Sweaty frogs could spawn new drug cures

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SWEAT OF frog - rather than eye of newt - could become the magic ingredient of new drugs to treat diseases ranging from depression to senile dementia.

Scientists have found a valuable substance in the mucus secretions from the skin of a frog that generations of South American indians have used to induce a euphoric mental state before hunting.

The chemical enhances the effects of a naturally occurring substance in the body that is believed to control various aspects of human physiology. If it could be turned into a marketable drug it would open up a vast range of possible applications, the scientists believe.

Other amphibians, notably the cane toad, also produce hallucinogenic poisons in their skin as a defence against predators - which has led to spate of toad licking among American drug users - but the frog's sweaty secretions could turn out to be worth millions if a useful, legitimate drug is developed.

The Matses Indians on the Brazil-Peru border scrape the mucus from the skin of the large green frog, Phyllomedusa bicolor, before going hunting. They mix the dried secretion with spittle and rub it into open burn wounds where it enters the bloodstream.

For the first 15 minutes the potion causes vomiting, involuntary defecation and urination, and an increase in heart rate and sweating, according to Peter Gorman, an American anthropologist from New York who has taken part in the rituals.

'I was hoping and praying I would die,' he recalls in the journal Science. After falling into a day-long listlessness he says he woke up feeling 'god-like' as if the senses had been sharpened and strength enhanced. The indians perform the ritual of 'taking frog' to help them hunt, he said.