Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Couple of Things About Sapo

On a forum on which I occasionally comment, the subject of sapo, the Matses' tree frog medicine came up. And one of the posters noted that they had seen someone take a good dose with little effect. My response is below.
To those who don't know what sapo is, it is a protective "goop" given off by the Phylomedusa bicolor frog which turns out to be about the most bioactive substance ever discovered, with 144 new proteins (and counting) that interact perfectly with the human body in its chemical makeup. Among those dozens are being investigated by pharmaceutical houses for new medicines. The frog, in fact, opened up an entire new avenue of investigation for Western medicine, and by chance, I was the first guy to write about having taken the substance and what it's effects were. My report, made more than 25 years ago, turned out to be, surprisingly, the first account ever--so I've been told--of a human taking an animal product directly into the blood stream for the purpose of medicinal use. I say directly into the blood stream because the administration of sapo is done by burning the epidermis (generally the upper arm but really it can be done anywhere) with a red hot piece of vine, tamishi, then scraping the burned skin to expose the capillarys. The medicine is then applied to those.
Enough background. Here's my response to the question of why one person would get laid flat by the medicine and another might not appear to get much effect:

As a rule, if someone gets little effect from the sapo, it was either due to how that particular frog was collected or what happened with the frog in the previous week.
The Phylomedusa bicolor is a tree frog. It's primary predators are tree snakes. With few exceptions--like the Loro Machaco, most tree snakes are either constrictors or rear-fanged. They approach the frog and then take it into their mouths, holding it in place with their tiny backwards-slanting teeth. In that moment the frog gives off it's protective medicine, the "venom" or "sapo". (You must remember that the word "sapo" means Toad in Spanish, and so the correct word should be "rana", but that the Mayoruna/Matses from whom we originally get the medicine did not, in 1986 when they gave it to me, speak enough Spanish to know the word "rana" and so called all of the amphibians that looked like frogs and toads "sapo.")
The sapo freezes the snake as it goes directly into the mucous membrane of the snake's mouth. The frog then extricates him/herself and escapes. If the frog is a moment late and the snake can get it into it's throat, it is crushed.
Now once that frog has give up it's protection, it takes about a week to accumulate it again. Just like a snake's venom. And if someone collects that frog and extracts its cream-colored "sap", it will look just like good medicine sapo but will have no or little strength. That accounts for many people getting sticks of sapo that are not very strong.
There is also the matter of collecting the frog. When properly collected, the collector never touches the frog. The branch on which the frog sits is cut and that is carried back to wherever the extraction is going to occur. The frog is left on the tree branch while the four little stakes are put in place and the four strings that will tie the frogs' fore and back legs are made. Only when all that is set up is the frog touched, and then very gingerly. That assures that the maximum potent medicine can be extracted. If the frog is touched previously, it will be frightened and give off it's protective "venom" and so while a person can still collect the "goop", it won't have much potency.
And then even if the frog is collected properly, without being disturbed, if the collector pushes to get all of the "sap" from the frog, much of it will have diminished potency. So one end of a stick of sapo might be very powerful while the other end is not. Remember, the material is there for a split-second release that can afford the frog freedom. Anything beyond that initial release is not nearly as powerful.
Which is why four or five people getting medicine from the same stick can have very different responses to the medicine in terms of its potency. If a frog is very well collected and has not given off its 'venom' in the previous week, and if the medicine burn is made with tamishi, the vine of choice for the Mayoruna/Matses, and if the tamishi is a full 1/4 inch in diameter, then four burns will have most humans, regardless of weight, begging for mercy within about 90 seconds.
Two other points, though they are off-discussion here--I think they're interesting--is that cockroaches and waterbugs can devour several sticks of sapo in a single night. And believe me, that's annoying. So don't let them at it.
And secondly, if properly collected, I know of no expiration of power. I've still got sticks from more than 20 years ago that are as potent as brand new material. That I find pretty amazing.

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