At the end of 2018, if you’d have told me that I’d be spending the first 3 Sundays of the New Year voluntarily purging into a bucket, with frog juice in my arm – all in the name of health, I’d probably have looked as confused as you do right now.
But when Planet Kambo landed in my inbox with a proposal to trial a set of their ceremonies free of charge and without direct obligation to post (I was not paid to write this article), I dug a little deeper into the science and it soon became an offer I couldn’t refuse or wait to share.
What is Kambo?
Medicinal Frog Slime. In a nutshell. Also known as ‘Nature’s Vaccine’, Kambo is a venomous secretion from the back of the beautifully bright green, Giant Leaf Frog, also known as the Monkey Frog.
Kambo is said to be named after the legendary pajé (medicine man) ‘Kampu’, an ancestral shaman of the Amazon. Under the influence of the visionary Ayahuasca brew, Kampu was guided by the forest spirits towards the distinctive song of the Giant Leaf Frog one night, as he searched for a way to heal his sickly tribe. He was then taught how to extract and utilise the uniquely potent remedy that cured his clan.
Amazonian tribes have a symbiotic relationship with their environment and the frogs are not harmed during collection. As they have no natural predators, they can be fairly easily picked up but are tied down by experienced hands to extract the waxy secretions, which are then placed onto wooden splinters. Once dry, the splinters have a shelf-life of up to a year.
Traditional Use Vs. Use Today
Kambo was first discovered by Western missionaries and anthropologists who spent time submerging themselves in the indigenous way of life native to Peru and Brazil.
It has long been used by the Pano-speaking groups of the Amazon basin for cleansing the body by eliminating toxins, increasing strength and stamina, reducing hunger, preventing and fighting disease, as a remedy for snake bites, healing fevers, improving fertility or inducing abortion, and dispersing negative energy (panema).
Panema is believed by the tribes to be a dark energy that manifests as sickness, bad luck and depression. It is also used for hunting, as it’s able to enhance physical performance and minimise the human scent.
When Kambo samples were first shipped to Western biochemists they studied its contents in the lab and fully understood the amazing medical potential it held. Pharmaceutical companies have since made efforts to artificially re-create and patent Kambo, unfortunately without much success. Even 21st century science has proven no match for the intricate work of mother nature.
Popularity of Kambo spiked around the mid-2000s and it continues to grow worldwide. Trained applicators have begun to bring the practice to the urban areas of the Western world and Kambo sticks can even be purchased online – although for obvious reasons this is not recommended. We’ll explore some of the safety and benefits below.
The Science Bit: Real Health Benefits
The secretion contains a treasure trove of bioactive beauties, most notably:
- Phyllocaerulein – a neuropeptide that stimulates the adrenal cortex and pituitary gland. Kambo is said to be able to ‘reset’ the immune system, body and mind. This compound in particular, has pain relieving effects and can also bring about the sensation of feeling full. Hence why it has traditionally been used by tribes at times when food may have been scarce.
- Phyllomedusin – interacts with the receptors involved in regulating dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters.
- Sauvagine – this acts like a hormone, affecting the pathways involved in stress, anxiety, depression and addictive behaviour
- Dermaseptin B2 – which has been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth, reducing prostatic adenocarcinoma by 90%. It also kills the filamentous fungi that affects AIDS patients. With the emergence and spread of highly resistant pathogenic bacteria, novel antibiotics such as these are becoming critical.
- Adrenoregulin – a powerful antibiotic, rapidly and irreversibly effective against a range of parasites. Combined with Dermaseptins and their ability to cross the blood brain barrier, it’s especially promising for conditions like Cryptoccocal meningitis in patients with late-stage HIV. It also has potential in Alzheimers, depression and addiction.
- Deltorphin and Dermorphin – pain relieving effects, stronger than morphine without the same level of respiratory depression, tolerance potential and withdrawal symptoms.
- Phyllokinin – able to lower blood pressure more effectively than other polypeptides.
Even with so many potent, pharmacological effects, for reasons that we will explore, I think reducing such medicines solely to a reductionist science does them a disservice.
As with many holistic materials, natural and ethical plant and animal medicines appear to have emergent properties that affect mind, body and spirit; Not just the things we can so far understand, observe and measure.
Having said that, if you’re interested in the science it is worth doing some extra digging as the list of peptides and their benefits is extensive.
Safety and Side Effects
As with any substance that actually has an effect, there will be cautions and side-effects to consider, just like the ones most people skim over in their Ibuprofen brochure. They depend on factors such as dose, frequency of use, interactions, person and context, which is why a highly trained practitioner is always recommended and anyone on pre-existing medication, or receiving current medical treatment should consult a medical professional before even considering engaging with the practice.
Heavy or overly frequent use is not recommended as compounds like deltorphin and dermorphin can slow breathing and lead to reliance if Kambo is abused in this way. Anyone with pre-existing health conditions, especially heart problems, is contraindicated and should not take Kambo.
This is not an extensive list but other notable conditions that should not engage with the practice include Addison’s disease, epilepsy, pregnancy and those on immuno-supressants or chemotherapy. That being said, Kambo has been shown to be relatively safe when applied properly to healthy individuals.
Kambo is applied via burns to the skin as this is the most hygienic way to apply the compound, there can be severe consequences for anyone attempting to eat, smoke or insufflate the medicine instead.
My Experience with Planet Kambo
As 3 is the magic number, I did 2 home ceremonies and one public ceremony with Planet Kambo. Founder Jon lead the sessions with me, having trained in South America before bringing the practice back home and constructing London’s first Kambo-focused enterprise. All of Planet Kambo’s medicine is ethically sourced and they work closely with and support the Matses tribe deep in the Amazon of Peru.
Planet Kambo explain that there are 3 stages to the medicine:
Reset: There’s a reason Kambo also goes by the name of ‘ordeal medicine’. It causes a deep purge from various organs in the body, this powerful detoxification resets the body and mind and allows for the next stage of healing to take place
Restore: within 15 minutes of the purge, a feeling of relief and calm washes over the body. This is the beginning of the ‘Kambo afterglow’ which can last up to 72 hours.
Revive: In the weeks and months following treatment, the real power of the medicine is revealed. Kambo stimulates the immune system in a way that limits sickness and ill-health, making one ‘bullet proof’. Bringing a whole new meaning to the term ‘no pain no gain’ – no purge, no surge.
Preparation starts the morning of the treatment, with a water fast recommended upon waking. This is why Planet Kambo’s regular Sunday group sessions are held at 11am and a couple of large bottles of water should be kept by you at all times. My first two private ceremonies were held at home, buckets provided.
The Home Ceremony: Sessions 1 and 2
Set and setting makes a difference to any healthcare ritual. Lighting some incense and flicking on some meditative rainforest reverberation, I got comfy with a pillow and blanket on the living room floor.
Jon talked me through the contents of his tool bag, before saying a prayer and setting the intention for the session. He also walked through a very visual guided meditation, which actively adds an extra placebo dimension to the treatment.
It’s poorly understood and yet scientifically proven: the power of the imagination is increasingly being shown to be at the forefront of the body’s self-healing mechanisms and there are very real benefits to be gained by training to engage with this.
In the first couple of ceremonies it was tricky to surrender to the process instead of trying to anticipate the nature of the more unpleasant bits. It’s hard to ‘look forward’ to a Kambo ceremony at first, and it wasn’t until the end of the second session that I really noticed my outlook start to evolve.
Feeling a bit more prepared and familiar with the experience, it was easier to remind myself that overcoming some short term level of resistance and fear would lead to long term health benefits, and thinking about the wonderful ‘afterglow’ was also a great incentive.
The first medicine to be administered is Rapé, pronounced ‘ha-peh’. An earthy black powder created in a sacred and labour intensive process by the tribes, it consists of Amazonian medicinal plants, trees, leaves, seeds and tobacco.
It was applied in the traditional manner – by using a pipe made from bamboo or bone (known as a ‘Tepi’ in Brazil), which is blown through each nostril on both sides.
The medicine is traditionally used for focus, intention setting, cleansing the energetic field, clearing sinuses and grounding – aspects that physically manifested in a shock to the system with my eyes watering and the sensation of my head being on fire, followed by a dizzying and short-lived natural high. And yes the ceremonies are currently legal.
Step two requires burning the surface layer of skin with a hot incense stick. Most people choose some kind of favourable pattern as it will leave a faint white mark in time. Apparently Kambo tattoos are also a thing.
You can pick almost any location, from your arms to your ankles, although the medicine is seen to work faster on the upper body. Jon scraped the Kambo sticks with a knife, rolling the secretion into little balls that looked like a gooey cluster of cells. These were patted into the centre of the burns and sprayed with water to help them stick.
You don’t have to wait long before you start to feel the heat creeping up your neck and your face transforms into a puffy, crimson frog (didn’t manage a photo of this, sorry) – rest assured that Kambo’s popularity is based on the fact that this aspect is neither drastic nor permanent.
Next the nausea kicks in, along with the regret. Before boom – a tide of water hits the bucket, along with a wave of relief and some brief respite before round 2. And all subsequent rounds.
Although it’s described as ‘vomiting’, you don’t tend to bring up the chunky bits of technicoloured yawn you’d expect. It’s mostly just a transparent, frothy yellow water with a bit of Rapé thrown in. So not too bad then…
In spite of the discomfort, the experience is relatively short lived. If you apply the secretions one by one, as most people do the first time, the process is longer, often up to an hour.
If it’s applied all at once, as most people do the second time, it can be over in around 15-20 minutes. I also had fewer ‘doses’ the first time compared to the second. The number of points or doses required depends on the person, with factors such as body size, prior sessions and reason for application being taken into consideration.
The Group Ceremony: Session 3
My third session was held in a lovely space in East London. Again taking into consideration the effects of set and setting, the space was adorned with lighting, music, incense… blankets and buckets.
There were 2 extra members of staff on hand, who were great at providing gut massages (nice to meet you too) and post-purge smoothies and sandwiches. The amazing thing about Kambo ‘sickness’ is how quickly the nausea subsides. When it’s over, you’re free to go about your day as normal, although most prefer to have a little nap afterwards, which you are welcomed to do in the space.
One thing I learned from my group ceremony experience, is how different everyone’s purging process is. Whether it be a variation in the duration, emotional vs physical nature (some may not even be sick), volume purged, or level of drama experienced.
Everyone is different and the process and benefits are not something you can really imagine until you try it for yourself, I certainly felt like it ended up being even more worthwhile than I had originally anticipated and I was glad that I managed to convince myself to complete and experiment with the recommended set of 3.
I had the light-coloured, female medicine in my second ceremony and it was a relatively gentle rollercoaster with waves of both emotion and physical purging coming up. Jon described the female medicine as ‘more complicated and emotional’, whilst the male medicine was ‘physical, blunt and direct’, which is exactly how the experiences compared for me.
I took the slightly darker coloured, male medicine the third time around and as well as having done the previous 2, this purge felt like the easiest, shortest and most straight forward – having a larger dose also has this effect.
I imagine I will probably get an immune boosting top-up some time down the line (forget the flu jab – seriously), and I recommend that my future self get it all over and done with quickly, in one go. I also cannot recommend Jon, Serena and the rest of the staff enough, they have a genuine gift for making the whole process both transformative and enjoyable.
At the end of every session, when your 20 odd minutes are up, a revitalising sense of calm and satisfaction hugs the entire body, and any pre-existing angst or doubt is completely lifted. Over the last few years, I’d come to feel as though some events and modern life had slightly fried an already overactive nervous system and the ceremonies left me with such a stable sense of tranquility.
It really was akin to a total re-set of my systems, with sustained effects. This also creates a strong foundation to build upon using other holistic techniques like hypnosis, yoga or related plant medicines.
I never thought I’d be thanking frog goo for achieving in a matter of moments, what months of dosing with L-Theanine supplementation was meant to do, but I have always believed in the unbeatable aptitude of mother nature when it comes to enhancing all aspects of our being: mind, body and soul.
It certainly won’t tickle the fancy of everyone and I can’t pretend that I’ve even bothered trying to explain the idea of a Kambo ceremony to my family, but to me the experience and results have spoken for themselves: the afterglow, the long term immune boost, that I have never felt or measured better in the gym (longer, faster, stronger), the total systems-reset and the fact that I found it to be beneficial for mental mindset.
It is also common to experience a consistently elevated mood and increased energy, with some saying they find senses are sharpened and that they have a heightened mental alertness. Had I not looked into the research indicating the purely physical and physiological benefits, I may never have tried it, but I didn’t anticipate just how holistic a medicine this really is.
There’s only one major downside for some people – no more sick days off work.