Kambô: The Ultimate Guide

Your definitive guide to kambô — the centuries-old ritual medicinal use of the skin secretions of the Amazonian tree frog, Phyllomedusa bicolor.

 Now and then, one’s spirit requires a little rejuvenation. The means through which individuals invigorate their being vary considerably. For some, taking up mindfulness meditation will suffice. For others, a relaxing day at the spa satisfies the doctor's orders. 

However, for a select few perhaps more adventurous or indeed desperate folks, rejuvenation is found in the skin secretions of the Amazonian tree frog, Phyllomedusa bicolor.

kambô, also called Sapo, is a cocktail of compounds obtained from the skin secretions of an Amazonian tree frog traditionally applied to superficial burn marks on the skin by indigenous tribes to enhance their hunting skills.

In 1986, Italian chemist and discoverer of serotonin, Vittorio Erspamer, who, having analyzed the secretion’s peptides (the building blocks of protein), described kambô as a “fantastic chemical cocktail with potential medical applications, unequaled by any other amphibian.”

Now, kambô treatment is rapidly growing in popularity in shamanistic settings in the West, intending to heal, purify, and transform users.

For some, kambô has undoubtedly worked wonders. Unfortunately, however, treatment can result in unexpected adverse events, which has brought into question the efficacy and safety of this controversial cleanse. 

What is Kambô? 

kambô is the name given to a complex mixture of over 100 bioactive peptides and chemical agents that are secreted via the skin of a giant, waxy tree frog, Phyllomedusa bicolor, as a defense mechanism to kill or subdue predators. 

The secretion is also known as ‘Sapo’ (the Spanish word for toad, despite Phyllomedusa bicolor being a frog), ‘Campu’, ‘Acaté’, and ‘Vacino da Floresta’. 

kambô, a thick, yellow-colored substance, has been harvested from Phyllomedusa bicolor by different Amazonian tribes for centuries. Traditionally, kambô is applied to small superficial burn wounds in the upper arms (men) or legs (women) to confer good luck, health, and strength during hunts. 

kambô is traditionally used in ritualistic settings in the Amazon basin of Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. Since the turn of the century, however, the use of indigenous medicines has become more common in the West, and kambô has gained considerable popularity as an alternative healing agent. 

Kambô Treatment: What to Expect  

Before kambô treatment takes place, the beautiful bright green tree frog is carefully harvested in the early hours of the morning, after a considerable fall of torrential Amazonian rain. 

Once the frog has been harvested, it is typically tied up for 3 days, during which time its secretion is scraped off of the back and limbs using a wooden stick without harming it. When enough kambô has been collected, it is dried on a so-called kambô stick, and the giant monkey frog is freed back into the moist, broad-leaf trees of Amazonia. 

The dried resin is then removed from the stick, diluted with water, and subsequently applied to a freshly inflicted burn in the top layer of the skin, mostly in the upper arm or under the leg, created by a smoldering hot twig.

The shaman then applies small dots or “points” of dried kambô excretion to the burns or “gates”, as they are called, where, thanks to kambô’s vasoactive chemical constituents, they are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. 

Before applying kambô, a test point is often used to determine whether the ceremony participant will experience any adverse effects. Speaking on The Hamilton Morris Podcast, journalist and kambô pioneer, Peter Gorman, revealed that the average dosage of a single kambô point is roughly 10 milligrams.

Five points of kambô is a common dose, however, anywhere from 2 and 10 points may be applied to participants depending on body weight, previous experience, reasons for participation, and, sometimes, the shaman's preference.

The superficial burns often leave round scars that may fade over time with diligent care. Many recipients prefer to keep their scars visible as a source of pride or as a reminder of their kambô experience. 

Newly established kambô ceremonies in the West are typically performed in a group setting, complete with music and a variety of integrative mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga, and alternative therapeutic modalities. Other kambô treatments are delivered in a more clinical context.

kambô treatment can cost anywhere between $50 and $400 depending on the type of experience one feels they are most suited to. 

The Subjective Effects of Kambô 

Within minutes, and often mere seconds, kambô’s bioactive peptides quickly enter the lymphatic system, and the blood, triggering the immune system to respond in emphatic fashion. The immune response, which sets in very quickly, bears many similarities with anaphylaxis and is often quite intense. 

The subjective effects of kambô are believed to have a cleansing effect on the body. For example, anecdotal reports, as well as the research of Erspamer and colleagues, suggest that resolution of gastrointestinal symptoms is typically followed by a sense of increased physical strength, as well as resistance to stress, hunger, and thirst. 

Some of the most common effects include: 

  • Tachycardia 
  • Feelings of a rush
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Angioedema (Swelling beneath the skin, often around the eyes, lips, or entire face)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme agitation
  • Urination 
  • Sweating 
  • Pain
  • Strong emotions 

Assistants or volunteers are typically on hand at kambô ceremonies to provide buckets for those who feel the urge to purge, escort participants to and from the bathroom, or act as a calm and reassuring presence.

For most users, the kambô experience lasts between five and 40 minutes, generally resolving within an hour. In some rare cases, however, gastrointestinal effects and inflammation can persist for several hours.

If unpleasant kambô symptoms persist for longer than an hour, users should seek immediate emergency medical attention.

Kambo psychedelic

The Effects of Kambô on The Immune System

The subjective effects of kambô can be explained by the pharmacological properties of its many peptides. These peptides affect the body both at a central (cardiovascular) and a peripheral (gastrointestinal) level, exhibiting both short- and long-term effects. 

Erspamer and colleagues suggested that the central effects of kambô, including improved physical strength, higher resistance to stress, hunger, and thirst, and hypotension, are probably due to the peptide, caerulein, known to stimulate smooth muscle, and sauvagine, a neuropeptide from the corticotropin-releasing factor family of peptides.

Sauvagine causes hypotension and tachycardia possibly because of peripheral vasodilatation of the intestinal lining. Sauvagine has also been shown to increase plasma corticosteroid levels which may explain the reported increases in increased strength and stamina subsequent to administration. 

Gastrointestinal symptoms of nausea and vomiting are predominantly attributed to caerulein, an emetic peptide that has been shown to induce gallbladder contraction and stimulate gastric and pancreatic secretions. kambô’s poisonous peptides prompt our immune systems to purge these toxins from the body.

Specifically, a circumventricular organ called the area postrema, aka the brain’s vomiting center, detects the noxious peptides and induces vomit in an attempt to re-integrate homeostasis. 

Also at a peripheral level, phyllocaerulein, a caerulein-like nonapeptide, seems to cause gastrointestinal effects.

Due to scant scientific research, the effects of kambô’s chemical constituents are not yet fully understood. Isolating each peptide to determine their significance, or lack thereof, can be quite a tricky and laborious process. 

Aside from the peptides outlined above, kambô also contains other peptides with known peripheral effects, including phyllomedusin and phyllokinin. The role of these peptides is unclear as of yet.

Therapeutic Use of Kambô 

Due to the concerns surrounding its safety, kambô has yet to be fully embraced by proponents of plant medicine. Unlike classic psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin which reliably induce non-ordinary states of consciousness by acting on specific brain receptors, kambô primarily exerts its effects on the immune system — hence, the purging, inflammation, and anaphylaxis-mimetic symptoms. 

According to experienced practitioners, kambô’s healing properties lie in this very ability to modulate the immune system, acting, as they see it, as a kind of vaccine. Scientists have identified kambô as a potential source of new antibiotic and analgesic medications due to its fascinating immunomodulating properties. 

While it has these intense effects on the immune system, most people (most westerners at least) experiment with kambô in the hope that it may remedy symptoms of anxiety or depression, or promote the integration of personally meaningful experiences. Many users report significant mood improvements having successfully overcome what is quite a physically demanding experience.

As is the case in the traditional ritualistic use of ayahuasca, there is a belief among kambô proponents that purging purifies, and heals, both the body and mind — a notion that appeals to many struggling souls, no doubt. Of course, there is insufficient scientific evidence to make sweeping claims regarding kambô’s healing ability with any degree of certainty. 

Growing increasingly frustrated by the marginal and ever-decreasing effectiveness of commonly prescribed pain medications, not to mention their high potential for addiction, many chronic pain sufferers attend kambô ceremonies in search of relief.

Promising reports of people experiencing considerably less pain in the days and weeks following kambô treatment have stimulated limited scientific interest in the analgesic properties of kambô’s bioactive peptides. In particular, the painkilling molecules caerulein (chronic tumor pain) and dermorphin (postoperative analgesia) have compared favorably to morphine in clinical trials. 

Risks Associated With Kambô 

kambô has gained considerable popularity among non-indigenous people in recent years. Unfortunately, what often accompanies the growing popularity of indigenous medicine in the West — due to the absence of traditional use and concomitant understanding — is a plethora of potential risks.

As it stands, there is minimal clinical evidence regarding kambô’s medicinal use, while its application carries with it great risk. For instance, five people have died post kambô administration to date, as reported in the literature. In addition, several case reports are suggestive of possible links to prolonged toxicity, esophageal rupture, and syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone (a condition in which the body makes too much antidiuretic hormone).

The case of syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone shines a light on perhaps one of the most significant risks of kambô treatment: water intoxication (hyponatremia).

After attending a kambô ceremony in Slovenia, a 44-year-old woman drank 6 liters of water. The consequential water-electrolyte imbalance caused nausea and vomiting, confusion, lethargy, muscle weakness, spasms and cramps, seizure, decreased consciousness, and short-term memory loss. 

As a result, prominent plant medicine researchers have stressed the importance of thoroughly investigating the potential harms of kambô administration. In particular, experts have warned kambô users of its reported association with sudden unexpected death, which could be attributed to kambô’s vasoactive properties. 

According to The International Association of kambô Practitioners (IAKP), sudden deaths are exceedingly rare and are generally attributable to pre-existing conditions. This was possibly the case with an overweight smoker with a history of coronary artery disease who was found dead in his home 30 minutes after self-administering kambô.

Commonly occurring contraindications for kambô include:

  • Hypertension
  • Hypotension
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Aneurysm
  • Embolism
  • Addison’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Pregnancy

As of yet, it remains unclear whether kambô use is linked directly to these reported fatalities and illnesses, in large part due to insufficient knowledge regarding kambô’s effects. That said, it is crucial to be educated and aware of potential harms and drug-drug interactions before experimenting with new medicine.


kambô is a complex mix of bioactive peptides that are secreted by Phyllomedusa bicolor, a giant tree frog native to the Amazon basin.

Traditionally used by indigenous Amazonian tribes to confer good luck and strength on hunting trips, ritual use of kambô in the West for purposes of healing and purification is increasing, largely due to how easily it can be obtained from the internet. 

Many users of kambô report that its immunomodulating properties exhibit profound healing effects on psychological disturbances and physical conditions. However, the line between remedial medicine and seriously harmful poison is a fine one.

A great many kambô-containing peptides have the potential to cure or disable, and careful consideration should be given to the potential risks associated with kambô use, particularly those pertaining to contraindications, possible drug-drug interactions, and water intoxication, well in advance of experimentation with this alternative treatment.

Furthermore, it is crucial that kambô-naive individuals comprehensively vet their prospective kambô practitioners to ensure safety.

Promising preliminary results suggest that at least 3 of kambô’s many peptides may have potent analgesic properties. However, kambô has not been sufficiently studied, and there is a great need for further research to determine its safety. 

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