says that swallowing enough venom to cause hallucinations would be fatal. Smokers, however, are apparently not automatically poisoned by the product, although reportedly some persons have instantly passed out upon inhaling the smoke. Smokers have reported altered consciousness and hallucinations involving sight, sound, smell, and touch. In research studies volunteers who took bufotenine have experienced psychedelic effects, such as mild visual hallucinations (seeing geometric shapes), distortions of time and space, and intense emotional experiences.

One authority notes that analysis of seeds used by Argentine shamans reveals bufotenine as their sole alkaloid, a finding suggesting that bufotenine is indeed psychedelic. Nonetheless, scientific research has not confirmed that the pure drug, as opposed to natural products containing this drug along with many other chemicals, is a psychedelic. For example, some toad venom having bufotenine is also a source of a hallucinogen called 5-MeO-DMT, and a person who uses this venom may be experiencing effects from 5-MeO-DMT rather than bufotenine. (Not everyone finds 5-MeO-DMT pleasant. Scientist A. McDonald, who engaged in self-experimentation, reported "an intense feeling of unease quite unlike the effects of DMT. My scientific curiosity has not yet proved sufficient to try it a second time.")

Although news media stories have described bufotenine as more powerful than LSD, researchers find that the substance does not readily cross from the bloodstream into brain tissue. Evidence also exists that a person's physical condition might affect bufotenine's hallucinogenic impact. Some authorities say the drug's apparent hallucinogenic qualities are caused instead by its ability to lower heart rate enough to produce oxygen starvation in the optic nerves, causing a person to "see stars." Some natural products containing bufotenine (such as some kinds of seeds and toads) are unquestionably psychedelic, but no scientific consensus exists about the psychedelic qualities of pure bufotenine.

Drug interactions. Not enough scientific information to report.

Cancer. Not enough scientific information to report.

Pregnancy. Not enough scientific information to report.

Additional information. Studies have found that levels of the substance are often elevated in the urine of schizophrenics, in some types of autistic individuals, and in depressed persons but rarely in psychologically normal people. Although cause and effect is by no means established, a study found higher bufotenine levels in urine of paranoid persons convicted of violent crimes than in urine from nonparanoid violent offenders.

Additional scientific information may be found in:

"Deaths Associated with a Purported Aphrodisiac—New York City, February 1993-

May 1995." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 44 (1995): 853-55, 861. Fabing, H.D., and J.R. Hawkins. "Intravenous Bufotenine Injection in the Human Being." Science 123 (1956): 886-87. Horgan, J. "Bufo Abuse: A Toxic Toad Gets Licked, Boiled, Teed up and Tanned."

Scientific American 263 (August 1990): 26-27. Lyttle, T. "Misuse and Legend in the 'Toad Licking' Phenomenon." The International

Journal of the Addictions 28 (1993): 521-38. Lyttle, T., D. Goldstein, and J. Gartz. "Bufo Toads and Bufotenine: Fact and Fiction Surrounding an Alleged Psychedelic." Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 28 (1996): 267-90.

McBride, M.C. "Bufotenine: Toward an Understanding of Possible Psychoactive Mechanisms." Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 32 (2000): 321-31. McDonald, A. "Mushrooms and Madness. Hallucinogenic Mushrooms and Some Psychopharmacological Implications." Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 25 (1980): 586-94.

Sandroni, P. "Aphrodisiacs Past and Present: A Historical Review." Clinical Autonomic

Research 11 (2001): 303-7. Siegel, D.M., and S.H. McDaniel. "The Frog Prince: Tale and Toxicology." American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 61 (1991): 558-62.

Continue reading here: Pregnancy Category C

Was this article helpful?

0 0