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WHAT IS KAMBO?
Kambo, also known as frog medicine, is the venomous secretion of Phyllomedusa bicolor (the giant leaf or monkey frog), a bright green tree frog native to the Amazon basin. It can be found in the rain forest regions of northern Brazil, eastern Peru, southeastern Colombia, and parts of Venezuela, Bolivia, and the Guianas. In many regions outside Brazil, both the frog and its secretion are known as sapo (or ‘toad’).
Giant monkey frogs have a distinctive “song” that can be followed to collect them at night. Captive specimens are tied by the legs and harmlessly stressed to induce the secretion: a waxy substance scraped onto wooden splinters from the back and legs of the frog. Once dried, kambo can be stored for upwards of a year without losing its potency. For use, it’s mixed with saliva or water and directly applied to specially made skin burns.
**Kambo has a range of traditional and potential therapeutic applications, both medical and psycho-spiritual. Commonly described as an ‘ordeal medicine’, the secretion is known for its powerful emetic or purgative effects. Despite its initial unpleasantness, kambo is widely sought out to revitalize body and mind.
Kambo is legal in the United States and most, if not all, other countries.
To prepare kambo, the dried resin is combined with a little water or saliva to form a paste like “green mustard.” It is then divided into dots for application. Small points (roughly 1/8” in diameter) are burned through the top layer of the skin with a smoldering piece of titica vine (Heteropsis flexuosa) or an incense stick. Once the skin has been removed from the burns—as painlessly as from a blister—the kambo dots are applied. Aided by kambo’s vasodilating peptides and pro-inflammatory agents, they are absorbed into the bloodstream within seconds.
Usually a large quantity of liquid is consumed beforehand—for example, two liters of water.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The immediate effects of kambo medicine are intense and unpleasant but short-lived, usually lasting no more than 30-40 minutes. They include a feverish rise in temperature, sweating, shivers, and dizziness as the heart rate becomes rapid—possibly reaching more than 190 beats per minute. The blood pressure may rise or fall dramatically, accompanied by an increased awareness of the veins and arteries. Many people report a tingling or burning sensation like electricity that starts from the points and spreads through the body. Some may also feel a dissociative or drunken high.
Overwhelming nausea is generally unavoidable with kambo and purging is likely—either by vomiting, defecation, or both. Other effects include a feeling of pressure in the head, neck, and torso, stomach pain, inflammation of the throat, dry mouth, blurred vision (or temporary blindness), difficulty moving, and numb, swollen lips and tongue. This is the body’s physical reaction to acute poisoning.
After these initial effects have worn off and the heart rate has returned to normal, it may be necessary to rest. Some fall into a dreamless sleep, while others make strange animal noises.
Your experience may feel enhanced following the kambo purge. You may feel great physical strength, sharpened senses, and heightened mental alertness. Desirable after-effects like these may take a day to materialize or they could be immediate. They also tend to include a consistently elevated mood, increased physical and mental energy, decreased stress, and enhanced focus.
Kambo is best taken on an empty stomach, bladder, and bowels. It’s advisable to avoid solid food, and especially salt, for 8-10 hours beforehand. Alcohol should also be avoided for 24-48 hours before application.
It’s a good idea to test a small amount of kambo on the skin before administering it to burns. Many practitioners wait several minutes to gauge negative reactions. It is highly advised not to try this on your own, but to find an experienced kambo-giver or guide, due to the possibility of adverse effects or medical contraindications that could have severe or fatal consequences. Also keep in mind that kambo could be habit-forming. 12 applications per year is a good upper limit.
According to practitioners, the secretion “resets” the body, not only by strengthening the immune system but also through distinct psycho-spiritual benefits.
Panema—an Arawak term used by the Ashaninka and others—describes a negative energy that gathers over time. Traditionally visualized as a kind of dense grey cloud or aura, panema is blamed for bad luck, depression, laziness, irritation, and other adverse states. Naturally, clearing this cloud is vital for indigenous groups that depend on hunting and community coherence. For many, kambo serves this purpose.
Outside of traditional contexts, the dissipation of panema is framed in terms of “clearing the pain body,” “realigning the chakras,” or reorganizing personal psychology. The purge itself may be felt as an expulsion of bad thoughts, habits, negative personality traits, or persistent life problems.
A profoundly transformational tool, kambo medicine is known to increase compassion, courage, emotional stability, and personal sovereignty. Some users feel more “real” or “solid” after kambo application—less in their heads and more in their bodies. Frustration, anger, and anxiety also tend to reduce or dissipate entirely. These positive changes may last several days or several months, depending on the application and the person receiving it.
Kambo may also help to overcome a fear of dying. According to one practitioner, terminally ill patients have claimed to see “the other side” during their experience, returning with a newfound serenity about death.
One of kambo’s most exciting potential medical applications is the treatment of cancer. Dermaseptin B2 has been shown to inhibit cancer cell (human prostatic adenocarcinoma) growth by more than 90%. This peptide penetrates cells and works by necrosis (active destruction) and not apoptosis (normal or programmed cell death).
Dermaseptins, including adenoregulin, are powerful antibiotics. Found to be rapidly and irreversibly effective against a range of parasitic microorganisms, they’re also entirely non-toxic to mammalian cells. Combined with their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, peptides in kambo are especially promising for conditions like Cryptococcal meningitis in patients with late-stage HIV. Among the pathogens killed by dermaseptin B2 are the filamentous fungi that opportunistically infect AIDS patients. With the emergence and spread of highly resistant pathogenic bacteria, novel antibiotics such as these are becoming critical.
Since adenoregulin affects the binding of agonists to adenosine receptors—instrumental in the permeability of the blood-brain barrier—it may be useful in the development of treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and strokes. Anecdotal evidence supports kambo’s use in depression treatment, anxiety, and addiction.
There’s also compelling anecdotal evidence for kambo’s effectiveness in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). According to one sufferer, the secretion completely eliminates CFS symptoms when taken regularly.
The deltorphins and dermorphin present in kambo have analgesic effects comparable to the body’s own pain response of beta-endorphin release. They’re also stronger than morphine without the same level of respiratory depression, tolerance potential, and withdrawal symptoms.
Phyllokinin may be useful in the treatment of hypertension, having been shown to lower blood pressure more effectively than other polypeptides.
Other conditions that may benefit from kambo include chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, vascular problems, hepatitis, diabetes, rheumatism, and arthritis.
Vittorio Erspamer described the Phyllomedusa genus as a “treasure trove” of bioactive peptides—short chains of amino acids that bind to human cell receptors. The secretion of P. bicolor in particular contains dozens of peptides, most significantly including phyllocaerulein, phyllomedusin, phyllokinin, sauvagine, dermaseptin B2, adenoregulin, deltorphins, and dermorphin.
Phyllocaerulein is a hypotensive neuropeptide that stimulates the adrenal cortex and pituitary gland. Present in kambo at around 32 micrograms per milligram, it has a role in the medicine’s analgesic and satiety effects.
Phyllomedusin interacts with tachykinin receptors—shown to regulate the functions of dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters—while phyllokinin targets the bradykinin receptors. Phyllomedusin contracts smooth muscles while phyllokinin relaxes them. Both are potent vasodilators, increasing the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. They are present in kambo at around 22 and 18 micrograms per milligram, respectively.
Sauvagine, present at 3 micrograms per milligram, functions like a hormone. It interacts with the pituitary-adrenal axis and corticotropin-releasing receptors—involved in stress, anxiety, depression, and addictive behavior.
Adenoregulin stimulates the binding of agonists to A1 adenosine receptors and is shown to cause behavioral depression in mice.
Deltorphins and dermorphin are both powerful opioid receptor agonists. Deltorphins in particular have among the highest binding affinity and selectivity to delta opioid receptors of any natural compound. Dermorphin is highly selective for mu opioid receptors. Present at 5.2 and 0.25-0.33 micrograms per milligram, respectively, these peptides are many times more potent than endogenous beta-endorphin.
SAFETY & TOXICITY
Little is known about the long-term safety of kambo, but evidence suggests that deltorphin and dermorphin may cause respiratory depression and lead to heavy reliance with frequent use. Kambo-related deaths have also been linked to the secretion’s depressive effects on the central nervous system. Toxins present in kambo may affect the cardiovascular system, kidneys, pancreas, and liver.
The International Association of Kambo Practitioners (IAKP) insists that deaths are rare and almost always attributable to some pre-existing condition. Common contraindications include hyper- or hypotension, brain hemorrhage, aneurysm or blood clots, Addison’s disease, epilepsy, heart problems, and pregnancy.
Anecdotal reports warn of “frog disease,” an incurable condition arising from the non-traditional use of kambo (e.g. oral consumption, smoking, or insufflation). Apparently inducing a feeling of your brain being eaten, “frog disease” is characterized by weak muscles, cardiac arrest, and death. The condition may be caused by parasitic microorganisms—usually eliminated by the body’s immune response to skin burns.
BRIEF HISTORY OF KAMBO
Kambo is supposedly named for the legendary pajé (or medicine man) Kampu. This ancestral shaman is said to have learned about the medicine from a forest spirit, having exhausted all other means to heal his sickly tribe. According to the Kaxinawá, the spirit of Kampu lives on in the giant monkey frog, continuing to heal any who seek it.
Whatever the mythical origin, kambo medicine has long been used by indigenous Pano-speaking groups in the Amazon, including the Katukina, Asháninka, Yaminawá, and Matsés (or Mayoruna). It may also have been used by the classical Maya, whose art depicted tree frogs next to mushrooms. Traditional uses include eliminating toxins, increasing strength and stamina, monitoring pregnancy (or inducing abortion), and dispersing negative energy, or panema. In the rainforest, kambo is used as a hunting aid, reducing the need for food and water and minimizing the human scent. Fortified by the “vaccine,” hunters are also thought to emit a strange green light that draws their prey near.
The first Westerner to witness kambo use in the Amazon was the French missionary Constantin Tastevin, who stayed with the Kaxinawá in 1925. According to his informants, the ritual of self-envenomation originated with the neighboring Yaminawá.
Kambo was rediscovered in the 1980s by journalist Peter Gorman and anthropologist Katharine Milton —both of whom spent time living with the Matsés/Mayoruna of northeastern Peru/southwestern Brazil. They each supplied kambo samples to the biochemists John Daly and Vittorio Erspamer , who analyzed the secretion’s peptide content and saw great medical potential. Pharmaceutical companies have made efforts to synthesize and patent kambo peptides, but have largely struggled to develop medications.
Until 1994, kambo was rarely applied to non-Indians. It was first offered as a therapy by Francisco Gomes, a half-Katukina caboclo living in São Paulo. From around 1999, he was joined by Santo Daime practitioner and acupuncturist Sonia Maria Valença Menezes and other non-Indian kambo applicators, including holistic therapists, doctors, and members of the União do Vegetal religion.
In 2004, the Brazilian government prohibited all advertising of kambo’s medical or therapeutic benefits, effectively shutting down the new urban applicators. In part, this was a legal response to the Katukina’s demand to protect their ‘intellectual property’.
“Kambo is hallucinogenic”
P. bicolor is occasionally referred to as an “hallucinogenic tree frog”, with some users reporting visions of varying intensity. However, none of the peptides present in kambo are known to produce these effects. Hallucinations are far more likely due to other, psychoactive substances that are sometimes taken with kambo.
**All information sorced from:
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO KAMBO (Kampo, Sapo, Vacina do sapo, Medicina da floresta, Frog medicine),