Kambo cleanse

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Kambo cleanse
Applying Kambo.jpg
A kambo ceremony: the frog secretion is being applied to the burnt skin
Alternative therapy
ClaimsIt is claimed that kambo will help with a number of issues including, depression, anxiety, addiction, fertility, fever, mental clarity, negative energy and the cleansing of the body

A Kambo cleansing, also known as a Kambo circle or Kambo ceremony, Kambo, vacina-do-sapo, or sapo (from Portuguese "sapo," lit. meaning "toad"), is a purge using skin secretions of the kambô, a species of frog. The effects on humans usually include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; Kambo's usage produced several deaths. Kambo, which originated as a folk medicine practice among the Amazon indigenous peoples, is also administered as an alternative medicine treatment in the West, often as a pseudoscientific cleanse or detox. The ceremony involves burning an arm or leg and applying the Kambo secretion directly to the burn. Promoters claim that Kambo helps with several illnesses or injuries. There are ethnographic studies on the use of Kambo in traditional Noke Kuin medicine in the region of the state of Acre, in the Brazilian Amazon.[1] Still, there is no scientific evidence that it is an effective treatment.

Common terms[edit]


Natives who practice Kambo are Panoan-speaking indigenous groups in the southeast Amazon rainforest, such as the Mayoruna, Matses, Amahuaca, Kashinawa, Katukina, Yawanawá, and the Kaxinawá.[5][6][7] Traditional practitioners claim that it aids fertility, cleanses the body and soul, increases strength, and brings good luck to hunts.[8][9] The secretions are also commonly used in people who suffer from tikish or laziness: a condition perceived as unfavorable by the Noke Kuin as the person stops participating socially.[10] It's used by natives to expel "panema" (bad spirit) and to induce abortions.[7]

Since the mid-20th-century, Kambo has also been practiced in urban regions of Brazil.[8][6] In 2004, Brazil banned the sale and marketing of Kambo.[11] Import is illegal in Chile.[12] Outside of South America, it first became famous as an alternative therapy in the late 2010s.[13]


The Kambo ritual. A) Phyllomedusa bicolor. B) Collecting the frog's secretions. C) Applying Kambo to burns on the skin. D) Closeup of skin marks.[8]

"Kambô" is a common name of Phyllomedusa bicolor, an Amazonian tree frog, also known as the blue-and-yellow frog, bicolored tree-frog, giant monkey frog, giant leaf frog, or waxy-monkey tree frog. "Sapo" means "frog" in Portuguese and "toad" in Spanish).[14] The frog is an anuran amphibian that inhabits the Amazon and Orinoco basins in South America.[15]

To collect the secretions from the frog's body, first, the amphibian has to be caught. A healer will tie the frog to four sticks placed in the ground with his limbs completely stretched. The pulling causes the frog to become stressed enough to activate its defense mechanism and secrete a substance containing peptides from its skin.[16] After obtaining secretions, the frog goes back into the wild. The secretions are then left to dry.[16] Small dots are created on the skin by natives, and the healer applies a small dose of the frog secretions to the open wounds.[7] In native practice, the secretions are removed from the wounds after 10 to 15 minutes, ending the acute symptoms.[7]

Non-indigenous use[edit]

Outside South America, a Kambo ceremony can involve just two people, the practitioner, the participant, or many participants at once, which is known as a Kambo circle. Participants are encouraged to bring plenty of water, a towel, and a bucket.[13] There are usually yoga mats on the floor and the ceremony room, which is often the practitioner's living room, is heavily incensed.[13]

In non-indigenous use, the frog secretion is described and marketed as a "detox" treatment, cleanse,[16] purge,[13] and as a "vaccine," which is "good for everything."[17] Kambo has been marketed both as a "scientific" remedy, emphasizing the biochemistry, and as a "spiritual" remedy, emphasizing its indigenous origins.[6] Purging (deliberate vomiting) has been a popular treatment since the 1800s.[16] "Detox" has been described by Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine, as a term for conventional medical treatments for addiction, which has been "hijacked by entrepreneurs, quacks, and charlatans to sell a bogus treatment."[18]

During the ceremony, the participant's skin is deliberately burnt multiple times, usually on the upper arm or leg, by the practitioner using a smoldering stick or vine.[16] The healer uses saliva or water to reconstitute the frog secretions and place it on top of the burnt skin.[16] A group of people performs the ceremony outside of South Florida, where the participants are encouraged to shout "Viva" when one of them vomits into their bucket.[19] Short-term effects include violent nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, edema (swelling) of the face, headaches, and tachycardia. The secretions seem to be vasoactive (affecting the circulation), explaining why they are absorbed rapidly.[7]

Joaquim Luz, a Yamanawa leader, criticized commercial sales and Kambo's use without the preparation or permission of indigenous peoples, saying that the toxin users are at risk of death.[11] Other native groups have also expressed concerns.[20]

Species used[edit]

Criticism of non-indigenous use[edit]

In Brazil, given the growth in the consumption of Kambo in urban centers, criticism has been generated by indigenous people, academics and communicators regarding the cultural appropriation of indigenous knowledge, the process of extracting the secretion of the Phyllomedusa bicolor frog, the form of transmission of wisdom, at the price charged by the ritual and the mystification of the origin of the frog.[21] Patents generated from the peptides identified in Kambo from pharmacology (biopiracy), the commercialization of the Kambo outside its place of origin and the unknown impact on frog populations due to the increase in their removal from their natural habitat.[17]

Users and practitioners of kambo claim that the alternative medicine helps with a wide variety of issues and conditions. These claims include treating addiction, depression, and chronic pain,[13][19][22] reducing fevers,[13] increasing fertility,[13] boosting energy and physical strength,[9][19] and improving mental clarity.[19] It is also claimed that kambo removes negative energy[13] and cleanses the soul and body.[9]

There is currently no scientific basis to these claims. There is no solid medical evidence on how the frog toxins work, whether they are useful for treating anything, and whether they can be used safely: no clinical trials have tested them on humans, as of November 2019.[7] Reports of adverse events are numerous, including for use with experienced guidance.[7]

Kym Jenkins of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, in a Sydney Morning Herald article, said "people with mental illness are a more vulnerable group anyway for a variety of reasons. If you're feeling very anxious or very depressed ... you're automatically more vulnerable and you could be more susceptible to people advertising or marketing a quick fix. I do have concerns that people can be preyed upon when they are more vulnerable."[23] Kambo has been described by a toxicologist as a risky, potentially life-threatening procedure.[13]

Environmental impact[edit]

The increased use of Kambô rituals impacts the population number of Phyllomedusa bicolor in their natural habitats in the forests of Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, the Guianas, Colombia, and Venezuela.[24][25][8] Including Phyllomedusa, other species of frogs that are endangered and threatened have been selected by smugglers as primary ingredients for illegal trade.[24] Forensic wildlife investigations have concluded that the ingredients found in these frog species result in lethal outcomes.[24] Individuals are using these substances as an alternate route in medicine. Chan Su is a medication used as a topical anesthetic and cardiac treatment. The medicine contains bufotenine, a tryptamine derivative alkaloid found in various toads' secretions. Similarly, another component of this medication, "bufalin," is hugely cardiotoxic.[26] This particular frog species is not part of the group of endangered species protected by the IUCN endangered species.[27]

Notable Deaths[edit]

An unknown individual was charged in Brazil in 2008 with the illegal exercise of medicine and felony murder after administering Kambo toxins to a business colleague, who died; the deceased's son, who said his father had pressured him into participating, suffered more minor effects.[28][8] In Chile in 2009, Daniel Lara Aguilar, who suffered from chronic lumbar disc disease, died immediately after taking Kambo administered by a local shaman in a mass healing ceremony; the autopsy was inconclusive due to preexisting conditions.[11][29] The medical literature reported the 2018 case in Italy of a person with no known preexisting conditions besides obesity, who, according to autopsy reports, died of cardiac arrhythmia while under the effects of Kambo use.[30][8] In March 2019, Kambo practitioner Natasha Lechner suffered a cardiac arrest and died while receiving Kambo.[13][31] In April 2019, a homicide investigation was opened into the death by "severe cerebral edema" of a young person who had taken Kambo toxins in Chile; the import of the frog and its secretions is illegal in Chile.[32][33]


Chemical structure of Dermorphin[34]

The frog secretes a range of small chemical compounds of a type called peptides, which have several different effects.[35] Peptides found in the frog secretions include dermorphin and endorphins. The peptides then bind to opioid receptors, sauvagine, a vasodilator, and dermaseptin, which exhibits antimicrobial properties in vitro.[7] Various other substances such as phyllomedusin, phyllokinin, caerulein, and adrenoregulin are also present.[35] There is active medical research into the peptides found in the skin secretions of Phyllomedusa bicolor, focusing on discovering their biological effects. There have been some preclinical trials in mice and rats, but no phase-1 tests or clinical trials of safety in humans, as of November 2019.[7]


On the other hand, in more recent studies, many amphibians, including Phyllomedusa bicolor, are threatened endemic species of South America's neotropical regions. Usually, zoos keep frogs for conservation purposes, and there are many parasites present in these animals that are only natural to endemic habitats. It's recommended for these amphibians to go via a quarantine process to verify they are not spreading parasites that could damage other ecosystems.[37] Parasites found in these frogs are (51.12%) differing from a (12.88%) present in lizard species. Individuals who want to have them as pets are obligated and encouraged to undergo an examination to detect gastrointestinal parasites that could potentially be harmful.[38] Neocosmocercella fisherae is the first nematode species found parasitising Phyllomedusa bicolor from the Brazilian Amazon Region.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lima, Edilene Coffaci de Lima (25 November 2014). "Cobras, xamãs e caçadores entre os Katukina (pano)". Tellus (in Portuguese). 8 (15): 35–57. doi:10.20435/tellus.v0i15.161. ISSN 2359-1943. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  2. ^ Lima (2000): 160.
  3. ^ Erspamer et al (1993): 1100.
  4. ^ Lima (2008): 170.
  5. ^ Daly, J. W.; Caceres, J.; Moni, R. W.; Gusovsky, F.; Moos, M.; Seamon, K. B.; Milton, K.; Myers, C. W. (1992). "Frog secretions and hunting magic in the upper Amazon: identification of a peptide that interacts with an adenosine receptor". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 89 (22): 10960–10963. Bibcode:1992PNAS...8910960D. doi:10.1073/pnas.89.22.10960. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 50462. PMID 1438301.
  6. ^ a b c Lima, Edilene Coffaci de; Labate, Beatriz Caiuby (15 October 2007). ""Remédio da Ciência" e "Remédio da Alma": os usos da secreção do kambô (Phyllomedusa bicolor) nas cidades". CAMPOS - Revista de Antropologia. 8 (1). doi:10.5380/cam.v8i1.9553.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bartels, Emiel Jacob Henri; Dekker, Douwe; Amiche, Mohamed (26 November 2019). "Dermaseptins, Multifunctional Antimicrobial Peptides: A Review of Their Pharmacology, Effectivity, Mechanism of Action, and Possible Future Directions". Frontiers in Pharmacology. 10: 1421. doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.01421. PMC 6901996. PMID 31849670. robust data on pharmacokinetics, efficacy and safety in humans are currently lacking (please note that this is not a very reliable medical source; see talk tab)
  8. ^ a b c d e f Silva, Francisco Vaniclei Araújo da; Monteiro, Wuelton Marcelo; Bernarde, Paulo Sérgio (2019). ""Kambô" frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor): use in folk medicine and potential health risks". Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina Tropical. 52: e20180467. doi:10.1590/0037-8682-0467-2018. ISSN 1678-9849. PMID 30942261.
  9. ^ a b c Schwarcz, Joe (29 September 2019). "The Right Chemistry: No evidence-based science supports kambo ritual". The Montreal Gazette. Archived from the original on 2 October 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Lima (2000): 75-76.
  11. ^ a b c Mundo, Leire Ventas. "Kambó, el polémico veneno que se usa en Sudamérica como medicina para curarlo todo". BBC News Mundo (in Spanish).
  12. ^ Vallejos, Ricardo Pérez. "San Felipe: joven mujer murió tras un ritual de sanación con veneno de rana". La Nación (in Spanish).
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Scherer, Jennifer (7 November 2019). "Australians Are Using This Amazonian Frog Poison Aa A Controversial Alternative Medicine". SBS. Archived from the original on 7 November 2019. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  14. ^ den Brave, Paul S; Bruins, Eugéne; Bronkhorst, Maarten W G A (2014). "Phyllomedusa bicolor skin secretion and the Kambô ritual". Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins Including Tropical Diseases. 20 (1): 40. doi:10.1186/1678-9199-20-40. ISSN 1678-9199. PMC 4582952. PMID 26413084.
  15. ^ "Phyllomedusa bicolor". AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. 2015. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Mariana, Jasmine, Lauren, Van Zeller, Brown, Effron (29 March 2017). "This Amazonian tree frog's poison has become part of the latest supercleanse trend". ABC News. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2019.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ a b Bernarde, Paulo Sérgio; Santos, Rosimeyri Aparecida (20 June 2011). "Utilização medicinal da secreção ("vacina-do-sapo") do anfíbio kambô (Phyllomedusa bicolor) (Anura: Hylidae) por população não-indígena em Espigão do Oeste, Rondônia, Brasil". Biotemas. 22 (3). doi:10.5007/2175-7925.2009v22n3p213.
  18. ^ Mohammadi, Dara (5 December 2014). "You can't detox your body. It's a myth. So how do you get healthy?". The Observer.
  19. ^ a b c d Lavoipierre, Angela (7 September 2018). "Tree frog poison being used as an alternative medicine". ABC News. Archived from the original on 7 September 2018. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  20. ^ Silva, Francisco Vaniclei Araújo da; Monteiro, Wuelton Marcelo; Bernarde, Paulo Sérgio (2019). ""Kambô" frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor): use in folk medicine and potential health risks". Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina Tropical. 52: e20180467. doi:10.1590/0037-8682-0467-2018. PMID 30942261.
  21. ^ Labate y Lima (2007): 74.
  22. ^ Duncan, Elly (22 November 2019). "South Australian Pair Banned Indefinitely From Providing Frog Poison Health Treatment 'Kambo'". SBS. Archived from the original on 22 November 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
  23. ^ Hall, Bianca (17 May 2019). "Pedlars of new age cures are 'preying' on mentally ill, doctors warn". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 17 May 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2019.
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  25. ^ Silva, Francisco Vaniclei Araújo da; Monteiro, Wuelton Marcelo; Bernarde, Paulo Sérgio; Silva, Francisco Vaniclei Araújo da; Monteiro, Wuelton Marcelo; Bernarde, Paulo Sérgio (27 November 2007). ""Kambô" frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor): use in folk medicine and potential health risks". Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de Medicina Tropical. 52: e20180467. doi:10.1590/0037-8682-0467-2018. ISSN 0037-8682. PMID 30942261.
  26. ^ Kostakis, Chris; Byard, Roger W. (2009-07-01). "Sudden death associated with intravenous injection of toad extract". Forensic Science International. 188 (1): e1–e5. doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2009.02.006. ISSN 0379-0738. PMID 19303230.
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  32. ^ Vallejos, Ricardo Pérez. "San Felipe: joven mujer murió tras un ritual de sanación con veneno de rana". La Nación (in Spanish).
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  38. ^ Hallinger, Malek J.; Taubert, Anja; Hermosilla, Carlos (2020-09-22). "Endoparasites infecting exotic captive amphibian pet and zoo animals (Anura, Caudata) in Germany". Parasitology Research. 119 (11): 3659–3673. doi:10.1007/s00436-020-06876-0. ISSN 1432-1955. PMC 7578172. PMID 32960371.
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Further reading[edit]