I recently had the opportunity to partake in a 4-day shamanic ceremony in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. This article is Part 1 of the larger story, if you would like to read the full version that includes discovering my spirit animal and Ayahuasca, you can do so here.
Kambo is a venomous secretion that comes from a frog native to Brazil and other parts of the Amazon. It is called the “Giant Leaf” or “Monkey Frog”. The frog and it’s secretions are often called “Sapo” which means “toad”.
Put simply, taking Kambo means to ingest frog poison, typically administered via skin burns.
Why on earth would someone want to intentionally take frog poison?
Because it has a variety of health benefits and is believed to have a detoxifying or “cleansing” effect on your body, mind, and spirit. The indigenous tribes of the amazon have been using it for centuries and believe it to be a powerful medicine with great power to heal.
Not for the lighthearted though, the effects of Kambo are very intense. It causes puking, intense heat and swelling in the body, pain or headaches…it’s not a very comfortable experience.
It doesn’t have much of a psychedelic effect either, if that’s what you’re wondering. No visions or hallucinations or shifts in thinking…just a bunch of puking and feeling like your body swelled into a balloon like the girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Afterwards though, you feel a lot better (at least that’s what I thought going in).
I’m a curious person, so I wanted to give it a try. Take it for myself and see what I have to say about it after.
But before I did, I did some research into the pharmacology of Kambo – what the hell is in it and does it really have the power to heal?
When you look into the science of it all, it really is a fascinating substance.
Kambo has around 12 different active peptides with medicinal effects, most notably including phyllocaerulein, phyllomedusin, phyllokinin, sauvagine, dermaseptin B2, adenoregulin, deltorphins, and dermorphin.
Let’s break these down one by one to get an idea of what we’re working with.
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.
Translation: Phyllocaerulein causes a loss of appetite and reduces pain and inflammation in the body.
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.
Translation: Phyllomedusin and phyllokinin work synergistically to dilate your blood vessels and relax your muscles, while simultaneously triggering the feel good chemicals of dopamine and serotonin.
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.
Translation: Sauvagine targets the part of your brain that is involved in stress, anxiety, depression, and addictive behavior.
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.
Translation: Deltorphins and dermorphin replicate the effects of traditional opiod based prescription pain killers – and are very powerful at that.
Scientific jargon aside, Kambo has compounds that dilate your blood vessels to increase circulation, then other compounds that create anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxing, and pain relieving effects. It’s a powerful pain relieving cocktail of compounds.
(all of this credit to https://thethirdwave.co/psychedelics/kambo)
Let’s dive a bit deeper now into the documented health benefits we’ve found so far.
“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.
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.
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 are 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.
Most interestingly, Kambo is believed to remove a “cloud of negative energy” called “Panema” that accumulates in all of us throughout the course of our lives.
“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.
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 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 clear. These positive changes may last several days or several months, depending on the application and the person receiving it.”
Having said this, do your research before taking a substance like Kambo, and make sure especially that you have a healthy heart and no pre-existing medical conditions that could put you at risk. Safety is always the top priority. Make sure that you are doing this with someone whom you trust with verifiably safe sources of the medicines you are consuming.
I am not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet, and I would never recommend that anyone take a powerful substance such as this without reading more and researching on their own.
Little is known about the long-term safety of kambo, but evidence suggests that deltorphin and dermorphin has the potential to 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. (https://thethirdwave.co/psychedelics/kambo)
Having said this, there are no known reported deaths or severe illnesses as a direct result of the use of Kambo, all have been linked to previously existing health conditions. It is largely considered safe to administer and is widely used for the health benefits that it promotes.
“The immediate effects of kambo 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.
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.
Back to the experience:
For the week leading up to Kambo followed a strict diet of the following:
- No meat (chicken, beef, pork)
- Low salt/sugar
- No alcohol
- No smoking (tobacco and cannabis both)
- 2 liters of water a day minimum
- High veggies
For the 24 hours leading up to Kambo I refrained from sexual activity, and fasted for 8 hours leading up to the ceremony. It was also recommended to drink as much water as humanly possible beforehand.
I arrived at the location ready to cleanse.
Upon my arrival I was instructed to begin chugging down water. I was given a 1.5 liter water bottle and encouraged to drink the entire thing before the application of Kambo was to begin.
Once I was finished drinking the water, a woman came over to me with an incense stick and asked where I would prefer to have my burn marks made.
She then proceeded to burn 5 small circles into the top of my left shoulder.
Shortly after this, she came over to me and began applying the Kambo directly into the burns that she had just made. Upon application I could feel a bit of stinging/tingling where the burns were made, but nothing too intense.
After applying they stressed the importance of the mental aspect of this “cleanse”. They told me to use my intention and direct my thoughts towards the cleansing process. To trust that the medicine is doing the work that it needs to. To surrender to the power of the medicine and not question it’s efficacy. In short, the way that you think about the experience will have an effect on how your body reacts to it.
Within a few short minutes I could feel my face begin to warm up. I could feel pressure near my temples. I could feel the nausea begin.
I started to vomit.
Each time slightly different than the next. In the beginning it tasted like I was merely vomiting up the water I recently consumed. As I continued to purge, I could taste the bile coming up along with it.
The interesting part was that I could literally taste different flavors of bile. Each more disgusting than the next. Some slightly sweet. Others more bitter. Different textures as well. Some foamier and others more watery.
Over the course of the initial 10 minutes I probably vomited around 5-10 times. Each wave of “purging” caused me to vomit 2-3 times, and then I would drink some more water.
After each “wave” I could still feel that there was more nausea within me. I would drink more water, and then within a minute or two BAM, another wave of vomiting.
While all of this was going on they were playing music in the background. Guitars, drums, rattles, and flutes. The lyrics of the music were about the appreciation of Kambo. The cleansing process and effects of the medicine. The trust and appreciation for the medicine.
This music both intensified the experience and reinforced the intention to “clean” and “trust the medicine”
In my mind I was chanting “vamos limpar” (let’s clean), or “Por favor o Kambo me deixe limpa” (Please, Kambo, Leave me clean), over and over again to the beat of the music. I was nodding my head up and down, chanting with all of the energy in my body. Never allowing my thoughts to deviate to skepticism or being cynical of the effects I was feeling.
This first “wave” of purging lasted for what felt like around 10-15 minutes. Once they could see that I calmed down, they came over to me to administer some Rapé (medicinal tobacco they shoot up your nose).
To set some context, rapé feels like lighting fireworks off in your head. It’s an instant blast into the present moment. It’s very intense.
BUT it leaves you in a very meditative state. Sets your body buzzing with feelings. Clears your mind of any thought loops you’ve been in.
Having said that, my nose is historically awful at having anything go up in it. I was already congested and couldn’t breathe through my nose, so the idea of doing rapé was not one that excited me tremendously.
While looking at the dude preparing the rapé, I could see that he put an entire palmful of rapé into the applicator. To set a baseline for comparison, the size of the dose I have done in the past is about the size of a quarter. This was an ENTIRE PALMFUL.
He was also using an applicator that must have been 15 inches long. This thing was MASSIVE. Not your normal rapé applicator – this thing was a bazooka of rapé.
He walked over to me with authority and didn’t allow me to ask any questions. It was a matter of a fact. I was taking this rapé whether I liked it or not…it’s a part of the cleansing process.
Not only did he use an absurdly high dose of the rapé, he also blew it into my nose with all of the force he could muster (normally they do it a bit slow and steady).
It literally felt like an energetic slap to the face. My head and body started to vibrate with intensity. I could feel my body heat up with tingling energy (the normal effects of rapé) and then….
More vomiting. More water, more vomiting, blow my nose from the rapé, repeat.
More of the same for the next 10 minutes or so. Vomiting, water, listening to the music, chanting in my mind to trust the medicine and heal me of my energetic and physical ailments.
Once this calmed down came the worst part of the experience…liquid tobacco.
I was still vomiting and highly nauseous when the shaman came over to me with a glass of liquid tobacco and told me to drink it all in one shot.
I took a swig and immediately started vomiting. I took another swig, more vomiting. He persisted and told me that I needed to get it all down.
The next swig I was able to get it all down.
It was quite possibly the most disgusting thing I have ever tasted. It burned going down and burned even worse coming up.
The vomiting intensified. It became violent. Like I could feel my entire body vomiting. Like I was letting go of energy. I could feel more than vomit leaving my body, I could feel everything in my body relax more deeply with each subsequent purge.
I would later find out that the liquid tobacco is used for “emotional cleansing”. I found it interesting that this was the hardest part of the ceremony for me, as this has been a very emotional year for me. Tears were flowing down my face as I was vomiting, as if I was crying while vomiting at the same time.
Once this cleared, I could feel that the worst of it was over. I could still feel some nausea, so I drank some more water. I threw up a few more times, and could feel that the nausea had more or less passed.
I could feel my body start to calm down. Could feel the cold air from outside again. Could feel my heart-rate calming back down.
I started to drink some water. I was able to keep it down. Within 10 minutes I had drank almost half a liter, and all of it was staying down. I could still feel some nausea, but it felt that the cleansing was over.
I sat there in meditation for the next 10-15 minutes, feeling myself return back to normal.
In all honesty, I didn’t really feel all that different. I felt like I had just puked a lot, but energetically or physically didn’t feel that much of a difference.
The skeptic in my mind was trying to return but I didn’t allow him to. I reinforced my intention in my mind and said to myself, “whether I feel it or not, this medicine did what it needed to and cleaned me out.”
I relaxed there at the center for another hour or so before I returned home. They gave me some soup and I continued to drink some water. I could feel more nausea within me, but it wasn’t coming up.
Eventually we got into the car and made our way back home. My body felt very sensitive to movement. Like I was a bit dizzy/drunk. I could feel every slight maneuver of the car. As I looked out the window, colors seemed brighter. I felt sensitive, like I could feel every part of my body and the movement of the car all at once. It made me nauseous again.
I got out of the car and dry heaved a bit before getting into our next cab. I was able to make it home with equal sensitivity but less nausea. I was starting to feel better.
When I got home I ate some beans and rice with some chamomile tea and ginger and then passed out like a baby and slept soundly through the entire night.
Post Kambo reflection:
The next morning I awoke with crazy energy. I felt light and bursting with energy, but at the same time calm. My girlfriend told me that my skin felt softer and my heart was beating more slowly than normal.
Interestingly, I also slept clean through the night without using my inhaler (a rarity for me). There wasn’t a trace of a wheeze anywhere in my lungs.
My nose also opened up. I was no longer congested.
While working that day I had fantastic focus. I am normally touching my beard or hair when I’m thinking, and many of my anxious habits, while not completely eliminated, were severely reduced.
Other than this, I didn’t feel any significant difference in the way that I felt. Nothing earth shattering. But I think that this is also the way that the mind is designed to think – we want some revelatory feeling, when in reality the medicine did what it needed to do – cleaned me out and left me with a subtle sense of peace and well being.
I didn’t experience many of the common feelings that people experience while on Kambo, such as intense heat, feelings like your body is on fire/full of electricity, swollen face, difficulty breathing, or anything like this.
I later found out that, because it was my first time, they gave me a smaller dose. They do this intentionally with first timers as it is safer and prevents against potential adverse reactions. This could be a potential explanation of why I didn’t feel the intensity of feelings both during or after the experience.
The friend I went with however received a full dose, as it was his 2nd time. His first experience was similar to mine – didn’t feel a lot other than the purging effects.
This time however, he experienced the full spectrum of feelings. He said it felt like his insides were being lit on fire, and he had the swollen face/difficulty breathing.
The next day he was also a firecracker of energy, bursting through his work with all of the intensity of the world. He said that he felt incredible. I could see an energetic difference in him as well. He looked brighter, like he had the glow of a pregnant woman.
The rest of the day I relaxed, got in a workout on the slackline, and prepared myself mentally for the upcoming events of the night….discovering my spirit animal.
Also published on Medium.