October 23, 2017
The grandmother of five came to this tiny Texas town from Phoenix.
The air in the room is filled with the smell of Florida water.
The medicine man sits in the corner, chanting and shaking a shacapa, a rattle-leaf bundle of leaves.
She puts protection oil on herself, and then the medicine man takes a tamishi vine stick, and burns three holes in her upper arm.
He peels back the burned skin.
On a long, flat hardwood stick, there is a dried, clear lacquer-like substance—taken from an Amazonian tree frog—and, using a knife, he mixes it with his own saliva into a froth. It looks like egg whites.
Then, using the knife, he applies it to her burned flesh.
Within minutes, Kimberly Chilcote, 46, is sitting, shaking a rattle, and the medicine man is singing a prayer of healing over her.
Her face flushes, her chest heaves. Her cheeks swell—frog face, they call it.
Then, she vomits into a bag.
Her chest heaves some more.
After a few minutes, the medicine man comes and feels her forehead, taking her temperature. She is warm, and he asks if she’d like some water. She nods, and he gently pours water over her head.
It drips down, and she sways.
Fifteen minutes later, she’s laughing.
Chilcote came to this rural Texas town to learn how to heal others with sapo.
But first, she must be healed.
Sapo is the secretions of the Phyllomedusa bicolor frog—a giant waxy monkey tree frog that you can find in aquariums nationwide—except those in captivity don’t secrete sapo.
Traditionally, sapo is used by the Matsés people of the Peruvian Amazon to sharpen their senses, improve their hunting skills and to be able to take long walks without hunger, thirst, or exhaustion. They also use it to watch the development of a fetus.
Peter Gorman, intrepid journalist and chef, is also the medicine man (my words, not his) who was the first person to write about experiencing sapo, and brought it out of the jungle. He is the one teaching Chilcote about the sapo.
Sapo isn’t traditionally given in a ceremony like the one he performs, but he does so because, he says, sapo is abrupt and it can ease people into it, where they otherwise might panic from the first abrupt come-on of the sapo in their system.
Sapo, says Chilcote after a few days of receiving the medicine, “is a group of many different peptides and amino acids that interact with our system. They cross the blood-brain barrier, and have a strong effect on the pituitary gland.”
Sapo isn’t scheduled by the Controlled Substances Act, and it’s not illegal.
It’s not a psychedelic, either. Rather, it’s an intense physical, emotional, and spiritual experience that lasts about 15 minutes. Those who’ve taken the medicine report feeling clearer, sharper, and better in the days following its administration. While some people will brag about how much sapo they’ve done, each dose and experience can be different, and dosage isn’t determined by weight or body size.
The sapo may be good for cardiovascular conditions, mental and emotional issues, and cancers. It’s gotten some attention for addiction, but treatment for addiction would not typically occur with a few sessions of sapo alone.
Chilcote says the sapo “pulls toxins from wherever we store them”—And that can produce a toxic rainbow of what the body is purging: the vomit and bile might be bright yellow, or green, and the feces over the next day or two could be a surprising color, and the person might notice toxic smells coming from their excretions as their body continues to process toxins the sapo is forcing out.
Chilcote says a good candidate to use sapo depends on the kinds of medications a person is on and their stability and history. It’s case by case, she says, noting a person on chemotherapy drugs or with a history of extreme violence, among many other things, might not be the best candidate for the medicine. And Gorman stresses it should not be used by pregnant or breast-feeding women.
There are practitioners around the country, who are reasonably public. Some have studied in Brazil, or with Gorman in Texas, and have good reputations. People should not simply order sapo online and self-administer a substance they don’t know anything about, that they don’t know is the real thing.
After the purge of the sapo, the body needs to rest, says Chilcote. But then there is “a clarity.”
“It comes on fast and hard and it’s brutal for 15 to 20 minutes. You are sure you’re dying, and then there’s a break, and you realize ‘I just made it through,’ and it feels beautiful. It’s brutal, and then beautiful. You feel clean and clear.”
And then, it seems, you and the frog are friends.