Kambo is a shamanic medical treatment that originates from South America. Derived from the poison of a frog, it has been the subject of many scientific studies recently due to the peptides found within the venom.
Kambo, also called sapo, is a shamanic medicine from South America.
Kambo is used from the venom of frogs in South America and applied to burnt dots in the skin which cause a purgative process in the user.
Kambo secretions contain many peptides which could be useful for future medicinal ventures, but there is no evidence kambo cures anything even if used for a variety of ailments.
In this article we will delve into the history, uses, administration and potential benefits of this ancient medicine.
What is kambo?
Kambo, sometimes also called sapo, is a shamanic medicinal treatment that originates from the cultures of South America. The most common origin myth regarding this treatment comes from the Kaxinawa tribe of Brazil, where a shaman used the venom of a frog to cure a local villager. It is unclear what time period this is, or how long this shamanic practice has been around — hundreds, if not thousands of years.
The first studies of venom began in the 1960s. But, it was not until more recent times, that other tribes and also scientists began to study and spread this shamanic medicine throughout the Amazon and eventually the whole world. The frog used in the kambo treatment is called Phyllomedusa bicolor, or the giant monkey frog. It is also said that kambo was used by hunters at night to increase their night vision and speed for hunting. This frog is generally found in Brazil, Peru, and Venezuela.
What is shamanic medicine?
Shamanic medicine, also sometimes called plant medicine, largely originates from South America, but there are also indigenous European, African, North American, and Asian tribes that have their own plant or animal medicines. The term “shaman” actually originates from Siberia. Kambo is not a plant medicine because it uses the venom scraped off a frog, so it is a shamanic medicine. Many shamanic medicines are hallucinatory in nature, such as ayahuasca, San Pedro, iboga, medicinal mushrooms, and more. However, kambo treatment is not hallucinogenic and is purely used as a cleansing process.
Many indigenous cultures around the world have their own version of a local doctor—called a medicine man, shaman, or in South America a “curandero”. They believe everything in nature is sacred, and these cultures seek to live in harmony with the earth and use the medicines provided by plants and animals with as little harm as possible.
The local shaman is responsible for providing the medicines which often take part in a ceremonial setting which could include singing, tobacco smoking, leaf flapping, and the shaman going into a trance-like state where they supposedly commune with the deep levels of ancestral memory sometimes called the “spirit world”.
Shamanic medicine vs western medicine
Unlike western medicine—which tends to identify a set of physical symptoms that can be treated with pharmaceuticals—shamanic medicine believes in the following:
- Illness. Physical illness manifests due to an imbalance in emotions, spiritual state, or mental state which can cause physical diseases and other problems.
- Blockages. Shamanic medicine believes in removing energetic blockages through the cleansing effects of the medicine combined with their ceremony so that full health and well-being can thrive.
How is kambo frog venom removed from the frog?
The kambo frogs are only active at night, so to find the frog, the hunter must go out at night to find them. The frogs make a distinct sound, which helps the hunter find their collective. The hunter or shaman will capture a frog, and with specialized equipment, they scrape the venomous secretions off the frog's back. They then put the venom on a wooden stick to dry. Then, the frog is released without harm back into the jungle.
How kambo is administered
- Before. Before the ceremony, you will be asked to fast for 6–12 hours to ensure your digestive system is as clean as possible and not working on digesting any food. 24 hours prior to the fast, it's advisable to only eat fruits and vegetables to cleanse and prepare your body for the administration of kambo.
- The application. You will drink 1 liter of water upon arrival at the ceremony space. You will be asked to keep drinking water throughout to assist with the cleansing aspect. The facilitator makes 3-5 small, shallow burns with a rounded stick that only affect the top layer of your skin. The frog venom is then administered to the burns, which enables it to enter the blood steam quickly. These burns are usually made on the arms or legs, and depending on your experience with the medicine, you may receive burns on other areas of the body. It has become quite popular in kambo retreats for people to want the burnt dots in certain patterns on their bodies in the globalization of this shamanic medicine as a part of what is called spiritual tourism.
- During. After about 15 minutes, you will begin to feel the effects as the venom enters the lymphatic system. Your body temperature will rise, you may begin to sweat, and your face might swell up. There is often a feeling of intense nausea and you will most likely vomit. This is known as purging. A bucket will have been provided for you. You may also experience a cleansing of your bowels, in which case a facilitator will help you to the restroom. You will keep drinking water and purging until you are completely empty, and it can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.
- After. Once you have fully emptied, you will be asked to rest for a short while in a comfortable position. You'll be given some fruit to eat, and the facilitator will apply a compound called 'dragon's blood' to your burn wounds to speed up the healing process and fight any potential infections. You may feel tired, although some people report an intense spurt of energy and clarity. It's advised to take it easy for the rest of the day and if you experienced facial swelling, it should go down after a few hours. Depending on what you are using kambo for, weekly or monthly sessions may be recommended for the best benefit.
The benefits of kambo
In 1986, an Italian scientist studied the chemical compounds found in the kambo frog secretions. They are called peptides, which are short-chain amino acids in the body and contain an immense possibility for use in medicine because our chemical makeup is essentially water, protein, and peptides.
Scientists have been able to synthesize some peptides, but not all. Some peptides are neuropeptides, which means they affect the brain. This unique combination of peptides allows the kambo medicine to cross the blood-brain barrier uniquely, so it may lead to healing. Some beneficial peptides include:
- Dermorphin. Acts as a painkiller on the opioid receptors.
- Deltorphin. Also, a painkiller.
- Phyllomedusin. Affects the bowels and intestines, which contribute to the vomiting effect—also called the purge.
- Phyllocaerulein. Reduces blood pressure.
- Adenoreuglin. Helps reduce bacteria, fungi and also possibly cancer cells.
- Dermaseptin. Antimicrobial agent against bacteria, year, and viruses.
- Tryptophyllins. Fights candida yeast, as well as possible positive effects on the cardiovascular system, as well as regulating inflammation and fighting cancer.
Why people use kambo
- Emotional disorders. To fight depression, anxiety, and addiction.
- Detoxing. To get off certain medications for mental health or other diseases.
- Cancer fighting. It has reported anti-cancer properties.
- Immune boosting. The peptides boost the immune system.
- Protection. To fight off disease, colds, and viruses.
- Infertility. Kambo has been used to improve the chances of conception.
Is kambo safe?
Kambo is generally regarded as safe, and many people around the world have traveled to the Amazon to learn from the indigenous tribes and collect the frog venom to make it a worldwide phenomenon. However, those with certain health conditions should avoid kambo treatment, such as:
- Cardiovascular disease;
- Blood pressure disorders;
- Serious mental health disorders;
- History of stroke or brain damage;
- Addison's disease;
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Kambo is legal in many countries, and non-shamanic facilitators can be found on the International Association of Kambo Practitioners website. Always talk to your doctor before trying something new in your health regime.
Serious risk factors of kambo that can occur
Some risks have been associated with kambo, either due to improper application, drinking too much water, mixing it with other substances such as medication or shamanic medicines like ayahuasca, or having pre-existing conditions. The risk factors include:
- Death. Usually in the case of self-administering an incorrect dose.
- Blood imbalances. Electrolyte imbalance can occur.
- Vertigo. Dizziness and confusion.
- Excretion issues. Loss of bowel or bladder movement.
- Aches and pains. Muscular cramping.
- Esophageal rupture.
Kambo medicine is widely available to order on the internet and this can cause potential problems or even death if self-administering, so this is not recommended. Always search for a qualified practitioner near you. While many studies have been done on kambo and report the benefits of the peptides, there is no evidence the treatment itself actually works as a cleansing or healing process. Most Western medicine doctors believe the body is a self-cleansing mechanism and needs no further cleansing. However, the peptides from the frog venom offer some useful possibilities, although currently unknown, for the future of medicine.
- International Archives of Clinical Pharmacology. Kambo and its multitude of biological effects: adverse events or pharmacological effects?
- Medical News Today. Kambo: can frog poison boost health?
- Toxicology Reports. Natural drug or potential toxic agent? A literature review of acute poisoning cases.
- Cureus. Kambo frog poison as a cause of esophageal rupture.
- University of Minnesota. Shamanism.
- IAKP. International association of kambo practitioners.