Written by Jimmy
Would you believe it if I told you that some people voluntarily burn holes in their skin and put the deadliest frog poison in the Amazon into the wounds? Neither did I.
The phone rings; it’s my friend. “Hey mate, I am getting injected by frog poison this weekend. It could be deadly, but it’s used as a medicine. Figured it might be something you would be interested in. Do you want to come along?”
“What? Wow. What is it called?”
“Okay, let me read up on it. I’ll get back to you,” I said.
The idea sounded ludicrous, but after some research I was all the more intrigued.
They say that the proof is in the pudding. Clinical trials were still pending for the kambô, so I decided to see for myself.
The Amazon Rainforest is the Earth's natural pharmacy. Almost all medicines come from the natural world, many originating from the Amazon rainforest. This includes Kambô, the poisonous secretion of the Giant Monkey Frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor). The green frogs are found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Peru and Venezuela. It is used as a medicine by many indigenous tribes, predominantly in Brazil and Peru. Amongst the tribes the medicine is used for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, it cleanses, strengthens and energises the minds and bodies of hunters. The medicine gives an enormous boost to the immune system, detoxifies the body, and brings renewed vitality to the user. It is also traditionally used to increase the stamina and vision of hunters.
Secondly, kambo is used as a basic medicine to treat malaria, fevers, infections and snake bites.
And thirdly, kambo is used as a way to clear negative energy or to shift someone’s bad luck - to lift someone’s ‘panema’, as they call it. The tribes of the Amazon believe that bad luck is actually a bad vibe, a dark energy someone carries with him, which they call ‘panema’.
Western science and spirituality
We live in an interesting time for kambô. On the one hand it is being studied by the pharmaceutical industry while on the other hand it is being used as a spiritual experience by the ever expanding spiritual community.
It is hardly surprising that kambô has gained a lot of interest from the pharmaceutical industry. There are already 80 patents lodged for synthesised versions of the peptides contained in the kambô cocktail. One peptide, for example, is found to be 1,000 times stronger than morphine, but without the addictive properties. Currently research is being done to see if these synthesised peptides can be effectively used for Alzheimer’s, AIDS, Hepatitis, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, migraines, depression, blood circulation issues and fertility issues. My guess is that ten years from now you will be able to find a range of pharmaceutical derivatives of frog poison in your local pharmacy.
Kambô also has received a lot of attention from Big Pharma’s polar opposite: the spiritual community. Among some tribes in the Amazon kambô is also traditionally taken to prepare one for an ayahuasca ceremony. Recently ayahuasca has become increasingly popular in the West as a radical spiritual experience, cultivating many experimenters and dedicated users. It is important to note that kambô has no hallucinatory effects, making it very different from ayahuasca. What ayahuasca has in common with kambô, however, is that it is not addictive, both are accompanied by intense purging, and both have noticeable physical and psychological benefits following their usage. For these reasons people often combine the two. Kambô is done first to prepare the body and make it a clean and clear vessel for the ayahuasca to work. Therefore during an ayahuasca ceremony there will be little to no physical purging and the ayahuasca medicine can work more on the emotional and mental levels rather than just the physical level. However, unlike ayahuasca, kambô is legal in virtually every country and is thus easily finding its way into spiritual communities around the world.
Though there are currently no clinical trials to warrant the benefits of kambo, there are many promising accounts and stories from kambô practitioners who have been working with this medicine for many years. For the practitioners it is clear that recipients experience a range of psychological and physical benefits from the medicine. Some benefits repeatedly mentioned include changes such as an increased sense of well being, lifting of depression, overcoming of traumas, and increased mental clarity. In an interview with Karen Darke, a Master Practitioner, Principal Trainer and part of the governing body of the IAKP (International Association of Kambô Practitioners), she states: “Over the years, I have successfully treated thousands of people with a wide spectrum of ailments. Anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, HIV, arthritis, diabetes, candida, herpes, high blood pressure, cancer, fertility issues, recurrent infections and much, much more. No matter how serious their condition was to start with they have all benefited from targeted and precise kambô treatments.”
The Legend of Kambo
This little information I found on the internet sounded promising enough for me to want to see and experience the frog poison for myself. Full of anticipation I arrived at the ceremony. The kambô practitioner holding the ceremony told us that he had studied kambô and its ways with the Kaxinawa tribe for the past seven years. During his introduction of the medicine he shared with us the legend of kambô as told by this tribe. Just as with many other medicinal plants used by Amazonian tribes, when asked how they discovered it the shamans reply dead serious: “The plant itself told me.”
According to the legend, there were several tribes, including the Kaxinawá tribe in the Upper Amazon basin, that were suffering from a strange illness. Their numbers were decimated and a local shaman, or medicine man, didn’t know what to do. This particular disease was foreign to him. During an Ayahuasca ceremony he went into the jungle after the necessary cleansing and fasting. There he asked Pachamama (God, Spirit, Mother Earth) for advice and guidance on how to treat this disease and save his tribe. Then he had a vision of Pachamama showing him the Giant Monkey Frog. This came as a surprise to him because this frog was well known amongst the tribe as extremely poisonous. They even used its venom to lace their arrows for hunting. In the vision he saw how to administer the poison in a specific way, by burning small holes in the skin and subsequently putting the poison into the freshly burned holes. Imagine how counter intuitive this must have been, using their hunting poison as medicine. Not left with many more options, he returned to his tribe and began administering the frog poison as medicine. Just as his vision has prescribed, he successfully healed the remaining members of the tribe. It has since become a basic medicine that is still successfully used today.
I had been fasting the whole day leading up to the kambô ceremony. As aforementioned, kambô is administered through small holes burned into the surface of the skin, as this is the only safe and effective way to take kambô. The practitioner I was working with burned seven holes onto my left shoulder by pushing a glowing incense stick into the skin. In the meantime he urged me to drink at least two litres of water, which was to function as a vehicle for toxins to leave the body. He mixed the crystallised poison with some water and scraped them into small balls. Almost immediately after he put the balls of poison onto the burned dots I felt a great wave of heat flushing through my body. Through these burns, or “gates”, the poison enters the body via the lymphatic system. Basically the body believes that it has poisoned and reacts by intensely purging, not only the poison, but also purging any toxins and gunk accumulated over the years. The natural purge reaction is accompanied by a great increase in white blood cell production. This gives a huge boost to the immune system, likely why it has been shown to help against herpes, HIV, Lyme and other viruses and autoimmune diseases.
My throat felt swollen and I could hear my heart pounding in my head. My stomach filled to the brim with water started to feel like a deadweight. It became increasingly unbearable until I let go of my resistance to vomit. I wanted to get rid of the rock. I vomited in the bucket in front of me. I purged heavily, until all the two litres of water I had drank were back in the bucket. Interestingly, it now had a venomous green colour. Some of the peptides in the frog poison trigger a vomiting receptor in the brain, causing the internal organs and the intestines to purge toxins.
The entire session was brief, but intense. I felt extremely miserable for about half an hour, alternating between vomiting and rushing to the toilet. For the rest of the day after the kambô session I felt weak and a bit shaky, similar to recovering from a minor flu. Despite the very uncomfortable physical experience, I felt light and supple in the week following the kambô session.
The practitioner told us of a belief held amongst one of the tribes that uses kambo medicine. Apparently if you do three consecutive kambô ceremonies in the same moon cycle the frog and its attributes will stay with you forever. It is called the ‘Warrior’s Initiation’. So somehow I found myself in the same room the following weekend, again puking my guts out. This in itself probably suggests that there are some tangible benefits to be had from kambô. Why otherwise would someone willingly put themselves again through such a miserable ordeal?
So after three sessions, the question remained: did I find some proof in the pudding?
Yes. At the time I found myself at a crossroads in my life, not sure which road to take. Shortly following the kambô sessions my whole world was turned upside down.
Kambô destroys your life. It certainly destroyed life as I knew it. It is frightening because it demolishes all the old things in its path. Old patterns of behaviour that do not serve you anymore. Issues you swept under the carpet will come out, so you can clean it once and for all. No one wants their life thrown into chaos. That is why a lot of people keep that threat under control, and are somehow capable of sustaining a house or structure that is already rotten. But once you take out one rotten pillar and the whole structure comes crashing down, there is no turning back.
That is how it was for me. I lived my life in a fragile and unsustainable balance. I had been working a job I that no longer challenged me, drinking, womanising, eating unhealthy, and the list goes on. I knew that I would change these things sooner or later. I would just need a little bit more money. Or I would wait until the swell season had passed and the waves turned bad again. The truth is that I felt too comfortable and feared a change. I had built up a life in one place and was too attached to resume my travellers existence. I think now it would have been a matter of time until I hit a wall.
Then kambô came along and blew up the rotten pillar and showed me how dysfunctional it had been all along. Even at times I tried to put the old rotten structure back in its place. And yet somehow after the kambo there was no going back to this fragile balance. It did not satisfy me anymore. I could clearly see where I was making a decision out of fear, rather than courage. It worked similarly on a more physical level: I was repulsed by unhealthy foods and alcohol. Although previously I could fool myself with rationalisations and ignore my bodies’ instincts, now it was simply impossible. After the kambô my body revolted if I didn’t listen.
In the time since kambô I have quit a job I had lost interest in, chased my dreams, and started a disciplined daily practice. I have fallen in love, which is something that previously scared the living daylights out of me. My life looks and feels worlds apart and if you ask me now, a year and a half later, where did this transformation start, how did this change happen, what was the tipping point? I would pinpoint those three consecutive kambô sessions as where it all began. I don’t want to claim that kambo did everything, but it was a helping catalyst for my own transformation.
All in all, I can’t say kambo is for everyone. It is not like swallowing a pill or pushing a button on a remote control. Kambô is very intense and equally as effective. If one day you are choosing to approach Kambo, simply be careful of what you wish for, because one day it might just come true.
IAKP - International Association of kambô Practitioners
Medical Drug or Shamanic Power Plant: The Uses of kambô in Brazil