Kambo is a toxin found in the secretion of the giant monkey frog found in the Amazon Rainforest. Perfectly legal here in the U.S., kambo is reputed to have powerful medicinal and strong psychoactive properties.
I am attending a kambo initiation ceremony in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Someone is beating rhythmically on a a small drum. The smell of incense fills the air. Our guide, Frances Aiom, has administered to me six applications of kambo.
Within minutes I feel a warm sensation creep up my neck and envelope my scalp. This feeling spreads through my body. The sound of the beating drum has a soothing, centering effect.
Justin, laying on the mat across from me, was going through the throes of a classic kambo purge. He was puking violently into a bucket by the side of his bed. This was normal and to be expected. The first 45 minutes of a kambo ceremony is often associated with vomiting and even defecation.Thus, the body rids itself of toxic poisons.
I waited for the sensation of nausea to hit, with my bucket by my side but, as the minutes rolled by, puke was not forthcoming. The realization, or perhaps the hope, occurred to me that I could ride the event through without the violent bodily purging that is often associated with the kambo experience.
Frances duly noted my reaction, or lack thereof, and announced it was time to increase the dose. I was surprised. Frances, at the outset, had suggested five or six application points, being that I was a newbie to the kambo experience. I had adjusted to that dose and felt comfortable.
“Are you sure about this?” I asked.
“Oh yes I am,” she replied. “You need to purge.”
Justin lifted his head from the bucket and agreed.
“You need to purge dude,” he said. “Afterwards, you’ll be thankful.”
“The frog will help you,” he added while pushing a small figurine of a dancing green frog towards the side of my bed. “The frog will protect you. Ask for its guidance.”
Justin is a veteran of the kambo ceremony, having undergone four of them in the past month alone.
Phyllomedusa bicolor, also known as the giant monkey frog, is a large amphibian found in the Amazon forests of Brazil and Peru. Nocturnal and arboreal, the frogs dwell in tall trees and nest above ponds. Males can grow to the size of 103 mm and females 119 mm. They are dark green with a yellow-white under belly and have white spots on their lower lip, flanks and legs. Their fingers have large adhesive suction pads.
As cute and lovable as Phyllomedusa bicolor is in appearance, it is most prized for its white secretion, named kambo by indigenous peoples. This resin has been used for thousands of years as elixir and weaponized drug.
Indians claim kambo can effect a persons physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. They believe kambo can increase strength, cure diseases, dispel negative emotions, increase mental clarity and remove “bad luck.” Spiritually, it can realign the chakra, positively effecting psychological attitudes and future life patterns.
At least a dozen Amazonian tribes utilize kambo venom, including the Ticuna, Kanamari, Matses, Kaxinawa and the Marubo. It was in the 1980’s that the first westerner, investigative journalist Peter Gorman, witnessed and documented the first kambo ceremony, performed by the Matses Indians of Peru.
The Matses use kambo as a weaponized drug to enhance their hunting prowess, whilst increasing their strength, audio/visual acuteness, dexterity, mental clarity and aim. They also claim that kambo can make them “invisible.” Perhaps this is in reference to how kambo helps them remain motionless for long periods as they stalk their prey.
The pharmacology of kambo is complex and potent. Kambo frog secretion contains peptides which are analgesic and anti-inflammatory which can strengthen the immune system and cause destruction of pathogenic microorganisms. Peptides found in kambo include dermorphines, deltorphins, and Phyllomedusin. Phyllomedusin is secreted protein effecting tear ducts, glands, bowels and intestines, evoking behavioral and purging responses. Demorphins are selective mu opioid receptor agonists.
Deltorphins are indigenous to frogs specifically of the genus Phyllomedusa and act as a very potent and specific agonist of the δ-opioid receptor. Deltorfin and dermatorphin have been synthesized in pharmaceutical laboratories and have proven to be highly effective treatments against cancer, AIDS, Parkinson, depression and other diseases.
In recent years, western medicine has begun to embrace the frog venom, researching its potentials. I came across kambo while investigating psychedelic entheogens of indigenous peoples. Though not classified as psychedelic, kambo is linked to the psychedelic Ayahuasca by way of a Kaxinawá legend.
According to the legend, at one time, the villagers of an Indian tribe got very sick. Not only were they suffering from physical illness, they were consumed by “panema,” a word denoting negative energy and bad luck. Metaphorically, a black cloud had settled over the people. Their shaman, who’s name was Kampu, used every combination of herbal medicines to help his people, but to no avail.
Kampu entered the jungle under the influence of Ayahuasca, in search of guidance from the great God. He was given a vision of a green frog, and was instructed by Ayahuasca on the method for collecting the frogs white secretion. Then, he was shown how to apply the medicine. After returning to his tribe and, following the instructions given, he was able to cure his people.
Kampu became a revered shaman. After his death, the spirit of Kampu entered into the green monkey frog. To this day, the villagers continue the ceremony with the frog, named after the shaman who first discovered its secrets.
The giant monkey frog is considered sacred by tribal peoples and great care is taken not to harm the creature. To collect the venom, the frog’s limbs are carefully stretched by strings tied to sticks. The toxin is gingerly scraped off the skin of the frog by wooden sticks and afterwards, the frog is released unharmed. If the frog is injured during the process, it is believed the animal spirits would bring wrath upon the tribe.
Traditionally, kambo is administered through the skin by burning “points” with a small piece of wood then removing that epidermis, exposing the layer beneath. The medicine is applied to the opening and absorbed through the lymphatic system.
The three extra points of kambo Frances applied to my arm brought the total up to nine. Within seconds I felt its effects. My heart rate increased, my vision blurred and, finally, nausea overcame me. I grabbed the bucket and vomited into it. Feeling faint and fatigued, I stretched out on the mat.
Frances placed a blanket over me. She put light new age music on and informed Justin and I that she was going to make tea and would return in fifteen minutes. I rested, drifting in and out of sleep. After a while, Frances returned and invited us downstairs to the kitchen to partake of the ceremonial meal. My strength slowly returned as we shared pea soup, toast, fruit and stories.
In addition to being our ceremony leader, Frances Aiom is an experienced medicine woman, devotional singer, Shamanic practitioner and yoga teacher. In 2010, while living in Brazil, she was introduced to Kambo by an indigenous medicine man of the Yawanawá tribe of the Amazon Rainforest. Since then, she has guided over 100 clients through the Kambo Ceremony.
I discovered Frances through her Facebook page, and took it as a good portent that she was holding a rare kambo ceremony in Brooklyn that very week. In the days and weeks since the ceremony, I’ve felt invigorated with a sense of well being. Could this be my imagination? Perhaps, though I am inclined to think Kambo is some powerful medicine, and I can’t help but feel a oneness with the frog spirit.