Fact Sheet

The new Viagra alternative: Venom from a 4-inch spider?

Researchers may have discovered a natural, eight-legged solution to erectile dysfunction

Until now, "spiders and penises are two things most people want to keep far, far apart," says Patrick Morgan at Discover Blog. But scientists at the Medical College of Georgia have found that poison from an aggressive Brazilian arachnid can help men achieve a lasting erection, even men who don't respond to Viagra. According to a new study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, venom from the Phoneutria nigriventer could potentially offer all of Viagra's benefits, with none of its side effects. Here's a guide to this surprising finding:

How on Earth did scientists figure this out?
In Brazil, a series of spider-bite victims reported getting erections after being nibbled by a certain species, so American scientists decided to investigate. Led by Dr. Kenia Nunes, a physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia, they were able to isolate the toxin that led to arousal, and administered it (in the form of a peptide) to rats with high blood pressure and erectile dysfunction. The rats got erections, with no detectable side effects.

What's the deal with this spider?
The Brazil wandering spider, also called the banana spider, typically lives on banana plantations in South and Central America, though it has occasionally been found crawling around in American supermarkets. Its bite causes severe pain, loss of muscle control, and difficulty breathing — which can be fatal without a dose of anti-venom.

So this is a suitable substitute for Viagra?
Maybe one day. The spider's toxin works in a completely different way than popular medications like Viagra and Levitra. This is good news because "we know that some patients don’t respond to the conventional therapy," says Nunes, as quoted by MSNBC. The spider venom "could be an optional treatment for them," and, says Morgan at Discover, it may one day "wind up on drug store shelves and bedroom across the nation, causing shortness of breath of a very different kind."

Sources: MSNBC, Daily Mail, Discover

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