This week Christina Haack, star of the HGTV series Flip or Flop and Christina on the Coast, shared images from her tropical birthday vacation with her new boyfriend, Austin-based real estate agent Joshua Hall.
Coming so soon after Haack's divorce from English TV presenter Ant Anstead was finalized, the new couple has attracted lots of attention, and were spotted in the Los Angeles International Airport on their way out of town. But questions about the relationship between Haack — who turned 38 on Friday — and her new love interest may not be nearly as interesting as Haack's process for getting back into the dating scene — a process that involved psychedelic toad venom.
As Haack put it in her Instagram post about the new relationship, "I met Josh when I wasn't in a state of fear or fight-or-flight. I had taken time off social, hired a spiritual coach and smoked a Bufo toad (which basically reset my brain and kicked out years of anxiety in 15 mins)."
It should go without saying that Haack did not smoke an actual toad. Rather, the so-called "venom" (technically a toxin, as a true venom is delivered through the animal's bite or similar contact) secreted by the Bufo alvarias, or Colorado River toad, can be extracted and dried, then smoked or vaporized to induce a "spiritual" drug experience.
The drug, sometimes referred to simply as "toad," is one of a number of naturally occurring substances that have long been used to induce shamanic spiritual experiences often described as ego death or communion with the universe. These include psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca tea, and even the urine of Amanita muscaria-consuming reindeer.
But unlike peyote — the mescaline-producing cactus that has a legally recognized religious use — the use of these other substances as hallucinogens remains illegal in the United States, even for the purposes of religious worship. Nonetheless, a large gray market of retreats and private "spiritual coaches" continues to operate under the assumption that their illegal status would not hold up to a first amendment challenge in the court system.
And — whatever the metaphysical reality of these mind-expanding experiences — recent research suggests that the altered state of mind they provide can have significant and lasting psychological benefits. Psilocybin has been observed to be an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and similar results have been shown for the DMT in ayahuasca.
The working theory for both how these psychedelic experiences occur, and how they can have a therapeutic effect, is that these substances encourage the formation of new connections between the neurons in the brain. This allows, for instance, information from the parts of your brain that quietly interpret patterns, make predictions, or generate imaginative scenarios to interact with the parts of your brain that produce your conscious sensory experience.
But these new connections also allow for the users' brain to be rewired on a semi-permanent basis, potentially disrupting and smoothing out the well-worn neurological patterns that produce clinical depression and anxiety. As Mike Tyson explained his experience with "toad" to Joe Rogan in 2019, "I look at life differently, I look at people differently. It's almost like dying and being reborn… It's inconceivable."
With ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms, the active ingredient is ingested, and continues to alter the user's experience as its absorbed into the blood stream through the stomach and intestines over the course of several hours. But because the 5 MeO-DMT in the venom of the Colorado River toad is inhaled as smoke or vapor, its mind-altering effects are delivered in a potent, transformative burst that lasts as little as seven minutes — though it may feel much longer for the user. That expedited process has led to the increasing popularity of "toad."
Mike Tyson on smoking DMT: 'Do you understand the toad?' | The Art of Conversation w/ Dan Le Batard www.youtube.com
Of course, none of this is to say that these chemicals are miracle cures. Even with careful guidance, not everyone who takes these drugs for therapeutic purposes will achieve the desired results, and there are substantial risks that come with the territory.
For one, there is the nightmarish possibility of a so-called "bad trip" that includes all the intensity and immersive, mind-bending, time-dilating perspectives of a psychedelic experience, but one in which dark thoughts and horror pervade. While even these frightening ordeals can apparently provide a lasting benefit — with some users reporting that it can provide a context in which to work through issues and come out the other side — there is another risk without that silver lining: death.
There have been a small but concerning number of deaths associated with DMT ceremonies, possibly due to dosing issues or adulterants. And, last year, adult film star Nacho Vidal was arrested for the death of a man in his home near Valencia, Spain during a "toad" smoking ceremony.
Fortunately, Christina Haack's experience with 5 MeO-DMT and her "spiritual coach" seems to have been purely positive. It helped her to address her anxiety and feel ready to face a new relationship after a tumultuous romantic history both with Ant Anstead and her Flip of Flop co-host and first husband Tarek El Moussa.
So while she didn't actually "smoke a Bufo toad," it seems she did smoke "toad" to escape her "fight-or-flight" patterns and face the world with a new perspective. Hopefully that spells good things for her future and her new relationship with Joshua Hall.