Psychedelic toads could unlock new mental health treatments

The problem: Psychedelics like LSD and magic mushrooms are a buzzy research area because of their potential mental health benefits. But they still aren’t well-understood, and might not be practical for people who can’t work a hallucination into their day-to-day lives.

The solution: Researchers altered a psychedelic toxin excreted by the Colorado River toad. Most popular psychedelics work by bonding their molecules to parts of the brain that receive serotonin — a chemical that regulates mood — which could be key to its treatment potential, but also causes hallucinations. By altering the frog toxin to bond only to certain serotonin receptors, scientists seemed to have eliminated hallucinations in mice, while still getting antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects.

What’s next: Researchers are mostly excited about what the toxin could lead to: that other psychedelics — which are easier to come by than rounding up toads — could be modified in the same way.