When you’re living with a mental illness like depression or addiction, there are times you may think you would try anything (including kambo) to feel better. Traditional treatments like prescription medicine or behavioral therapy don’t always work or may stop being effective.

In those cases, people start looking at alternative options, such as kambo therapy. This shamanistic healing ritual has basically been around forever in the Amazon but is just starting to get attention here in the US.

How Exactly Does Kambo Work?

Maybe you know this involves frogs and some ceremony, but you’re a little fuzzy on the rest of the details.

Let’s start with what the heck Kambo is. In a nutshell, it’s kind of like frog mucus. The bright green giant monkey frogs that live in the Amazon secrete a poisonous waxy substance to defend themselves from predators. This is what’s used in a Kambo ceremony.

Research has shown that substance is loaded with all kinds of powerful biopeptides. One of the peptides interacts with the body’s own opiate receptors, so it can help pain. The ceremony itself may also create a calming effect.

Preparation For A Kambo Ceremony

Prep is similar to that for any entheogenic ceremony—eat clean, avoid meat and processed fried food, and spend some time thinking about your intentions. On the day of the ceremony, your stomach should be empty, so the practitioner will likely ask you to fast for at least 8 hours beforehand.

Here’s What Happens Before A Kambo Ceremony

The first thing to do is get the kambo. The practitioner does this (or someone working with the practitioner collects it). According to the indigenous people of the Amazon, kambo is a spirit of the forest and is deeply respected. So, everything about gathering it is done with respect and reverence.

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The giant tree frog, where Kambo comes from, is pretty easy to track down because it makes a distinctive singing sound. Without harming them, the frog’s legs are tied with straw; the skin is then gently scraped with a stick—the collected secretions are put on bamboo sticks, where they dry, ready for future use. (The Kambo remains stable for a long time.) After all this is done, the frog is released and won’t get harvested again for at least three months. This way, he still has enough of his own Kambo to protect himself.

The practitioner will want to assess you before the ritual begins. Wendy L.*, a respected practitioner based in New York City, explained how she vets new patients. “Before each ceremony, I vet applicants by phone or email to review their medical history. I ask about what prescriptions they take, as many medicines are contra-indicated,” she says. Interestingly, SSRIs are not contra-indicated according to Wendy and she adds “kambo can be beneficial in dealing with depression and anxiety.”

She then spends time with each person to understand what issues they’re dealing with, what’s happening in their lives, and what’s going on emotionally. “It helps me understand where they are coming from so I can assist them energetically. For someone coming for the first time, I explain the entire process,” she says. “I tell them what is going to happen, what it’s going to feel like, and what to expect—so they can relax into the process and let go of fear. I work to help them feel at ease.”

Here’s What Happens During A Kambo Ceremony

“We begin with some prayer, and then we start to work with the Kambo, Wendy explains. “I like to serve it with people sitting up comfortably, low to the ground, supported by something behind their backs. I don’t want people lying down; in my experience, energy flows better sitting up. Also, there’s a purging that often happens, which is better managed when someone is upright.”

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Because of the purging, there’s usually a bucket nearby and you’ll have a water bottle with you too.  Some practitioners say if you need to “bottom purge” to crawl to the bathroom because you could feel weak and lightheaded.

The next step is to create openings for the kambo to go into. These are called burns or gates and are made by burning the top layer of skin with a smoldering piece of vine or incense stick. The area is small—about an 1/8″ diameter.

The number of burns and where they put them depends on what’s going on with the person. “If it’s their first time, I make one test point to gauge how sensitive they are,” Wendy explains. Often the placement will correspond to chakras. The shoulder or back of the arm is one of the most common areas. “My organization, the International Association of Kambo Practitioners, teaches auricular (ear) kambo,” Wendy explains. After the burn, the practitioner gently rubs off the area to expose the epidermis below.

“Once the gates are made, I scrape the kambo off the stick, using a little water. It becomes a putty, I put the little balls on the opening of the gates—where it enters the body.” Just before administering the kambo, she asks people to drink some water. The bioactive peptides cross the bloodstream within seconds.

Kambo amazon frog poison medicine for body detox

(Image: iStock)

The First Minute 

The experience is intense and fast. Usually, within a minute or so, a person will start feeling the effects: a warm flush of heat in the upper body and face, increased heart rate, some may feel dizzy or spaced out, while others have slight tingling on their skin.

It can feel like the kambo is racing through your body, scanning for issues, then going directly to that place to work on that area.

The Next Five to Twenty Minutes

After a few more minutes, you’ll often feel some nausea, or your stomach may start to hurt. At that point, some people throw up, some use the toilet, some do neither or both. The purging is thought to eliminate physical, emotional, and energetic toxins.

“I work with the person to help them relax into these sensations, focus on their breath, and let the kambo do its work,” Wendy explains. The journey is usually over in 20 to 30 minutes.

“Kambo is a tool that teaches us to surrender and relax into uncomfortableness, to let go of what we are holding onto that’s no longer serving us,” Wendy says. “After, many people report a sense of calm.”

After The Ceremony

After the dots of kambo are removed, the gates are dressed with natural tree sap, which helps them heal fast and stay infection-free. Most people recover and are back to normal within an hour or a little longer. “I recommend people take it easy after a session—rest, eat a delicious healthy meal, be gentle with themselves,” says Wendy. Another thing she advises is to tune into what you’re feeling. “Kambo is called the great revealer,” she says. “It brings things to the surface, showing you what needs to be dealt with and changed.”

As far as the burn marks go, they heal and fade over time. “Depending on skin type and color, you may experience more marking,” she says.

Cost Of  Kambo Therapy 

The session is about two hours. I charge by ceremony—in the past, I facilitated Kambo in small groups and one-on-one. The range is $150 to $250 per person.

What Kambo Is Used To Treat

Kambo has a wide range of potentially therapeutic applications—both medical and psycho-spiritual. It’s often described as an “ordeal medicine” because it can have an intense physical impact. It’s known for its detoxifying and purgative effects. In other words: A lot of throwing up may very well be involved. While there are scant clinical studies, according to practitioners and partakers of Kambo cleansing, it can help relieve the following:

  • Addiction
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Migraines
  • Blood circulation problems
  • Vascular insufficiency
  • Fever
  • Infections
  • Fertility issues

 The Effects Of Kambo

Some clinicians may liken the symptoms to an allergic reaction. The first wave of symptoms is feeling hot and flushed. That’s quickly followed by:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Face swelling
  • Palpitations
  • Rapid pulse
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stomachache

These reactions typically only last about a half hour and rarely go on for several hours.

The Danger Of Kambo

There isn’t a lot of science on the hazards (and even the benefits for that matter). While practitioners claim it’s safe, a study supported by the National Institute of Health isn’t as enthusiastic. The issue is that kambo has some really potent chemicals that can interfere with your central nervous system and your cardiovascular system. One report also says your kidneys, pancreas, and liver could also be damaged by the toxins.

Healers practicing in Australia were banned a few years ago according to media reports after a woman died of cardiac arrest during the ritual. While kambo is legal in the United States, it’s not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

If you’re thinking of participating in a kambo ritual, talk to your doctor first and you may want to ask the practitioner if you can observe the ceremony before participating in one. This way you can see exactly what happens before you sign up. If you’d like to contact Wendy, you reach out to her at: kambolifeny.net

*Wendy L is her professional name.

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Last Updated: Aug 24, 2021