The Essential Guide to Kambo
(Kampo, Sapo, Vacina do sapo, Medicina da floresta, Frog medicine)
Kambo 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 rainforest 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.
History & Stats02
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 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’. 
International awareness of kambo continues to grow, having spiked around the mid-2000s. Today, Western-trained applicators hold ceremonies around the world and kambo sticks can be purchased online.
There’s some concern within the kambo community that commercial supply chains might exploit indigenous tribes. Bulk production of kambo sticks could also pose a threat to P. bicolor populations in the wild.
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.
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 and 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 hemmorrhage, anuerism 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.
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), a twig, 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, 3-5 liters of fermented corn caiçuma, a manioc or banana gruel, or diluted papaya juice. However, due to the risk of hyponatremia, we would not recommend drinking large quantities of liquid in a short space of time.
According to Peter Gorman, the normal dosage is roughly 10 mg kambo for each point, up to a maximum of 100 mg per day. The number of points varies depending on body size, experience, reasons for application, and sometimes the practitioner’s tradition. While five points appears to be common, considerably more or less may be required.
What to Expect
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.
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 up to a day to gauge negative reactions. If self-administering kambo, a sitter is recommended. Also keep in mind that kambo could be habit-forming. 12 applications per year is a good upper limit.
“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 commonly taken with kambo, such as nu-nu snuff.
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.
Kambo is frequently offered alongside ayahuasca, ibogaine, 5-MeO-DMT, and other plant medicines for holistic treatment. 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 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.
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.
Can it be detected in a drug test?
Peptides are notoriously difficult to test for. Dermorphin, for instance, which has become an illicit performance enhancer for racehorses, can only be detected by specialist labs. Although kambo contains opioid receptor agonists, it doesn’t contain any opiates. It is therefore extremely unlikely to be detected in a drug test.
Will it make me crazy?
The unpleasant effects of kambo can feel endless for those experiencing them. There may also be a feeling of drunkenness or dissociation. For the most part, however, kambo is not psychoactive.
Are There Risks?
Kambo is relatively safe when properly applied to healthy individuals. However, it is likely unsafe for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, people with heart problems, and patients either recovering from surgery or taking immuno-suppressants for organ transplant. It should also be avoided by chemo- and radiotherapy patients, including those planning to start treatment within four weeks. For more information, see Pharmacology.
Will it leave scars?
Yes—although kambo scars fade over time, they won’t disappear completely. Aftercare balms such as sangre de drago may help to improve their appearance. Alternatively, the same points can be used within 2-3 months of the previous application.
Can I keep the frogs at home?
P. bicolor can be kept as pets, but they’re not an amphibian for beginners. Captive specimens also don’t appear to secrete the same kind of venom as those in the wild—possibly due to dietary differences.
What is the safest way to take kambo?
The only safe way to administer kambo appears to be via skin burns, but the specifics tend to vary between practitioners. In the caboclo kambo initiation, for instance, the medicine is traditionally applied at the new moon of three consecutive months—each time increasing in dosage. Kambo may also be double- or triple-dosed within a single session.
Can I use kambo to microdose?
There’s very little information on microdosing with kambo, but some consider it dangerous. Purging (i.e. with large doses) is thought essential for releasing toxins.
Does it produce tolerance?
Can I mix it with other drugs?
Kambo is often used in conjunction with ayahuasca because advance purging helps to optimize absorption. The vasodilating peptides phyllomedusin and phyllokinin also serve to increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier.
Kambo may also be taken with certain psychoactive snuffs, including nu-nu and rapé, as well as ibogaine.
The safety of combining kambo with other substances is not entirely known, but alcohol should be avoided. It’s also recommended to avoid recreational drugs for at least three days after kambo has been applied.
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