A kambo ceremony: the frog poison is being applied to the burnt skin
|Claims||It 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|
|Risks||Neuropsychiatric side effects, kidney damage, death|
|This article is part of a series on|
|Alternative and pseudo‑medicine|
Kambo, also known as sapo, a kambo circle or kambo ceremony, is a potentially life-threatening, pseudoscientific cleanse or detox. Kambo is the name of a poison secreted by the 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. The poison's effects on humans usually include drops in blood pressure, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, but cases of severe pain and death have also resulted from its use. Kambo, which originated as a folk medicine practice among indigenous peoples of the Amazon, is also administered as an alternative medicine treatment in the West. The ceremony involves burning the arm or leg skin and applying the poison directly to the burn. Proponents claim that kambo helps with any number of illnesses or injuries, but there is no scientific evidence that it is an effective treatment of any kind.
Kambo is traditionally practiced by Panoan-speaking indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforest, such as the Mayoruna and Amahuaca. Traditional practitioners claim that it aids fertility, cleanses the body and soul, increases strength and brings good luck on hunts. Kambo is also practiced in urban regions of Brazil, but outside of South America, it has only recently become popular as an alternative therapy.
A kambo ceremony can involve just two people, the practitioner and participant, or a number of participants at once, which is known as a kambo circle. Participants are encouraged to bring plenty of water, a towel and a bucket. There are usually yoga mats on the floor and the ceremony room, which is often the practitioner's living room, is heavily incensed.
To collect the poison for the ceremony, an Amazonian tree frog—Phyllomedusa bicolor, commonly known as the giant monkey frog—is caught. The frog is then tied tightly to four sticks placed in the ground and its limbs stretched between the sticks. This causes the frog to become stressed enough to activate its defence mechanism, secreting a substance containing peptides from its skin. Once the poison has been scraped off the frog it is usually released back into the wild. The poison is then left to dry.
During the ceremony the skin of the participant is deliberately burnt multiple times, usually on the upper arm or leg, by the practitioner using a smouldering stick or vine. The toxins, which have been reconstituted with saliva or water, are then pasted on to the burnt skin for rapid absorption. It takes about 15 seconds to feel the effects. These effects usually include an immediate drop in blood pressure, pain, nausea, shaking and severe vomiting, but can also include swelling of the airways, fainting and sudden diarrhoea. If the ceremony is performed in a group or circle, the participants are encouraged to shout "Viva" when one of them vomits into their bucket. The effects usually subside after 20 to 60 minutes, leaving the participant feeling relieved.
Users and practitioners of kambo claim that the alternative medicine helps with a wide variety of issues and conditions. These claims include:
- Boosting energy
- Improving mental clarity
- Treating addiction
- Treating depression
- Increasing fertility
- Reducing fevers
- Removing negative energy
- Helping with chronic pain
- Boosting strength
- Cleansing the soul and body
The frog secretes a range of small chemical compounds called peptides, which have a number of different effects. These peptides are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream when frog secretions are placed on the damaged skin. When introduced to the body, these peptides cause intense effects including nausea and vomiting, incontinence, pain, dizziness, increased heart rate and euphoria. They cause smooth muscle to relax, leading to lowered blood pressure. Some of the peptides produced by Phyllomedusa bicolor exhibit biological activity similar to opioid drugs. Neuropsychiatric side effects, such as psychosis, seizures, confusion and memory loss, have been reported, as well as kidney damage and syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion. The practice of kambo has been described by a toxicologist as a risky, potentially life-threatening procedure.
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."
Martin Williams, a post doctoral research fellow at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said that while the physical effects of kambo, such as vomiting and diarrhoea, were scientifically understood, there was no evidence of kambo's supposed curative effects. He spoke of the placebo effect of alternative treatments such as kambo, saying that people who take kambo may feel motivated to get better. "That in itself, that motivation, constitutes a pretty strong effect in many people", he said in a 2018 article for the ABC.
Joe Schwarcz of the Montreal Gazette said "Isn’t it curious that people who worry about taking a “synthetic” pharmaceutical backed by decades of research will uncritically subject themselves to the poisonous secretions of an Amazon amphibian?"
- 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. doi:10.1073/pnas.89.22.10960. ISSN 0027-8424.
- 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 (0). doi:10.1590/0037-8682-0467-2018. ISSN 1678-9849.
- 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.
- Scherer, Jennifer (7 November 2019). "Australians Are Using This Amazonian Frog Poison Aa A Controversial Alternative Medicine". SBS. Archived from the original on 27 November 2019. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
- 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)
- Cunningham, Melissa (8 April 2019). "'Huge number of risks': Healers hit with Amazonian frog poison ban". The Age. Archived from the original on 30 August 2019. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Byard, Roger W. (2019). "Is voluntary envenomation from the kambô ritual therapeutic or toxic?". Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology. doi:10.1007/s12024-019-00192-5. ISSN 1547-769X.
- 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.