Phyllomedusa sauvagii a frog native to South America, commonly known as the waxy monkey tree frog, produces a poison used as its defense mechanism, and racing regulators have just recently discovered, post-race, that some race horse trainers had been giving this toxin to their horses, using its properties as a performance enhancing painkiller, dermorphin, increasing their speed.
Leading to this surprising discovery, officials heard rumors of certain trainers using the toxin as a drug for their horses and months after the race was over tested them but no such drug was found, or any drugs for that matter. They were puzzled by the negative results but a lab in Denver changed its testing method, subsequently finding over thirty horses from four different states positive for the painkiller. The trainers responsible for this unethical act of cheating are currently not being charged, but will probably soon be due to the fact that using dermorphin is now being considered one of the worst drug violations ever to arise in the industry.
Dermorphin has not just been the only performance enhancing drug to creep up in the sport. Cobra venom, forty times stronger than the drug morphine and superior to dermorphin, has been administered to injured horses before races, dulling their pain, making it possible for them to compete. Oklahoma State University’s Craig W. Stevens, a pharmacology professor who has previously studied dermorphin and its effects says that the drug not only relieves the animal’s pain but causes them to be hyperactive. Dr. Stevens states, “For a race horse, it would be beneficial. The animal wouldn’t feel pain, and it would have feelings of excitation and euphoria.”
I asked myself the question, what if a human took dermorphin. What would happen to them? I found one such man who actually experimented with the drug, performing a study on himself, releasing an article on what happened after his “research”. In his study he concluded, “Anyone who has done an opiate of any form already knows what to expect. Having never done Morphine myself, I cannot compare it to Dermorphin, however it is supposedly 30-60x the potency when taken orally, and 200-300x the potency when taken by I.V. We purchased 1mg for $20. Expensive, you say? Not really considering that 1mg is approx. 5-7 oral doses and 10 I.V. doses. If you decided to inject the entire 1mg, you would die faster than instantaneously. The high that dermorphin gave me was just like any other opiate I have ever done…warm, fuzzy, well-being, euphoria (hic-ups, in my case), slightly itchy at times (I’m sure you know what I mean). If you want me to compare it to something, I would say think of a Hydrocodone or Oxycodone high and multiply that by 500 or so…then you should have an idea.” After reading this I really hope dermorphin never becomes abundant and easily obtainable on the streets. I believe so many people would die, taking too much and overdosing. It’s a scary thought to imagine such a small dose can be that lethal.
This incident of drugging horses prior to racing has been found, not just in Denver, but in three separate states, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico. It is also suspected to be an issue in Texas. Officials believe that there are a number of additional states that dermorphin is being used but they don’t have the capability to test for it, creating an unfair atmosphere for all competitors. Petra Hartmann, director of direct testing services for Industrial Laboratories in Denver, believes that the use of dermorphin is not widespread, stating that, “The vast majority of horsemen would never subject their horse to this kind of chemical experimentation.” As for the future of horse racing I hope this is true and that they can eventually end this distasteful method, and all methods of cheating in the sport.
Bogdanich, Walt and Ruiz, Rebecca R. “Turning to Frogs for Illegal Aid in Horse Races.” Sports. The New York Times. 19 June 2012. Web. 20 June 2012.
“3.4-MethyleneDioxyMethaAmphetamine.” Dermorphin Report. alt.drugs.hard. n.p. Web. 3 May 1999.
By Matt B.