Kambo: How (and Why) People Use This Bizarre Frog Poison

People are willing to go to great lengths in order to “upgrade” their life and performance. One of the new trends is to use a frog poison called kambo, which has been ceremonially used for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Kambo has many peptides that are healthful for the body according to scientific literature, but that does not mean the kambo treatment is for everyone or free from risks.

In the following article we will explain why so many people are using the kambo medicine and all of the potential kambo side effects. As usual, we will try to combine both the scientific literature on the topic, the indigenous perspective and usage, and anecdotal experiences.

What is Kambo?

Kambo is a frog venom that comes from the giant leaf or monkey frog, which is native to many regions in South America. Located in the rainforest regions of Peru, Brazil, Colombia, and others, it has been historically used for cleansing purposes in indigenous cultures for many years.

The process of gathering kambo requires listening for the distinct croak (or song) of the frog at night. Once captured, they can be “milked” for their venom, which is then applied in ceremonial settings to small fire-burned incisions (called gateways) on the skin.

Over the past few decades, kambo has been applied and analyzed in a western laboratory setting yielding numerous potential immune boosting agents beneficial for a wide range of diseases [1].

Kambo Benefits: Cleansing Peptides and Immune Boosters

One of the major kambo benefits is for people who struggle with addiction and specifically with opiate addiction [2]. The secretion of the from venom interacts with the opioid receptors in the brain even though it is said to be a psychedelic (technically it is not).

Two of the many peptides isolated from the phyllomedusa bicolor (official name of the frog) are called deltorphin and dermorphin and there are dozens either patented or prepared for usage to boost immune function [3].

The reason many westerners are currently looking to kambo is in the treatment of addiction. According to studies on kambo and addiction, a compound called tachykinin is responsible for modulating addiction potential [4]. Kambo does a superb job of treating addiction because of this peptide interaction.

This application has been noted not only in the case for opiate addiction, but alcohol as well [5], though there are fewer studies.

Most of the peptides found in kambo are noted to have immune boosting properties in some way. This provides a host of anti-cancer properties (for mouth, prostate, and brain) [6], they’re antimicrobial [7], and some evidence suggests they can protect the heart [8].

Kambo Cleanse

One of the main side effects of kambo is a series of purges that may be physical vomiting or diarrhea, which can last for many hours. The kambo cleanse typically happens while the venom is psychoactive in the participant, but can extend over time as well.

This kambo cleanse is the main reason many people (even those with addiction issues) seek the compound for themselves. The experience is cleansing for their organs (digestive tract and liver specifically) [9][10].

As much research is focused on helping sick patients become well, there are standard practices in the jungles of the Amazon for cognitive enhancement as well.

Hunting on Kambo

A primary use of kambo in South America is as a ritual before hunting [11]. The reason they have developed this ritual is because after the cleansing experience and intense physical sensations of kambo, there is usually a period of heightened acuity that can last for up to 48 hours.

This enhanced capability is powerful for hunters in the Amazon as they can more readily track down their prey. It provides long-lasting effects that may also be cognitive in nature and can be used by anyone who is living in a more western context.

Kambo Ceremony

Unlike many other classic psychedelics like ayahuasca or psilocybin, kambo does not take many hours. The intense experience of a kambo ceremony typically lasts anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes [12].

During the experience, there is often intense physical sensations owing in part to the cleansing compounds and the interaction with opioid and pain receptors.

This experience is usually guided by some type of shaman who has experience with what they call “medicine” from South America. While there may be some people that administer the kambo in a western context sterile and free from ceremony, the added benefit of a kambo ceremony can be valuable as far as the experience is concerned.


Experiencing Kambo: Not For the Faint of Heart

The experience itself can be (and was for me) very painful and challenging. While I never purged (vomiting or diarrhea), there was releasing of some things from an energetic perspective. I experienced lots of crying as the kambo experience went on.

The pain associated with the kambo is intense and it is also educational in some respects. From an emotional perspective, the physical pain can lead to much growth in self-awareness, gratitude, and a host of other more ephemeral takeaways.

The experiences associated with many of these entheogens and psychedelic-type drugs are often a combination of chemical compounds altering brain and body chemistry, but also inter-personal changes that come with a painful experience.

Kambo Side Effects: Something to Be Worried About?

Applying the poison of a frog into your bloodstream may not sound like a good idea to most and indeed it is less popular than other psychedelic substances coming out of the jungle. There are some precautions to consider when using kambo in a medicinal sense.

For one, an April 2018 case-study (the same month this author used kambo!) analyzed a woman who had severe toxicity from kambo 22 hours after the ceremony (which typically only lasts 30 – 45 minutes) [13]. The Clinical Toxicology study made no conclusions about why it was elongated, but it was a rare (and possible) occurrence.

Other data on the kambo side effects are less based on whole populations and trials and more on case studies. Another example included a 42 year old man who died due to an enlarged heart (perhaps exacerbated by kambo) [14].

Be mindful that this is a poison and an untested one from a scientific perspective (when it comes to side effects on a large scale). These individual anecdotes and poor experiences should not be cause for alarm necessarily because there will be a small percentage of every population that reacts poorly.

Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that doing kambo in a ceremonial context with the help of a guide who has experience can be highly beneficial and more safe.

References (Click to Expand)

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2544892
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26022261
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20526637
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26022261
  5. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/gqkxa9/kambo-ceremony-alcoholism-purging-uk
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23028527
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23161023
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28091919
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29706145
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26413084
  11. httpss://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/89/22/10960.full.pdf
  12. Ibid.
  13. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324172552_Prolonged_toxicity_from_Kambo_cleansing_ritual
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28886207


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