Citation: Twix. "Sapo: A Medicine or Nostrum?: An Experience with Phyllomedusa bicolor (ID 76872)". Erowid.org. Apr 28, 2009. erowid.org/exp/76872
With an equal measure of excitement and trepidation I was recently given the opportunity to try sapo, the secretions of the South American frog Phyllomedusa bicolor. Sapo is used for medicinal purposes by the Amazon-dwelling Matses, where it is said to imbue them with heightened senses and enhanced stamina--all the makings of success during a prolonged hunting expedition. Traditionally, several matchhead-sized burns are applied to the participantís skin and the sapo is administered topically on the burned flesh. This is thought to enhance transdermal absorption of the peptides that are present in the sapo.
Few Westerners have partaken in the sapo ritual, but there is one consistency in their reports. Within moments of administration, one falls wretchedly ill; nausea; vomiting; facial flush; rapid heart rate; stomach ache; loss of bladder and bowel control; sweating; and lachrymation. This generally lasts 15 minutes or so, but once this adverse reaction resolves the user feels invigorated, and sapoís therapeutic effects are said to last several days.
Call it curiosity, male bravado, sheer stupidity, or perhaps a smattering of all three, but I was intrigued by the prospect of trying sapo. Moreover, I found myself strangely attracted to the notion that in order to experience the beneficial effects of this medicine, one must take a brief detour through the inner sanctums of Hell. No pain, no gain, as they say in the classics!
I had told my friend E about sapo and he was keen to try it too. We had originally agreed that weíd do it at his apartment at the same time. But rather than potentially risk two lives through an unforeseeable adverse reaction, we decided that it would be more appropriate that one of us try it. Iím not sure how I ended being the guinea pig because I sure as hell donít recall volunteering. In hindsight, I think it was a good idea that I go first because I had no idea what to expect. The fear that accompanies the unknown is oftentimes less than the fear of knowing the awful, ugly, truth. I was by no means ignorant of the side-effects of sapo. In fact, I embellished to my friends that it ďfeels like youíre dying for about 15 minutes, but then you feel real good for a few daysĒ Ö I knew that this was a facetious exaggeration, but hadnít really taken it upon myself to consider what I was getting myself into.
Regardless, it was 10 p.m. at E and Tís apartment and we were ready to rock n roll. We decided to burn my skin using a Phillips head screwdriver that was placed on an oven hotplate for several minutes. Unsure if the burns would scar, I chose my inner thigh as a precaution. Iíd previously tried to administer the burns myself, but itís impossible because your natural instinct is to pull it away before you get the chance to properly burn your skin. E burned me four or five times. The agony! I was able to peel off the surrounding loose skin and I now had a 3 cm square area of burned skin. This is a considerably larger burn than those typically administered by the Matses.
After burning me, E then applied saliva to the sapo stick, and using a knife scraped up the sapo into gum-like clumps. He then daubed the sapo onto the burned area of skin with the knife.
The onset of sapo was inordinately rapid--within 1 minute of application. Iím still quite impressed by its fast onset. I initially felt a mild throbbing sensation on my thigh, followed by a noticeable increase in heart rate and faintness. My vision started to go a bit blurry, as though not enough oxygen was getting to my brain. This feeling was more odd than unpleasant, but increased in severity quite rapidly. In a matter of moments I began to feel flushed and was sweating profusely. I was overwhelmed with an intense feeling of nausea and reached for the bucket. Over the next while, I tried to induce vomiting because I thought that it was inevitable, but thankfully it just wasnít happening.
To quell the nausea I kept changing my body position to lying on the floor, back onto the couch, then crouched over with my head between my legs to suppress the gag reflex. I just couldnít get comfortable and every movement felt so wrong. It felt like an eternity had passed. I asked T, ďHow long has it been?Ē
Two-fucking-minutes! All I could think was, ďIf this has only been two minutes, how the fuck am I going to survive the next 13?Ē By this stage, I was feeling like absolute shit. I was sweaty and flushed and nauseous and so unbearably drained that moving my body was a demand of monstrous proportions. As the physical discomfort intensified, I had E help me up and I staggered to the bathroom. I lay on the tiles of the bathroom floor, bucket in hand and a toilet nearby just in case I needed to barf, shit, piss, or all three. I think the reduction in sensory input helped me a lot as all the commotion in the lounge room was quite overwhelming and aggravated the nausea.
Over the next 15 minutes, I was confronted with a host of ailments. My throat, mouth, tongue and lips became inflamed, with the same numbness I imagine getting punched in the mouth or having a bad allergic reaction would feel. My mouth was extremely dry. My heart was racing and I was sweating. And for some reason my eyes wept profusely. I could hardly speak. I mumbled to T to get me some water. Unable to muster the strength to sit upright, I lay sprawled out on the floor and drank the water sideways.
The burn on my thigh was killing me and I was overwhelmed with anxiety. When the fuck is this going to end? I had the persistent feeling that I was going to barf without a momentís warning. I also experienced bowel distension. I got the impression that if my bowels werenít empty then Iíd have likely soiled myself as a matter of course.
The remainder of this period is a blur, but I recall that in this state I had a frank and extensive inner-monologue as to why I like to subject myself to these sorts of things. I kept thinking to myself that the after-effects of sapo had better be worth it, because this physical feeling simply pointed to sapo being more like a poison than a medicine.
At around the 20 minute mark the horrible side-effects started to subside. First went the nausea and the rapid heart rate. Of all the physical symptoms I think my weeping eyes and swollen throat were the ones that persisted the longest. I still didnít have the strength to get up off the floor. It took me another 10 or so minutes before I could sit up and was ready to come out.
At about 30 minutes after the onset of the sapo, I felt in control enough to stand up and come back to the lounge room. I felt very hungover, and was unable to speak or engage anyone in conversation. My throat, lips and mouth still felt numb. E and T commented on how blood-shot and drug-addled my eyes looked, that if I sat next to them on the train looking the way I did, they would be very concerned about their safety and switch seats. My mind was completely toasted and the mental strain of having to think was far too great, so I simply stared blankly at the TV until I was ready to go home.
12:30 a.m. I type this, having taken the sapo about 2.5 hours ago. The residual effects of the sapo have been gone for 30 minutes. I donít feel hungover anymore, but I donít feel euphoric. If I donít wake up tomorrow feeling fantastic, then what I went through wouldnít justify the effects.
NEXT MORNING, AFTER SLEEP
6:30 a.m. I feel pretty good. My throat feels a little croaky and Iím unusually energetic for such little sleep (~5 hours).
1:30 p.m. I donít feel fantastic. I have less desire to eat, but thatís about it.
10 p.m. Iíve noticed that Iíve been pretty energetic the entire day, no afternoon tiredness or anything like that. Iíve also had a reduced appetite. The fact that Iím more alert during times of the day when Iím usually quite tired is pointing to the effects of the sapo. I have no desire to sleep. Iím compelled to conclude that sapo has invigorating properties.
DAY 2, BEDTIME
11 p.m. In retrospect itís difficult for me to exclude changes in my mood from just changes in my routine, and the true effects of sapo. Just gauging days previous to the sapo, Iíve had a reasonably strong increase in physical energy, and a moderate increase in mental energy. The next day after the sapo, I was able to do boring, repetitive tasks which I normally have difficulty doing. Today, the second day after taking sapo, I think the physical stimulation is there, but the psychic effects have diminished considerably.
Having had a bit more time to reflect upon my experience, I think sapo is peculiar concoction whose experience is worthy of trying once. If you care to recall your worst alcohol experience--that feeling like youíve poisoned your body and you know that the time between now and when you're feeling better will involve much anguish--the effects of sapo are somewhat akin to that. It definitely feels like youíve taken a poison instead of a medicine, and although I wouldnít say that it feels like youíre dying, you certainly feel so horrendously ill that youíd probably wish you were dead.
Considering sapo as a simple equation of positive versus adverse effects, I would say that the adverse reaction doesnít justify its subsequent positive effects. That said, do I regret taking it? Hell no! Itís not every day that you get the chance to administer Amazonian frogís secretions, and after my burns heal I can see myself trying it a couple more times. Well, maybe. Itís been suggested to me that the fact that I didnít barf means that I didnít have a sufficiently high dose. However, I did experience extreme feelings of nausea, as well as most of the other symptoms documented previously. To be sure, if there ever is a next time, I'll probably try a slightly higher dose and see how well I fare.
FOR THOSE INTENDING TO TAKE SAPO I OFFER THE FOLLOWING ADVICE:
Make sure you have an empty stomach and drink a lot of water beforehand or you may get dehydrated. Empty your bladder and bowels, just in case of any unfortunate ďmishapsĒ. Be careful when administering the burns, everyone who has seen my burns tells me that theyíll scarÖ but Iíve had much more serious burns that have healed perfectly. I guess Iíll have to wait and see. Most importantly, make sure you have a sober sitter that can look after you should anything bad happen to you. If you have a bum ticker, then I donít think taking sapo would be particularly wise.
The decision to experience sapo shouldnít be taken lightly, but heck, Iíve gotta try everything at least once!
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