Why people are licking the Colorado River Toad — but shouldn’t

Do not lick the Sonoran Desert Toad, which releases bufotenin toxins as a defense. Photo by Shutterstock.

Do not lick the Sonoran Desert Toad (also known as the Colorado River Toad) — the National Park Service posted over the weekend. People have been seeking out this specific toad to lick them because their glands secrete a powerful hallucinogenic. But the side effects can include death.

Ian Recchio, a curator of reptiles and amphibians at the LA Zoo, says the toads release bufotenin toxins, which allegedly have psychedelic effects. While the toxin has been at the center of many urban legends, he says the toad’s been used ceremonially in the past, including by the Mayans. 

Recchio points out that the toad secretes the toxin as a defense, and it’s always important to handle them with care.

He says it's common for pets to unknowingly grab the toad, and it can prove to be dangerous: “Dogs, they can die within 15 or 20 minutes after chewing on one of these toads, or even swallowing them.”

In humans, the toxins can lead to serious cardiac events. 



  • Ian Recchio - curator of reptiles and amphibians at LA Zoo