by Chris Kelly,
If you’d told me years ago that the slimy secretion from an Amazonian tree frog – sometimes called “ordeal medicine” – was incredible for my health, I’d think you were a little nuts.
If you told me it was applied directly into the lymphatic system through small little burn marks on the skin, I’d think you were completely nuts!
I never would have believed that I’d be applying these very same burn marks and this slimy frog secretion to myself, let alone regularly serving it to others in sacred ceremony.
Yet here I am!
I can still remember the first time I tried Kambo, the traditional Amazonian frog medicine used by various tribes all across the Amazon Jungle – for hunting prowess, curing physical ailments, and clearing out dark, negative energies from their lives.
Even though I’d been working with other powerful jungle medicines for some time, reading some of the stories about Kambo had me slightly petrified.
Purging. Defecating. Swelling. Sweating. Pain. Nausea. Fainting. Feeling like you’re dying…
(Believe it or not, these are actually all very normal effects of the medicine)
I tried to think of every single excuse I could, just to leave the ceremony. For some reason though, I couldn’t bring myself to walk out that door. Perhaps Kambo already had bigger plans for our future together.
Or perhaps it was the reports stating that this secretion was one of the most potent ways to strengthen the immune system, and that it was one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antibacterial, antibiotic and anaesthetic substances on the planet.
Either way, ever since that first uncomfortably-intense yet beautiful ceremony, my life was forever changed.
Despite Kambo’s reputation of being an experience of extreme discomfort and intensity, many swear by its incredible benefits – physically, emotionally, mentally, energetically and even spiritually.
Across the globe, people have reported that Kambo has helped treat their anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, HIV, arthritis, diabetes, candida, herpes, high blood pressure, cancer, fertility issues, recurrent infections and much, much more.
In the coming days after a treatment, it’s certainly not uncommon for people to report having clarity of mind, clearing of emotional baggage, heightened awareness and focus, resilience to stress and fatigue, reduced illness, an increased sense of energy and well-being, and even more clarity to their life path.
Over the course of three decades, research has been conducted on the various peptides in the Kambo secretion, showcasing the healing potential for a range of physical illnesses, which certainly lends credence to the wealth of anecdotal reports.
The first person to analyse Kambo in a lab, an Italian Scientist by the name of Vittorio Erspamer, was the same guy who first discovered the neurotransmitter Serotonin, and was also twice nominated for a Nobel Prize!
It was even said by Erspamer in 1986, that Phyllomedusa Bicolor – the Kambo frog, contained a “fantastic chemical cocktail with potential medical applications, unequalled by any other amphibian”.
Now it’s not just the alternative-spiritual types interested in this traditional medicine. I’ve had a wide demographic come to my circles. Devout Christians. Sceptical science types. Spiritual yogis. Tradies. Cancer patients. Drug addicts. Mothers. Grandmothers.
The eldest was a 71-year-old woman who was preparing for an upcoming Ayahuasca ceremony – another powerful traditional medicine from the Amazon Jungle.
With a clear surge in popularity over here in the West, there are a few things that are important to know before jumping into the deep end of the pond in the world of Amphibian healing!
1. Is Kambo safe to use?
The most critical factor of working with any powerful substance or healing modality, whether that’s Eastern, Western, Shamanic or otherwise, is safety.
Although Kambo is very safe when responsibly administered by a knowledgeable, skilled and experienced practitioner, there are just some people that aren’t fit to work with this medicine.
Very real contraindications and cautions exist. Some of these include heart problems, aneurysms, blood clots, strokes, brain haemorrhages, severe mental health problems, pregnancy, recent major surgery, and many more. Every Kambo practitioner should have a list of all possible contraindications and cautions and should provide you with it before the ceremony).
If your practitioner isn’t screening you for these contraindications and cautions or checking what medications you’re regularly taking, then I’d be questioning their integrity and level of care in keeping their clients and community safe, while relocating to another pond.
2. How is Kambo applied?
The safest and most effective way to administer Kambo is through the skin into the lymphatic system!
A small incense stick or vine is used to burn small ‘gates’ onto the very top layer of skin, which is akin to a mild blister. This blistered skin is carefully removed, leaving a gate approx 3-5mm in diameter. The dried Kambo secretion is reconstituted with water into small dots called ‘points’, which are then applied to the small burn sites.
3. What are the effects and how long do they last?
While no two treatments are ever exactly the same, there are some commonalities within the experience.
Once the medicine is applied, the effects come on fast! Depending on body placement, you could start to feel the effects within seconds. While the sensations are generally intense and uncomfortable, they’re relatively short-lived, generally passing within 20 – 40 minutes.
A warmth and flushing of the skin is the first thing many people feel, with an increase in heart rate, as well as growing pressure in the head and upper body. As the medicine continues to circulate, people may experience swelling in the face and hands, dizziness, shaking, trembling, tingling, nausea, pain, a general bodily discomfort, fainting, cathartic release, purging and defecation.
In saying that, there’s never any guarantees of what the experience will be like, and sometimes people report beautiful treatments – dropping into states of calm meditation alongside euphoria and bliss.
4. Fainting sounds scary. Is that normal?
We know that the physiological reason behind fainting is because of the temporary reduction in blood pressure, but it’s speculated by experienced practitioners that it doesn’t just stop there.
It’s likely that there are energetic processes at play, with the system potentially needing to ‘reboot’ to allow for larger actions like subconscious trauma release or a discharge of unhealthy energy to occur.
While fainting is a completely normal process in the context of working with Kambo, having a practitioner who knows how to safely deal with the fainting process, as well as safely monitoring clients for potential fainting, is important.
5. Is purging a necessary part of the experience?
When you walk into a Kambo ceremony, you’re likely going to see some buckets waiting for you. Don’t be scared though, they’ll soon become your best friend!
To aid in the purging process, a large amount of water is typically consumed immediately prior to having the medicine applied. There are very specific water consumption guidelines, and this process must be done in accordance with your experienced and knowledgeable practitioner’s instructions.
It’s important to not drink large amounts of water prior to attending your treatment without telling your practitioner you’ve done so. Consuming too much water carries serious risks and can lead to a condition called Hyponatremia, which is where the sodium content of the body is dangerously diluted, potentially causing brain damage, as well as kidney and heart failure!
This is all pretty extreme though, and if you follow your practitioner’s guidelines, it’s not something you’ll have to worry about. If your practitioner doesn’t mention anything about water consumption guidelines prior to treatment, I’d be seeking out someone who does. Remember, safety should be everyone’s number one priority here!
Purging is certainly encouraged and for the most part an inherent part of the process. It can come in a number of different ways – from the top end, the bottom end, through profuse sweating, shaking, crying, or any other kind of cathartic release. In some instances though, it doesn’t come at all.
Whatever the case, the purging process is a process to embrace! It’s a physiological response to some of the peptides in the Kambo secretion, allowing and aiding the body to release what isn’t serving us – physically, emotionally, mentally and energetically!
6. Is Kambo legal?
Being such an obscure sounding experience, surely there are laws against it, right?
Well actually, the only prohibition against Kambo can be found in Brazil. Back in 2004, an indigenous tribe known as the Katukina people made a claim to the Brazilian Government in relation to intellectual property rights over Kambo. Although, in fact, this frog is used by many different tribes all across the Amazon Rainforest.
Because of this, any advertising of Kambo’s therapeutic benefits is now prohibited! So in Brazil, you can use it, but you just can’t advertise it.
Aside from that, it’s absolutely legal!
We’re super blessed to have such an incredible, potent, traditional healing medicine to work with, without having to worry about some of the nonsensical Western laws that reside around other traditional medicines.
In saying that, It’s super important to ensure safety, responsibility, and maturity around the use and discussion surrounding Kambo, and other traditional earth medicines. Especially if we wish to keep prohibition at bay, and encourage the law to shift in a more positive direction for other sacred healing medicines that are illegal.
7. Is Kambo a poison?
Articles and videos continue to pop up in reference to undertaking this ‘frog poison cleanse’. The word venom and toxin also come up every now and then.
First things first, a venom is a poisonous substance that is introduced into the system by injection, typically by fangs or a stinger (think spiders, snakes, scorpions). So Kambo is absolutely not a venom.
When it comes to be referenced as a poison or a toxin, this is a complex topic that comes down to semantics. The word poison and toxin carry the connotation of being harmful to the body, and nothing has been found in the Kambo secretion that suggests that the body identifies it as being a harmful poison or toxin.
In fact, Kambo is made up of bioactive peptides, which interact with the bodies receptor sites as if the body had made the peptides itself.
It’s suggested that the frog uses its milky secretion as protection against predators, such as snakes, which is where the poison/toxin reference may stem from. In 2014, BBC released a clip where David Attenborough suggests the frog actually applies its secretion as a protective barrier from the sun.
Yep, froggy sunscreen!
The word poison tends to be a little more striking and sensationalist for news headlines but gives Kambo a misleading reputation. In general, using the word secretion is much more appropriate than using the words poison or toxin. Especially in the context of using Kambo as a traditional healing medicine, without the connotation and assumption of it being dangerous or harmful.
8. Is Kambo a psychedelic?
While it’s often talked about and used by those with an interest in psychedelic medicine, such as one of its jungle counterparts – Ayahuasca, Kambo itself is not a psychedelic or hallucinogenic substance.
There are those who have a strong connection to the world of spirit, or might be neurologically wired to access non-ordinary states of consciousness with more ease, so while Kambo is not a psychedelic, it’s not entirely unheard of for some people to experience the sense of ‘journeying’ with the spirit of the frog.
9. Is the frog harmed during the process?
There are various ways of collecting the secretion from the frog. Some are considered ethical, and some aren’t. If you practice veganism, you’ll have to use your discernment and decide if working with Kambo aligns with your values.
Traditionally, tribesmen call the frogs out of the forest by mimicking their sounds. To collect the secretion, straw strings are delicately tied to each leg, spreading the frog into an X shape, where the secretion can be carefully scraped off and dried onto small sticks. Some tribes leave their amphibian friends to sit on a branch while the medicine is harvested.
When properly collected, only the first lot of secretion is taken. This ensures the medicine is strong, and that the frog has plenty of secretion left in case it needs to defend itself against predators!
Either way, the frogs are passive when handled, and aren’t dangerous or defensive; even being known to come back the following days when the tribesman call them out by singing their songs.
While it’s arguable that the frog is irritated in some instances, it’s important to remember that many indigenous people working with this medicine have a strong connection to the Earth, including the animals spirits and spirits of the land. To upset the frog is to upset the spirits. And they definitely don’t want angry spirits when it comes to protecting and looking after themselves, and their communities!
Kambo is in the ‘least concern’ category when it comes to being endangered. Their population is widely distributed across the Upper Amazon, with their only current threat being deforestation and destruction of their natural habitat.
All in all, another reason why it’s important to choose your practitioner wisely, making sure they know where their medicine comes from, and that the frogs aren’t harmed or over-milked in the process.
10. Do the benefits from Kambo really work?
Immediately after the process, you’ll either feel invigorated or completely wiped out.
In any case, it’s important to rest up to let the full potential for Kambo’s mind-body-spirit healing power to unfold. The subsequent days after a treatment is when people generally begin to feel the real benefits of Kambo, feeling clean, clear, rejuvenated and energised.
For some, the after-effects are more subtle and harder to notice.
There are those that will, however, experience a “herxheimer” response in the days following their treatment – a short-term detoxification reaction to the body clearing out large amounts of toxins.
If you’re knowingly, or unknowingly, carrying a latent illness, it’s entirely possible for the symptoms of this illness to bubble up to the surface, so that Kambo can continue to do it’s work, clearing out whatever needs to be removed from the system.
As with any kind of transformational work, integration – the period of time after the actual experience, is one of the most important aspects of the process. If you’re going back to an unhealthy lifestyle – snacking on biscuits and chips, drinking alcohol, or lounging around binge watching netflix on a daily basis, the benefits won’t be as pronounced.
The key here is to work in conjunction with Kambo; taking the necessary steps to implement self-care and self-love practices.
11. What can I do to best prepare?
While there are practical matters like refraining from alcohol and recreational drugs, avoiding food for 12 hours beforehand, and many other guidelines that your practitioner should supply you with, there are a few things you can do to help you prepare.
One of these includes clarifying what your intentions are for coming to the experience. While everyone will have their own unique reasons for wanting to explore Kambo, these three simple questions can help solidify your intentions.
- What is no longer serving me that I’m ready to release?
- What am I ready to bring in?
- What new commitments am I going to make to myself from here on out?
Having a meditation practice can be extremely useful. When things hit peak intensity, using your breath as an anchor can help with being present, releasing resistance, and surrendering into the experience.
Using mantras can help guide you through the experience too, as can positive affirmations, and bringing a sense of trust with you. Trust in your body, trust in your practitioner, and trust in the medicine.
Dropping into a place of gratitude is another big piece of the puzzle. Being able to flip a situation from merely being painful or uncomfortable and wanting it to stop, into a space of being grateful for the pain or discomfort because you acknowledge deep healing is taking place, is a powerful state of being to embody to help you gracefully embrace the process.
Your practitioner should be able to provide guidance on how to help you surrender to the experience. And this leads to the last point.
12. How do I find a reputable practitioner?
The amount of people using Kambo in the West has certainly increased over the past few years, as has the number of practitioners serving this medicine. While there are various methods and lengths of training from different teachers, tribes and traditions, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a practitioner to work with.
- Does the facilitator approach this kind of work with high degrees of integrity, safety, respect, responsibility and maturity?
- How knowledgeable and experienced are they, and do they come recommended by others?
- How welcoming, understanding and compassionate are they when it comes to holding space for you to go through a powerful process?
- Do they have an appropriate pre-screening process, ensuring you’re aware of the contraindications, cautions, considerations and preparation protocols?
- Do they provide adequate support afterwards if you being to process unresolved trauma?
The International Association of Kambo Practitioners has a database of their practitioners on their website, which can be a great place to start when looking for someone in your area.
Keep in mind that adequate preparation, safety, and responsibility lies on both sides of the equation.
Before undertaking any kind of powerful transformational work, ensure you’re actually ready to do so. Never feel peer-pressured into doing something you’re not ready for, and always listen to your intuition if something doesn’t feel right!
Kambo is an extremely powerful substance with the immense potential to facilitate deep healing, growth and transformation in many ways. More often than not, it’s an extremely challenging medicine. But a beautiful medicine nonetheless, and one that I feel honoured and humbled to be in service to.
How blessed we are to have such amazing animals and plants aiding humanity to reconnect with ourselves, our communities, and our planet. May these traditional healing medicines continue to help us realign to our health, wellness, virtues, values, heart and spirit, for a long time to come.
We certainly live in a day and age where we as individuals, as a collective, and as a planet, so desperately need it.
Chris is an ambassador for the safe and responsible use of entheogens and sacred medicines – for the purposes of self-discovery, healing, growth and transformation. As a sacred space facilitator and internationally recognized kambo practitioner through the IAKP, his passion is being in service to the traditional medicines that helped transform his own life, as well as those seeking to cultivate their own relationship with them.
Chris has been exploring the path of healing and consciousness since 2012, deepening his work over the past few years by spending time with elders, wisdom keepers and maestros – both in Australia and South America. He’s the founder of the website Medicine Path and creator of the online course Sacred Psychedelics. To find out more on sacred ceremony, you can contact Chris via his website, medicinepath.net