Kambo is the poison of the giant leaf frog 'Phyllomedusa bicolor', which it excretes through its skin. The frog lives in the upper regions of the Amazon. Due to its high toxicity, the frog doesn’t have to worry about predators. Even snakes go to great lengths to avoid it. The lack of natural predators has caused the giant leaf frog population to sky-rocket.
It’s obviously foolish to ingest the frog’s secretion in large quantities. However, when mere droplets are applied to the skin after the epidermis is scorched off, it can have a deep cleansing effect.
The Indians use kambo in their rituals, which are led by a shaman, also called a medicine man. Before kambo is applied to the skin by the shaman, participants drink two litres of water on an empty stomach. Then the top layer of skin is burnt off with an incense stick. The kambo is applied onto the burned flesh so that the frog’s secretion is absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
After applying the kambo, a warm sensation quickly follows. Blood is drawn to the head and the face turns a deep red hue. After a few minutes a strong nausea comes on, which causes the participant to vomit. It also speeds up the heart rate and the body temperature rises. Participants start to perspire and may also experience shivers. So far the effects don’t sound particularly attractive. However, after a kambo session you’ll feel completely revitalized, which is what makes the rigours of the ritual worthwhile to endure. A ritual usually consists of two sessions in a row.
During the kambo session, most shamans will partake in singing or play an instrument. Certain spiritual cleansing rituals are also involved, such as the burning of palo santo (holy wood) or purifying the aura with large feathers or leaves from the jungle. Every shaman has his or her own rituals.
A kambo treatment in the jungle
Like other shamanistic rituals, the ritual use of kambo has reached the Western world. To undertake a session you no longer need to make an epic trip to the Amazon jungle, you can visit a Western shaman, who’ll lead the kambo ceremony. It should be noted that a shaman from the Amazon often has undergone years of training and devotes his entire life to the vocation to serve and heal others.
Western shamans tend to be less experienced. Some calling themselves shaman have not received any formal training and have merely observed the art of leading a ceremony a number of times. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a shaman certification of quality. Suffice it to say that the rituals we undertake in the West are, generally speaking, a pale imitation of the original shamanistic rituals in the Amazon area.
In addition to visiting a shaman, it’s also possible to buy kambo and undergo a session yourself. Of course every shaman will discourage you from doing it without the proper rituals. But if the shamanistic ritual carries no value to you, then you can perform a ceremony yourself. This carries the advantage that you can choose where to do it, and to pick a setting you’re familiar with. You can also determine when to initiate the ritual as you’re not bound to someone else’s timetable. Lastly it’s actually quite cheap.
Your own kambo session costs less than five euro, whereas the average shaman-guided ceremony may cost up to 50 euro.
Kambo is obtained by catching the giant leaf frog and scraping the secretion off its skin. The frogs are usually found nearby rivers in the Amazon area. These creeks are called Igarapés by the indigenous people. When it’s raining, the frogs gather around the Igarapés and create a particular sound. The Indians imitate this sound to lure and subsequently catch the frogs.
Catching them is quite easy, as the giant leaf frogs don’t have any natural predators. Then they’re carefully strung up on each of their four legs, so the body forms an X shape.
A female shaman will sometimes massage the frog’s legs, to stimulate the production of poison. The poisonous substance on his skin is carefully scraped and placed on small flat bamboo plates, where the poison is left to dry. When the Indians have collected enough poison, the frog is released back into the wild. Great care is taken to leave the frog unharmed during the gathering process. The dried kambo may then be used by adding a bit of saliva or water, which turns it into something resembling jelly. This can then be applied to the skin in little dots.
Indians do not write down their history but pass it along orally, through storytelling. The history of kambo can be shared only as a legend. According to the Indians of the Kaxinawá, a number of people in their tribe became seriously ill one day. Their shaman Kampu had done everything within his power to remedy the illness. He tried all his medicinal herbs, consulted his ancestors and performed rituals, but nothing helped him cure his tribesmen.
Kampu journeyed deep into the jungle and under the influence of psychoactive plants, he conferred with the great spirit. The spirit showed him how to lift up the giant leaf frog and how to scrape the white toxic liquid off its skin. Then the Great Spirit taught Kampu how to apply the poison to skin burns. After receiving the revelation, Kampu rushed back to his tribe, to treat his sick tribesmen as instructed by the Great Spirit. The kambo ritual healed his brothers and sisters.
According to the Indians, the spirit of Kampu passed on to the giant leaf frog upon his demise, where it lives on to serve the Amazon Indians with his healing powers. Different tribes have different names for Kampu, some call him Sapo, Kambu of Vacina da Floresta. The rituals performed during the ceremony differ for each tribe, though in all cases the upper layer of skin is burned, peeled away and the kambo is applied to the wound.
Westerners have a tendency to see such stories as complete nonsense. After all, how can one reach to a spirit under the influence of psychedelics? But when you’re experiencing the effects of natural psychedelics yourself, you might find your thoughts on this matter changing. If the story holds some truth, it’s miraculous that someone came up with the idea of curing someone by administering a strong poison.
Indigenous shamans use medicinal herbs, which are often scientifically proven to be effective. Kambo contains many substances which appear to have therapeutic effects. It’s fair to conclude that the properties of kambo are not solely based on superstition.
Kambo is made up of many different substances, all of which have their own effect on the human body. It contains a large number of peptides (proteins), such as the peptide families: bradykinin (Phyllokinin) Tachykinins (phyllomedusin) caerulein, sauvagine, tryptophyllins, dermorphins, deltorphins and bombesins.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to closely examine each substance. Modern science is nowhere near finished with properly researching each constituent of kambo. For this reason, we’ll limit our article on scientifically proven claims concerning kambo.
Effects of kambo
As previously mentioned, applying kambo leads to increased body temperature. You may experience a tingling sensation going up your spine. Next your head becomes burning hot. The pressure inside your head may reach uncomfortable levels, although there are some who find it a particularly pleasant feeling. Blood pressure also increases, turning the face red. This feeling will last some time before you’re struck with sudden extreme nausea. If you don’t feel any nausea, you’ve likely not been given enough kambo and the shaman will apply some more.
A shaman who knows what he’s doing will continue burning dots on your skin and applying kambo until the participant is so sick that he or she runs to the toilet or throws up in a bucket. You’ll continue throwing up until you’ve emptied your stomach. The first time doing kambo can be a terrifying experience. Reading about it is one thing, but actually experiencing it is quite intense.
We’re quite aware the previous paragraph doesn’t paint a very pretty picture, but the reason you endure this hardship is the sense of relief which sets in 15 minutes later and stays with you for several hours. The next day you’ll feel more vibrant and clear-minded than ever before and certain physical complaints will be reduced or completely dissipate. Shamans believe that repeating the kambo ritual each day for several days in a row can even cure more severe afflictions. Though there are many reports of users that have been cured of an ailment thanks to kambo, there is currently no scientific evidence to back this up.
At the time of writing, the Pubmed database contains only 47 articles on the frog poison. A small number of those consider the medicinal properties of kambo, although this is mainly research where certain components of kambo are tested in vitro (in test tubes) on bacteria and cancer cells. There hasn’t been any double-blind placebo research into the healing properties of kambo.
The number of scientific articles on kambo is extremely low, especially when you consider the number of publications on garlic is 4462 articles. A rather significant difference.
Even without thorough research, there are a few known physical effects from kambo that may be beneficial:
1. The stomach is emptied with such a great force, that, ultimately, bile is secreted. This seems like an unhealthy process, but it’s actually not. The liver binds fat-soluble toxins into the bile and the bile is excreted through the bowels. However, during the digestion process 90% of the bile is absorbed through the intestinal wall. This is obviously not very useful, because this also absorbs 90% of the fat-soluble toxins. Since the stomach gets rid of all the bile during a kambo session, a large amount of toxins is excreted, which would normally be absorbed again by the body.
Participants also often get diarrhoea. In this case, the stool travels quickly through the intestine and the intestinal wall is not able to absorb the bile. Compared to what someone would excrete on a normal day, the bile secretion is increased tenfold. This means that during one kambo session, you excrete as many fat-soluble toxins as you normally would in ten days. Kambo is great for cleansing. Afterwards the liver is stimulated to produce new bile again.
2. The body temperature rises as a result of kambo. Many viruses and bacteria die, even with the only one-degree difference in body temperature. This effect is similar to taking a sauna.
In addition to these two physical processes, kambo also contains certain substances which stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, have antibacterial and antiviral function and improve blood circulation. Below are some scientifically proven facts:
1. Kambo includes the two peptides dermaseptin B2 and B3. These substances are found to have an anti-bacterial effect and, in addition, to prevent the growth of tumours. These two promising substances have to be further investigated for possible anti-tumour therapy. Furthermore, other studies show that in addition to dermaseptin B2 and B3, kambo also contains other substances which inhibit the growth of tumours. 
2. Research shows that the poisons of twelve different giant leaf frogs contain eighty different antibacterial substances. Other studies emphasize the antibacterial activity of kambo as well.   
3. Some peptides in kambo act as a muscle relaxant and for that reason can be used for cardiovascular disease. Probably because of the low level of side effects, these peptides are a very potential drug. 
4. It is also been shown that kambo has anti-inflammatory properties. 
Kambo can easily be combined with other shamanic rituals. It’s often used prior to an ayahuasca ceremony, for example. In such a case there are usually two kambo sessions during the day, followed by an ayahuasca ceremony in the evening. The ceremony will be much more powerful. Similarly, kambo can be offered in combination with iboga or sweat lodge rituals. Some Western shamans or therapists combine kambo with acupuncture, by applying kambo on the acupressure points.
The dosage differs greatly for each person. A shaman starts with three dots to ascertain the reaction and determine sensitivity. For some this is enough, while others may need a fivefold increase. Shamans consider a person very clean if a lot of kambo is required. However, this claim cannot be verified by scientific evidence. For example, people that live an unhealthy life or are chronically ill may in fact require more dots than perfectly healthy people living a healthy lifestyle.
As discussed earlier, the side effects are not to be taken lightly. These include sweating, shaking, nausea, cramps, vomiting and an increase in body temperature. But, these side effects are to be expected during the kambo ritual and one could wonder if these can truly be considered ‘side effects’. There are many who view these phenomena as an integral part of the ritual, as the physical discomforts help to loosen the mind. After a ritual, you’ll feel tired of a light headache, but the next day you’ll generally be fit as a fiddle.
Risks and contraindications
There are no known incidents in which kambo had negative long-term effects on health. However, the use of kambo is discouraged for those having a donor organ. When you want to prevent a donor organ from being rejected, you need to take medicines to suppress your immune response. Kambo, on the other hand, stimulates the immune system. Therefore it’s unwise to use kambo, as it will counteract the effects of these medicines.
Likewise, people with severe immune system disorders, like MS and ALS, also need to be cautious with kambo. In these patients the own immune system is attacking the body. By stimulating the immune system, immune responses may intensify. However, it’s possible MS and ALS patients will feel better after a kambo session, as kambo probably also modulates the immune system. In case of a severe immune disorder, it’s recommended to take just one round the first time, wait for the effects and decide later on whether the kambo session had a healing effect.
As kambo only recently reached the western world, use of this substance is barely documented. Therefore it’s wise to always listen to your own body. Every substance can cause allergic reactions, and this holds true for kambo as well.
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