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The Bad Shaman's Sapo
by Erik Davis
Jun 3 2010
Citation:   Davis E. "The Bad Shaman's Sapo" Jun 3, 2010.
A version of this story appeared earlier in "The Bad Shaman Meets the Wayward Doc", posted at
The man we called the Bad Shaman held forth on many obscurities lurking in our planet's natural pharmacopeia, but few he praised so highly or so often as the venom obtained from Phyllomedusa bicolor, a tree frog found throughout the Amazon basin. Used principally by Panoan-speaking Indian men in preparation for hunting, the venom was initially brought to the knowledge of the experimental underground by the intrepid High Times explorer-head Peter Gorman. Though neither psychedelic nor particularly pleasurable in its effects, the venom was, according to the Bad Shaman, definitely the shit.

However, one could not always trust the Bad Shaman on such matters--he was the Bad Shaman, after all, el brujo malo, a New Jersey halfbreed known for pranks and a prodigious appetite for insects (he once described the taste of a wasp as "Brie on a Triscuit"). So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that Pie, the Bear, and I all gathered at the Bad Shaman's high mountain home that early winter afternoon. Live Phyllomedusa greeted us in the Southwestern-style foyer--spindly green Gollums that, so far, had not responded to the Bad Shaman's variously comic attempts to coax venom from their skins. The batch we sampled came straight from the jungle, a dark resinous goo with the consistency of Vaseline.

The procedure was simple, albeit odd: using smoldering incense sticks, we removed a few layers of skin from our upper arms, leaving a cluster of small round patches of exposed flesh. (Warned it would leave a scar, I etched the lower half of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life). The Bad Shaman then swabbed on a dab of the goo on the pink skin, and bade us to sit down on his plush couch and prepare ourselves for an intense and potentially nauseating rush. Our host indicated that it was OK to puke on his tile floor, which had already received many an ayahuasca purge.

Within moments I felt a full-volume niacin rush, a blood-pounding vasodilation in the throat and lower head. My throat felt scratchy and hot as the venom raced through my body, shooting tiny bolts of electricity along my arms and descending somewhat ominously to my gut. My body was definitely freaking out, but I maintained a cool mindfulness in the midst of the moderately high flesh panic, extracting whatever pleasure can be gained from raw intensity. Wooze hit my gut, though I did not lose my cookies. A host of lightning strikes and hot flashes continued to charge through my system, but in five minutes or so, the blast was basically over. The three of us lingered on the couch for a while longer, sipping Reed's Ginger Brew and allowing the last cloudbursts of the neural storm to trail off.

After getting lathered up, he was reduced to a quivering, sweating wreck whose only payoff, he later said, was the immense relief that he did not, in fact, die.
The froggy rocket-ride was weird, and valuable for its novelty alone. I could also sense that at higher doses one would slip into that death rehearsal rag that compels so many envelope-pushing psychonauts. But I was not prepared for the thoroughly excellent if subtle payoff the venom had in store for me over the next few days: a persistently "up" level of energy and mood, but without the edginess of stimulants or the dopey, somewhat plastic cast of big pharma mood elevators. Our encounter with the frog venom was only the beginning of a long weekend bacchanal; yet even recreational compounds with heavy body loads left me feeling spry and chipper the morning after.

The Bad Shaman, whose upper arm looked like the cratered afterzone of a teenage acne scourge, loaded us up a day later, allowing me to finish my Kabbalistic tattoo. Though the Bad Shaman promised that the rewards depended on the heaviness of the dose, I still took a moderate amount. But the Bad Shaman blew out the stops for Hatboy, a particularly hard-headed member of our crew. After getting lathered up, he was reduced to a quivering, sweating wreck whose only payoff, he later said, was the immense relief that he did not, in fact, die.

The Bad Shaman only smiled. "Maybe you didn't get enough."