Why a Grandmother Went to Rural Texas and Used a Frog Secretion to Rid Toxins from Her Body


Kimberly Chilcote, a grandmother of five, came to this tiny Texas town from Tucson to learn how to heal others with sapo—an Amazonian medicine derived from a tree frog, found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, and the Guianas.  But first, she must be healed.


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 rattling leaf bundle. Chilcote 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.  Using a knife, he mixes it with his own saliva into a froth that looks like egg whites. Then, using the knife, he applies it to her burned flesh. 

Within minutes, 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.

After a few minutes, the medicine man feels her forehead. 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.

Sapo, also called kampo or kambo, is made up of the secretions of the Phyllomedusa bicolor frog. This giant waxy monkey tree frog is found in aquariums throughout the U.S.—but the frogs in captivity don’t secrete sapo. The process of sapo collection does not harm the wild frogs. The frogs are captured for the collection process, then released back into the wild.

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, a journalist and chef, is also the medicine man (my words, not his) who has written about experiencing sapo, and was perhaps the first non-indigenous person to bring 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 ceremony can ease people into the experience, where they otherwise might panic from the first come-on of the substance 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 in the U.S.

People claim the effect of sapo is an intense physical, emotional and spiritual experience that lasts about 15 minutes. Those who have 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. 

Chilcote believes sapo may be good for cardiovascular conditions, mental and emotional issues, and cancers. It’s gotten some attention for addiction cessation, 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." 

Chilcote says a good candidate to use sapo depends on the kinds of medications a person is on and their stability and history. She note a person on chemotherapy drugs or with a history of extreme violence, among 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 about sapo use. Some have studied in Brazil, or with Gorman in Texas.

People should not order sapo online and should never self-administer a substance with no verified uses that may or may not be 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.”

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