In the last few years, evidence has been emerging that several psychedelics seem to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Now scientists have tested a new compound - and early trials indicate that it, too, has potential.
As with many other psychedelics, this one comes from nature, too. Specifically, we're talking 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), secreted by the Colorado River toad (Incilius alvarius).
Among a small group of people, researchers led by Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that inhaling dried-and-powdered toad secretions resulted in increased life satisfaction, better mindfulness, and a decrease in psychopathological symptoms for the duration of the four-week-long study.
According to the team, this result shows more research is needed into the potential beneficial effects of 5-MeO-DMT.
"A recent survey among users of 5-MeO-DMT (toad, synthetic, or plant derived) indicated that most respondents used 5-MeO-DMT for spiritual exploration and reported mystical-type experiences of moderate-to-high intensity," the researchers write in their paper.
"Interestingly, those respondents who reported a psychiatric disorder mentioned that 5-MeO-DMT had helped them reduce their symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress, or effectively deal with alcoholism and drug abuse."
Users, the researchers noted, have reported that toad goo produces a more intense psychedelic effect than plant- or fungus-based psychedelics. This includes such substances as LSD (from ergot fungus), mescaline (from the peyote cactus), psilocybin (from mushrooms) and ayahuasca (from a vine).
To investigate this stronger effect, the team set out to conduct an observational study of the potential antidepressant properties the toad psychedelic might have.
Forty-two participants from around the world completed baseline tests before inhaling a vapour of dried toad dust, and then did the tests again within 24 hours of the inhalation.
Then, 24 of those participants completed a final round of testing four weeks later. Of those 24, most reported feeling better about their life, more mindful, and less depressed, anxious and stressed even four weeks after that single dose. And the stronger their psychedelic experience, the more pronounced were the prolonged effects.
It is important to note that this is not necessarily indicative of the whole gamut of experiences, the researchers said, since nearly half of the participants who completed the 24-hour survey did not return for the final tests.
"Their reasons for not completing the assessments are unknown but potentially could be driven by disappointments that emerged over the experience," they write in their paper.
"Most participants listed either 'understanding myself' or 'solving problems' as their motivation for attending the sessions. Other motivations included self-development, the search for a spiritual experience or spiritual healing and curiosity.
"It is unknown whether the experience from inhaling vapour from dried toad secretion containing 5-MeO-DMT fulfilled the expectations and motivations of all participants."
It's also possible to have a bad trip on 5-MeO-DMT, leading to feelings of increased anxiety and paranoia, the researchers noted. So it's possible that the participants who did not return may have had a bad experience.
Thus, if only the people who had a good experience completed the assessments, that could have introduced a selection bias into the results, since there was no control group. Additionally, the doses were eyeballed rather than strictly weighed, adding another limitation to the study.
"The present findings can therefore only be taken as a preliminary indication of the impact of inhaling vapour from dried toad secretion containing 5-MeO-DMT on mental health parameters," the team writes.
The researchers do emphasise that the study was done to determine if further research into the potential therapeutic benefits of 5-MeO-DMT is worth pursuing.
"This study suggests that a single administration of vapour from toad secretion containing 5-MeO-DMT produces rapid and persistent improvements in satisfaction with life, mindfulness and psychopathological symptoms, and that these changes are associated to the strength of the psychedelic experience," the researchers wrote.
"These results provide evidence supporting further research examining the potential therapeutic effect of 5-MeO-DMT."
The research has been published in the journal Psychopharmacology.