Could a toad’s psychedelic venom be the next big anti-depressant?

Could a toad’s psychedelic venom be the next big anti-depressant?

The Colorado River toad is known for its psychedelic properties, but could it be hiding a major medicinal secret? (Picture: Getty Images)

A hallucinogenic toad’s venom could be a new form of anti-depressant, scientists say. 

The Colorado River toad, also known as the Sonoran Desert toad, has psychedelic venom just below the surface, which they secrete through their glands when it is scared.

And although it is well known that this toad’s venom can cause intense hallucinations and trippy experiences, until now scientists have been unsure how exactly it influences the brain.

But a recent study has found that the toad’s hallucinogenic compound could be the basis of a new antidepressant.

Researchers looked at a modified form a DMT compound and how it interacts with one of out happy hormones known as serotonin, but more a more obscure one known as the 5-HT1A serotonin receptor.

Research on psychedelics tend to focus on a similar serotonin receptor, 5-HT2A, as this is what’s activated when we hallucinate.

Psilocybin is a popular anti-depressant contender (Picture: Getty/Science Photo Libra)

But structural pharmacologist Dr Daniel Wacker, from the Icahn School of Medicine, and his team wanted to look further at the 5-HT1A receptors.

The team chemically tweaked the toad venom to target solely the 5-HT1A serotonin receptors and tested it against mice who had signs of stress and depression.

They found that the toad venom compound had a similar antidepressant and anti-anxiety effect in the mice – but the mice did not get high or hallucinate.

The mice who had the compound drank more tasty sugar water and spent more time with their peers, which are signs of lowered anxiety and depression.

‘Frankly, that’s what we hope to see,’ Audrey Warren at Mount Sinai Hospital told New Scientist.

‘It’s our hope that down the line, someone could use the findings of our study to help design novel antidepressants for humans, but that’s certainly a long way out.’

However, the researchers say that further studies are needed to see if this compound could have a similar effect in humans.

And it does seem more likely that other well-known psychedelics may be approved as mental health aids sooner than any treatments derived from the toad venom.

Psychedelics have been in the spotlight for anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medicine. Magic Mushrooms, or psilocybin, has led the research as scientists say that it could help in some of the hardest-to-treat cases. 

The study is published in Nature

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