Kambo is a healing ritual used mainly in South America. It’s named after the poisonous secretions of the giant monkey frog, or Phyllomedusa bicolor.
The frog secretes the substance as a defense mechanism to kill or subdue animals that try to eat it. Some humans, on the other hand, apply the substance to their body for its alleged health benefits.
Indigenous people have used kambo for centuries to heal and cleanse the body by strengthening its natural defenses and warding off bad luck. It was also believed to increase stamina and hunting skills.
These days shamans and naturopathic practitioners still use it for cleansing the body of toxins, as well as treating numerous health conditions.
Despite a lack of research, proponents of kambo believe it can help with a range of conditions, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- chronic pain
- HIV and AIDS
- vascular conditions
The first part of the process involves drinking about a liter of water or cassava soup.
Next, a practitioner will use a burning stick to create a number of small burns on the skin, resulting in blisters. The blistered skin is then scraped off, and the kambo is applied to the wounds.
From the wound, the kambo enters the lymphatic system and bloodstream, where it’s said to race around the body scanning for problems. This usually results in some immediate side effects, especially vomiting.
Once these effects begin to fade, the person will be given water or tea to help flush out the toxins and rehydrate.
Kambo causes a range of unpleasant side effects. The first is usually a rush of heat and redness to the face.
Other effects quickly follow, including:
- abdominal pain
- heart palpitations
- feeling of a lump in throat
- trouble swallowing
- swelling of the lips, eyelids, or face
- loss of bladder control
Symptoms can range in severity. They typically last from 5 to 30 minutes, though they can last for up to several hours in rare cases.
While there are plenty of people who’ve reported good results after doing a kambo ceremony, there’s not much scientific evidence to back up these claims.
Experts have studied kambo for years and documented a few of its effects, such as brain cell stimulation and the dilation of blood vessels. But none of the existing research supports the health claims surrounding kambo.
Along with the intense and very unpleasant effects that are considered a normal part of the ritual, kambo has been associated with several serious effects and complications.
Possible risks of using kambo include:
- severe and prolonged vomiting and diarrhea
- muscle spasms and cramps
Kambo has also been
Certain underlying health conditions can increase your risk for serious side effects. It’s best to avoid kambo if you have:
- cardiovascular conditions
- a history of stroke or brain hemorrhage
- blood clots
- mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, and psychosis
- low blood pressure
- Addison’s disease
Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding as well as children shouldn’t use kambo.
Kambo is legal but not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or any other health organization. This means there’s no oversight on quality or contaminants in the product.
Kambo is poisonous. It can cause some very intense symptoms that can be unpredictable, so it’s not recommended for use.
But if you still want to give it a try, there are a few important steps you can take to reduce your risk for having a bad experience.
For starters, only highly experienced practitioners should administer kambo.
It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor before participating in a kambo ritual. This is especially important if you have an underlying health condition or take any prescription medication.
Here are some other things to consider:
- How much water you drink matters. Drink no more than 1 liter of water before kambo and up to a maximum of 1.5 liters of tea or water after. Taking in too much water with kambo has been linked to a condition called syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone and other potentially life threatening complications.
- Start with a low dose. Starting with a small dose is the best way to gauge your sensitivity to kambo. Higher doses also increase the risk of more severe and longer lasting adverse effects.
- Don’t combine kambo with other substances. It’s recommended that kambo not be combined with other substances in the same session. This includes ayahuasca, secretions of Bufo alvarius (Colorado River toad), and jurema.
- Get kambo from a reputable source. Another reason why it’s so important to use an experienced practitioner? Contamination. There’s at least one known case of a person coating sticks with egg yolk and selling them as kambo. There have been other reports of imported herbal products being contaminated with heavy metals.
Kambo cleanses are gaining popularity in North America and Europe despite a lack of scientific evidence to back up the health claims surrounding the ritual.
If you’re going to partake, know the potential risks and dangers, including illness and death, and take precautions to minimize your risk for serious complications.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.