June 21, 2012
Waxy monkey frog.
A testing lab commissioned by racing regulators found dermorphin — a painkiller derived from skin secretions of the waxy monkey tree frog (Phyllomedusa sauvagei), an amphibian widely kept in the pet trade — in more than 30 horses. The compound is suspected of helping horses run faster by dulling pain from injuries.
“For a racehorse, it would be beneficial,” Craig W. Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University, told The New York Times. “The animal wouldn’t feel pain, and it would have feelings of excitation and euphoria.”
It is unknown how widely dermorphin is used in the racing industry. The dermorphin found in the horses is likely artificially synthesized, according to Steven Barker, Director at the testing laboratory at Louisiana State University.
"There’s a lot out there, and that would be an awful lot of frogs that would have to be squeezed,” he said. “There are a lot of unemployed chemists out there.”
The findings add to a long list of performance-enhancing drugs used in racehorses. Some trainers have even used cobra venom as a painkiller.
The revelations come at a tough time for the horse racing industry, which is facing renewed criticism for high churn rates of horses and jockeys.
The secretions of a closely related — monkey frog Phyllomedusa bicolor — have long been used by indigenous tribes for traditional rituals. The secretion — which is administered directly into the body through application onto freshly inflicted burn wounds is said to generate an intense high. It is generally used the night before hunting trips.