Toad venom is hitting the mainstream as a promising treatment for anxiety and depression. The venom found in Colorado river toads, also known as Sonoran Desert toads, is currently being studied by a research team to see if the chemical compound 5-MeO-DMT can treat depression.
Beckley Psytech, a private clinical-stage biotech company dedicated to finding new psychedelic treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders based out of Oxford, just raised over $80 million from investors to support the clinical research and development of the psychedelic compound.
"My life's passion has been to unlock the therapeutic potential of psychedelics as I believe these compounds could help millions of people around the world," Beckley Psytech Chief Executive Cosmo Fielding Mellen said in a press release.
"As we embark on our next phase of growth, our strong syndicate of expert investors will support us in bringing much-needed innovative treatments to patients suffering from neurological and psychiatric conditions," Fielding Mellen continued.
In recent years, researchers have been studying various psychedelic compounds to see if they could be successfully used to treat depression, addiction and anxiety. The current research into psychedelics for depression treatment currently focuses on ketamine, ecstasy, and psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in some mushrooms.
The research is promising, but scientists are interested in studying other psychoactive compounds that result in a much shorter high. For psilocybin, the high can last up to eight hours whereas the compound found in toad venom only lasts up to an hour. This would reduce the cost of treatment since guided psilocybin trips require a therapist to stay with the patient until the high ends, which could take up to eight hours.
"Requiring a therapist to sit with a patient for the entire duration of a psilocybin, MDMA or LSD experience which is, say, six to eight to 10 hours long, is going to be resource intensive and expensive," Fielding Mellen told Sifted.
"What we're trying to show is that we can induce similar levels of treatment response with 5-MeO-DMT that you're seeing with psilocybin, but the treatment takes an hour rather than a day. If you can do that then there's a huge patient access advantage," Fielding Mellen said.
Fielding Mellen also said that 5-MeO-DMT is attractive as a new treatment option because it produces far fewer visual and auditory hallucinations than LSD or psilocybin treatments. He said the strong hallucinations tend to distract from the therapy sessions and take away from the overall treatment.
Fielding Mellen and his startup are hoping to use their grant to design a synthetic 5-MeO-DMT compound that could save on cost and reduce harm. It is important to note that these psychedelic treatments should always be assisted with a trained guide or therapist and that toad poison is actually considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance in the United States.
When the toad venom is ingested, the psychedelic effects only take about 30 seconds to kick in and then leaves the person physically incapacitated for about 30 to 90 minutes, according to Johns Hopkins psychedelics researcher Alan Davis.
This is why it is so important to be with a trained professional during the administration of the powerful compound. For some, the perception of time, vision, and self goes out the window during the psychedelic experience. The experience tends to only last an hour and many patients express a mood-altering perspective and little to no overwhelming anxiety.
"Because 5-MeO-DMT is short-acting and lasts approximately 30-90 minutes, it could be much easier to use as an adjunct to therapy because current therapies usually involve a 6090-minute session," Davis wrote on the official Johns Hopkins Psychedelic Research Center Twitter account.
In recent years, people have been turning to the venom in these toads as a psychedelic trip. Some recreationally, some to reap the potential therapeutic benefits with a guide. Even celebrities have started to openly discuss their use of toad venom, including professional boxer Mike Tyson and HGTV's Christina Haack. Tyson told podcaster Joe Rogan in 2018 of his experience, "it's almost like dying and being reborn," and that it helped him return to his boxing career.
Earlier this summer, Haack created a post on Instagram recounting her guided experience smoking Bufo toad venom with a spiritual coach. She said the experience "reset her brain" and got rid of all her anxiety in less than 15 minutes.
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