Trying to stay up in the wellness world? You may think that you have heard it all, but a couple of months in Los Angeles will prove that anything is possible and people are willing to try everything. My latest discovery is kambo. A friend told me she was not joining the rest of us at dinner due to her nausea created by recently doing a kambo cleanse. Everyone around me did not even bat an eye, while I tried to act cool and ‘totally understand’ where she was coming from, the truth is I had no clue. In an effort to not continue the night totally in the dark, I asked… “What the heck is kambo?!”
What is a Kambo Cleanse?
Kambo (a.k.a. Sapo to local Peruvians) is the venom from a giant Amazonian monkey frog – Phyllomedusa bicolor. The medicine is known in Peru and Brazil as the “vaccine of the forest” with purgative detox and immune-boosting properties. It has also been used for chronic pain and even drug dependency.
Reasons for Doing a Kambo Cleanse
Originally the ritual is a means for purification of the body and spiritually It is supposed to bring luck to hunters, increase stamina, and enhance physical and sexual strength. Rituals of kambo can also be a precursor to an Ayahuasca ceremony.
The frog’s venom, used in the ritual, contains short chains of amino acids – known as peptides. Some of the peptides, such as exorphins that are similar to endorphins, are produced by amphibians and do not exist naturally in the human body. The peptides affect the gastrointestinal muscles and blood circulation, as well as stimulate the adrenal cortex and pituitary gland in the brain.
Western uses of the cleanse are aimed at treating depression and substance abuse. Other claims of kambo usage include treating cancer, meningitis, Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, chronic pain, Parkinson’s, hepatitis, diabetes, and arthritis. However, there are no clinical studies for the efficacy of kambo in treating these conditions. As the practice of kambo becomes more popular the most common reason for partaking in it is detoxifying the body.
Ceremonial Kambo Practices
The actual administering of the kambo is a purification ritual typically done by a shaman or trained practitioner. It is considered legal in the US and other countries, such as in South America in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, and Columbia. The location of the rituals is normally somewhere private, calm, safe, and with multiple bathrooms very close.
The shaman carefully ties the frog by each leg into an X shape close to an open fire and collects the secretion by scraping it off of the frog’s skin. The secretion is left to dry on small sticks. In places where they are spiritually connected to this ceremony, they then release the frog into its natural habitat. The frog is never harmed and treated with the utmost care and respect. Indigenous tribes believe that harm to the frog will anger the animal spirits. During the ceremony, small burns are made on people’s skin in order to put the venom in. Women are usually wounded on the leg or foot and men on the shoulder.
My friend who has actually participated five times in the kambo ritual recounts her ceremony experiences:
“After calling in the four directions, thanking the spirit of kambo and performing a little ritual, each person goes up one by one to the practitioner while the others shake rattles and sing. Each person discusses what they are trying to accomplish through the use of the medicine and small burns are made in a line to different parts of the body using incense. These are the ‘gates’.”
Effects of Kambo Cleanse
All the peripheral and most central effects are attributed to the exceptionally high content of active peptides absorbed through the secretion by the skin. The most common side effects that people experience include tachycardia (a regular or irregular rapid heartbeat), dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and sedation. After about 10 to 15 minutes the side effects tend to disappear. Most claims of the secretion being administered to the wounds report that within minutes a presence of heart throbbing, sweating, and nausea that leads immediately to severe vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Some side effects have also included neuropsychiatric manifestations – such as confusion, memory loss, lethargy, seizures, psychosis, inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH), as well as organ damage to the kidneys, pancreas, and liver. Unfortunately, these effects tend to occur when kambo is administered by non-traditional practitioners.
My friend’s experience right after being administered with the kambo secretion:
“After the medicine is applied, some ceremonies take a little longer for the first purge to come, some are within the first minute of receiving the medicine. I vomit large amounts of water and depending on what the kambo is removing from the body, there can be different colors that come out. Some ceremonies I’ve had my face swell up and I look like a frog, or that I’m wearing a fat suit. Some ceremonies I’ve also felt like I was going to faint. The more gates you receive the stronger it is. In my last ceremony, I had trouble walking to the bathroom and had to lie on the floor for a little on the way. After about 15-20 minutes it starts winding down and if you are still a little nauseated, the practitioner may give you rape ( pronounced like hah-pe, is a sacred tobacco that is blown up the nose).”
The effect of a kambo cleanse can be felt long after the ritual. My friend states that she feels the effect for months after doing it. After her experience, she feels like a ‘warrior’ with laser-focused vision and senses that are hyper-alert. Her issues with sugar and bread cravings were gone. As your body feels super detoxed, eating clean and avoiding alcohol seem to come naturally.
Unfortunately, there is a rising problem of assessing the safety of the practice because they are being done by nonpractitioners and internet sales of the venom are not monitored. It is important that those partaking in kambo cleanse rituals are being monitored and can have access to medical care if needed. It is a very intense experience and kambo is not for everyone. Because of the increase in system activity, people with autoimmune disorders – whose systems are already in overdrive – should likely not use kambo.
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