The poisonous secretion of the Amazon tree frog has many names. The most popular is Kambo, but it is also known as “sapo,” the “toad vaccine,” or “medicine of the forest.” It is traditionally used to treat ailments of the mind, body, and spirit, but is also known for its powerful cleansing effects. Read on to learn about some surprising health benefits and dangers of Kambo.

What is Kambo?

Kambo is harvested from the poisonous secretions of the Amazon tree frog, Phyllomedusa bicolor. Kambo is traditionally used to remove “Panema,” or negative energy, which is said to result in numerous health benefits such as gaining strength and maintaining health. It also aids with mental illness and addiction [1].

The Kambo ceremony involves making several small burns at specific locations on the body and applying the poison to the burns. Kambo initially causes a generally unpleasant period of increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and incontinence that lasts 30 to 40 minutes. This is followed by a period of listlessness and eventually some long-lasting effects [2].

The use of Kambo in the traditional ceremony has not been studied in any randomized controlled trials. However, many studies have investigated the health benefits of numerous active peptides found in the frog venom [3].

Components

Kambo contains many peptides that are active in the body, including phyllocaerulein, phyllomedusin, phyllokinin, sauvagine, dermaseptins, adenoregulin, deltorphin, and dermorphin [R, 1, 4].

Their action is explained in the following section.

Mechanism of Action

The peptides from Kambo have incredibly diverse effects in the body. They are absorbed directly into the bloodstream through burns in the skin. The following peptides have been discovered in Kambo:

  • Phyllocaerulein (150 to 600 ug/g fresh tissue) stimulates gut flow, stomach acid secretion, and lowers blood pressure [5].
  • Phyllomedusin (tachykinin, NK1 activator) and phyllokinin (bradykinin) contract the gut and lower blood pressure (by dilating blood vessels). Phyllomedusin also acts on the brain to alter consciousness and behavior [6, 7, 8, 9].
  • Sauvagine stimulates the adrenals and dopamine release. It causes the smooth muscles to contract and acts as a depressant in the brain (i.e., “downer”) [10, 2].
  • Dermaseptin B2 fights microbes and may combat cancer [4].
  • Adenoregulin affects the activity of important neurotransmitters and compounds (adenosine, adrenaline, and serotonin (5-HT1A)). It’s responsible for the initial listlessness and eventually an intense “flight or fight” response [11, 12].
  • Deltorphins (delta-opioid receptor activator) and dermorphin (mu-opioid receptor activator) act as opioids to relieve pain and induce euphoria [13, 14].

Health Benefits of Kambo

1) The Kambo Cleanse

Kambo is known for its intense and immediate purgatory effects that generally result in vomiting and diarrhea that can last up to 4 hours, which may remove toxins from the body. The ritual, performed by both tribes and urban people, has been documented and described in detail. Several peptides in Kambo are probably responsible for the effect [15, 1, 12, 16].

The phylloceruelean peptide in Kambo increased acid production in the stomach, contracted the small intestine, and increased pancreas activity in dogs [5].

Stomach acid production was also increased by phylloceruleean in rats [5].

Additionally, the peptide phyllomedusin led to stomach spasms in rats [7].

2) Kambo May Help Relieve Stress and Anxiety

Kambo users frequently report improved mood. The Kambo peptide, dermorphin, decreased blood levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol in 28 healthy human subjects (RCT) [17].

A synthetic dermorphin reduced pain and anxiety in rats under stress after several days of repeated use [18].

Rats given deltorphins experienced an increase in overall movement and social interactions, which points to a decrease in anxiety [19].

3) Kambo Peptide May Help Increase Milk Production

Prolactin is a hormone that drives milk production during breastfeeding. The Kambo peptide dermorphin increased the production of prolactin in healthy 28 human subjects (RCT). Dermorphin could potentially be developed for use in new mothers who are not producing enough milk for their babies [20, 17].

4) Kambo Relieves Pain

Deltorphin and dermorphin, found in the skin of the Amazon frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor and other related species), are opioid peptides with promising pain-relieving effects and minimal toxicity [21].

Deltorphin peptides relieved pain in mice by acting opioid-like (via delta-opioid receptors) [22].

Deltorphin also relieved pain in rats with chronic inflammation [23].

Studies in cow brain blood vessels show deltorphin is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. This is important in order for the peptides to have an effect on the brain and reduce pain [24].

Many research efforts are directed toward discovering peptides similar to deltorphin for the treatment of pain [22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30].

Since dermorphin also relieves pain (but via mu-opioid receptors), researchers are aiming to optimize dermorphin as a safe alternative to morphine [14, 31, 32, 33].

5) Kambo Has Anticancer Properties

Dermaseptin B2, one of many peptides found in Kambo, blocked the growth of prostate cancer in mice by promoting cell death [34].

Dermaseptin B2 also stopped the growth of many human cancers in cell studies, including mouth cancer, prostate cancer, and brain tumors [34, 35, 4, 36].

Additionally, in cellular studies, Dermaseptin B2 blocked processes that led to new blood vessel growth, which is useful in treating cancer because it blocks the flow of nutrients to growing tumors [34, 4].

When nanoparticles were used to deliver dermaseptin to cancer cells, it had a stronger anticancer effect [37].

6) Kambo May Help Treat Addiction

Tachykinins are small proteins that affect reward, motivation, and stress responses in the brain, which are disrupted in addiction. Molecules that can reach the brain and increase tachykinin activity (by binding to receptors) have the potential for treating addiction [38].

Phyllomedusin is one tachykinin found in Kambo that is likely responsible for the effects of Kambo in treating addiction [39, 1].

7) Kambo Lowers Blood Pressure

Kambo users commonly report a drop in blood pressure as one of their symptoms during the initial unpleasant phase of Kambo cleansing. Two peptides found in Kambo (phylloceruelean and a physalaemin-like peptide) lowered blood pressure in dogs [15, 5].

8) Kambo May Protect the Heart

Mice given deltorphin II, one of the peptides from Kambo, had increased blood flow to the heart, which prevented irregular heartbeat when given to mice prior to having a heart attack. This peptide is being researched as a new treatment for heart attacks [40, 41].

9) Kambo Is Antimicrobial

Many of the peptides found in the secretions of the tree frog can fight microbes, which protect the frog from infections. They have a wide spectrum of microbe-fighting activity [42, 43].

Adenoregulin fights both fungus and bacteria and is especially effective against E. coli and yeast [44, 45, 46, 47].

Dermaseptins are another class of peptides found in Kambo that kill both gram positive and gram negative bacteria as well as yeast [36, 42].

Dermaspetin is also antiviral. It killed the herpes virus in cell studies but must be applied before the virus binds to host cells [48, 49].

Biofilm infections are notoriously resistant and difficult to treat, often requiring high doses of antibiotics over a long duration. Dermaseptins stopped biofilm growth and were less toxic to cells than antibiotics [50].

Another peptide from Kambo, Phyllospetin-1, can also fight infections. It is especially potent against bacteria that commonly cause skin infections (Staphylococcus aureus) and its associated biofilm [51].

Side Effects and Warnings

In addition to the unpleasant effects (increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, incontinence) that occur upon application of Kambo, there are several reports of more serious side effects [52, 15].

In a forensic study, a 42-year-old man was found dead in his home next to a box of “Kambo sticks.” He had deltorphin A in his blood and enlarged heart tissue upon autopsy. They concluded that continued use of Kambo likely caused the sudden death [53].

A case report of a 44-year-old woman undergoing a Kambo ritual in Slovenia reported many undesirable effects, including nausea and vomiting, confusion, muscle weakness, cramps, seizures, decreased consciousness level, and short-term memory loss. Low ADH levels (confirmed with lab tests) and excess water consumption likely contributed to her symptoms. It took a full 3 days for her to recover with treatment. [54].

In another case, a 34-year-old man had liver damage after weekly applications of Kambo that continued for 2 months [55].

In rats, the sauvagine peptide found in Kambo caused a drop in body temperature (hypothermia) [10].

Additionally, creating burns in your skin always comes with the risk of infection and a high likelihood of scarring [1].

Kambo has potent effects, alters brain chemistry, and has not been studied in RCTs. Although reports of shamans healing people struggling with mental health problems are numerous, these claims are still limited and controversial. People with an unstable mental illness should probably avoid Kambo due to lack of safety data [56, 57, 58].

Kambo Ceremony

Kambo is generally harvested from the tree frog early in the morning when a tribal person follows the song of the frog. Once caught, the frog is tied in an “x” shape and the poisonous secretions are carefully scraped from their legs and stored on wooden sticks for use in the Kambo ceremony. The frog is released back to the wild unharmed [1].

The purification ritual begins by burning several small holes into the skin (generally on the arms for men and legs for women). Dried Kambo is then reconstituted with either spit or water and applied to the fresh wounds [1].

Kambo causes immediate and generally unpleasant gastrointestinal and cardiovascular effects, such as purging, incontinence, and rapid heart rate.

Ultimately, users report experiencing numerous beneficial effects, such as increased strength, heightened senses, lack of hunger or thirst, and increased ability to face stressful situations [1, 16].

Traditionally, Kambo ceremonies are utilized prior to a hunting expedition in many South American countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, French Guiana, Suriname, and Venezuela [1, 16].

Limitations and Caveats

Kambo should be used only under direct supervision, ideally with someone who has experience with the traditional ceremony. While Kambo “sticks” are available online, they are unregulated, may have unpredictable strengths, and should be used with caution.

To date, there have been no clinical trials to prove the reported cleansing effect of the Kambo ritual, or any other health benefit.

Drug Interactions

Currently, information is lacking about Kambo drug interactions. However, it is well documented that Kambo causes vomiting and diarrhea, which can alter the concentration of prescription drugs and electrolytes in the body, so users should proceed with caution [54].

Genes Affecting Response to Kambo

OPRM1 is the gene that codes for the mu-opioid receptor, and at least 4 variants exist in humans. Since dermorphin targets, these, differences in OPRM1 genes could result in different response to Kambo, especially in regard to pain relief [59, 60].

OPRD1 is the gene that codes for the delta-opioid receptor, which is the target of the Kambo peptide, deltorphin. One variant of OPRD1 increased pain sensitivity in a human study of 92 patients with arthritis in hips.

Users with this particular variant of OPRD1 may have a be less sensitive to Kambo effects [60].

Genetic variation in the genes that influence serotonin (such as those affecting 5HT1A receptors), a target of Kambo (adenoregulin) could alter its effect in the brain [61].

Natural Sources

Traditionally, Kambo is the poisonous secretion found on the limbs of the tree frog, Phyllomedusa Bicolor. However, several other species in the Phyllomedusa family produce poisons containing similar peptides [21].

“Kambo sticks” are commercially available on the internet, and Kambo is legal in the US and many other countries [1].

User Experiences

The most obvious and immediate effect of Kambo is purging or cleansing. Many people use Kambo to prepare their bodies for an ayahuasca ceremony. Users note that Kambo completely cleanses the body so that they are able to enjoy ayahuasca without purging.

Many people seek a Kambo ceremony to remove negative energy from their life and emerge from it with a more positive energy and outlook.

Many users say felt a shared bond between others in their Kambo ceremony and appreciated feeling connected to those around them.

People using Kambo to combat substance addiction are often surprised to find it much easier to stay sober after a Kambo ceremony, but note that they begin slipping into old habits after some time and require Kambo ceremonies somewhat regularly.

Several users experiencing chronic fatigue have noted an increase in energy after continual use of Kambo (weekly).

It’s also important to note that many Kambo users and practitioners warn against taking the frog poison by mouth as it can lead to what Shaman’s call the “Frog Disease,” which includes weak muscles, serious heart complications, and even death.

About the Author

Chelsea Paresi, PhD (biomedical science)

PhD (biomedical science)

Chelsea has PhD from Cornell University and a BS in Chemistry from Westminster College.

Chelsea spent more than 8 years in the laboratory researching a wide range of topics including small molecule discovery for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and cancer. She also has experience as a clinical scientist working in an embryology lab. She is passionate about using food as medicine and feels that the future of treating disease will rely on a better understanding of personalized medicine based on genetics.

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