Two days ago, I had my skin burned and blistered so that Kambo, the Amazonian frog poison, could be applied and absorbed into my body.
For the first few minutes, I felt fine. Then overwhelming pain set in.
The time between having Kambo pierced into my burned wounds and the purging was one of the most uncomfortable periods of my life. I deeply regretted going through with it.
It didn’t help that I’d read a number of accounts of people dying from taking Kambo.
But this article (and video below) is evidence of my survival. And there are some positive health impacts from Kambo, which I’ll explain further soon.
Yet at the same time, I feel incredibly conflicted for having taken Kambo and unsure whether to do it again.
Read through the article for the full overview of my Kambo reset experience. Or you can navigate to the section you’re most interested in below.
What is Kambo, and why would anyone take it?
See this beautiful green frog above? That’s the giant monkey frog mostly found in the Amazon basin of Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. It also goes by the name of blue-and-yellow-frog and bicolor tree-frog. Its scientific name is Phyllomedusa bicolor.
When the frog gets stressed, such as when there’s a predator nearby, its skin secretes a frog vaccine known as Kambo. Kambo contains a range of opioid peptides and deltorphins.
Kambo ceremonies are traditional healing rituals performed in many South American countries. A shaman performs the ceremony, burning incisions into people’s bodies (usually the arm) to apply Kambo secretion to the wound.
Here’s what your body goes through, according to the International Archive of Clinical Pharmacology:
- The first symptoms are a rush of heat, redness of the face, and quickly emerging nausea and vomiting, and.
- The whole experience involves the sudden feeling of warmth, palpitations, rapid pulse, flushed red skin, paleness of the skin, a lump in the throat and difficulty swallowing, abdominal pain, runny nose and tears, and swollen lips, eyelids or face.
- The symptoms last for 5-30 minutes, and in rare cases for several hours.
Why would anyone want to go through such an experience?
Well, according to proponents of Kambo, it can treat the following:
- Chronic pain
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
Are these benefits backed by science? No.
Experts have documented some positive impacts of Kambo, such as the dilation of blood vessels and brain sell stimulation.
But there aren’t any large-scale studies backing up the scientific benefits.
What are the risks?
Before I tell you about my Kambo reset experience, you should know about the dangers of taking Kambo.
The literature on Kambo identifies the following potentially serious complications:
- Muscle spasms and cramps
- Severe and prolonged vomiting and diarrhea
Kambo has also been linked with organ failure, toxic hepatitis and death.
Wait, what? There have been deaths from Kambo?
Yes, there are a few reported cases of people dying from taking Kambo.
For example, a 42-year-old man was found dead in his house with a plastic box labeled as “Kambo sticks” near him. His autopsy showed that he may have had the previous condition of high blood pressure.
In 2019, a 39-year-old Australian woman died of a heart attack at a private ceremony, which was believed to have involved the use of Kambo. She had taken Kambo in the past, and was a certified International Association of Kambo Practitioner.
In Italy in 2017, a 42-year-old man was found dead in his house after suffering a heart attack. Kambo paraphernalia surrounded him. Coroners didn’t find any drugs present in his system apart from kambo toxins.
A number of other kambo deaths are reported in this article by EntheoNation.
Caitlin Thompson, the founder of EntheoNation, suggests that almost all Kambo deaths can be avoided:
“There are a number of very simple safety protocols that make a tremendous difference in reducing the risk of accidents related to kambo. The biggest risks of kambo are hyponatremia and the participant potentially fainting and injuring themselves. Proper screening for contraindications such as heart disease, specific water protocol and education, performing a test point and assisted walking to the bathroom are the best ways that practitioners can ensure safety.
“These things aren’t hard to do, it’s just that most people administering kambo have no proper training and don’t have any idea what the risks are to serving this medicine. Many if not all of the accidents associated with kambo could have been easily prevented by having an educated and responsible practitioner.”
Why I needed a Kambo reset
With the fear of death present in my mind, I must have had a good reason for doing a Kambo ceremony. Right?!
Doing a Kambo ceremony is something I’ve been thinking about and researching for the last few months.
During this time I’ve been experiencing fatigue. I wouldn’t call it chronic fatigue. I’ve certainly been functional. But I’ve felt lethargic during most days.
This has partly been the result of disrupted sleep. But even when I get a restful night of sleep I have still felt some fogginess during the day.
I think my lethargy is related to stress in my life. During these few months, I’ve been taking action by reevaluating my idea of success in life and building a bigger team to grow my business.
Given the changes I’ve been making, it felt like the right time to step back and reset.
I’d read some accounts of people using Kambo to address fatigue. I had also read about deaths associated with Kambo and was scared.
The key for me was finding a Kambo practitioner I could trust. Given the risks associated with doing Kambo, this wasn’t a decision I was going to make lightly.
Choosing a Kambo practitioner
Betty Gottwald and I met at Buddha Cafe in Koh Phangan, Thailand.
I’m not anywhere near the Amazon and getting there to do a Kambo ceremony with an indigenous practitioner during the COVID pandemic isn’t going to happen any time soon.
So I took up the advice of a friend who recommended doing Kambo with Betty.
Betty is an American nomad who has made Koh Phangan her home during the covid pandemic. She was trained with the Matses tribe in the Peruvian Amazon, and over the last three years has facilitated hundreds of kambo ceremonies.
Before meeting with Betty, I had poured through her website. I discovered that Betty’s preference was the mystical and spiritual side of the spirit of Kambo, but she was well versed in the scientific benefits.
When we met at Buddha Cafe, I confessed to Betty that I was scared of the dangers of Kambo.
Betty didn’t sugarcoat what the experience will be like. She was honest about the discomfort I’ll go through.
Betty then explained two key things:
- From her research, she believed the deaths associated with Kambo resulted from the person having preexisting conditions. As long as I was honest about any health conditions I had, she expected that I would be fine.
- She also told me that she would apply the Kambo with one dot at a time. Based on how my body reacted, she would then apply additional dots. It would mean prolonging the time going through pain but would act as a safeguard in case I reacted particularly negatively to the frog poison.
My mind was racing. What if I had preexisting health conditions that I just don’t know about yet? What if I experienced an allergic reaction to the frog poison?
And the pain… Were we going to prolong the pain by being more careful?
But over the course of this initial one-hour conversation, I felt very at ease with Betty. She had a lot of experience with Kambo.
I also didn’t get the feeling that she wanted to be the guru in our ceremony. I felt like we were communicating as equals, a rarity when you come across self-proclaimed experts in the new age spiritual world.
I decided to trust Betty and go through with the Kambo ceremony. We arranged to meet at my place two days later, at 9.30 am in the morning, after I had fasted for at least 12 hours.
Those next two days leading up to the Kambo ceremony were uncomfortable, to say the least.
Before the Kambo ceremony
Betty advised me to maintain an organic, plant-based, and minimally processed diet in the lead-up to our ceremony.
The day before the ceremony, Betty gave me an abdominal massage to loosen my guts and get them prepared for the onslaught.
During these few days, I started to obsessively read accounts of people who had died from Kambo. I became really scared.
Yet I’d been experiencing fatigue and exhaustion for six weeks straight. I’d also read many accounts of people who had gotten over their chronic fatigue symptoms immediately after a Kambo ceremony.
I knew that despite the fear I would go through with the ceremony.
The morning of the ceremony I awoke after a night of tossing and turning. The fear of death was ever-present.
So in the 90 minutes, before Betty arrived, I did something a little different. I downloaded the guided meditation on death by Rudá Iandê. It’s a part of his shamanic breathwork workshop, Ybytu.
In the meditation, Rudá’s hypnotic voice takes you under the earth. You have just died! You then give up all of your memories, knowledge, and experiences to our home planet. You’re finally resting at peace, connected with everything on the planet. Then a voice cries out, “it’s not your time yet!”
I emerged from the meditation no less scared about death! But I incorporated a sense of humility about my life. It put me a little more at ease.
The Kambo ceremony
Betty turned up at my place on her scooter with a bucket strapped to the back.
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I escorted her inside and we sat down for a final chat. I nervously recounted some of the additional reading I’d done about people dying from Kambo.
Betty very calmly explained that we would begin with just one dot of Kambo. She had a lot of experience in observing how the participant reacts. She would use her judgment in applying additional dots.
I was satisfied with this and was ready to begin.
We started with some light breathwork and then Betty did her thing, chanting for the spirits of Kambo. She then asked if I would like to share out loud my intentions for the ceremony.
Given that I’m not really one for setting intentions – and especially speaking them out loud – I paused for a moment, reflected, and then in homage to my ayahuasca experiences with Rudá Iandê in Brazil, let out a defiant “Aho!”
Betty reached for her two-way pipe to administer some rapé. This is a powder made by combining tobacco with the Nicotiana rustica plant. It gets blown through the pipe, up your nose, and creates the sensation of your brain exploding inside.
I’ve experienced having rapé blown into my nose by Rudá Iandê many times in Brazil. It always brings me instant clarity and calm, despite the burning sensation in my brain.
This time was no exception. With the cry of “Aho” and the physical presence brought by rapé, I started to relax.
Unfortunately, my blissful state of relaxation was short-lived. It was now time to have five incisions burned into my arm.
While I had been sitting with my eyes closed in a state of meditation, Betty had been burning the sticks she would use to burn incisions into my arm.
She told me this was known as “opening the gates.”
With clinical precision, Betty burned five dots in my arm. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. It was like a tiny little needle being jabbed into me.
Betty then cleaned the wounds and started to prepare the Kambo.
I looked over to what she was preparing. She was busily scraping Kambo off the sticks onto a slab of selenite, which Betty told me is a “white light energy crystal for clearing.”
Betty asked me to drink 1.5 liters of water while she prepared the Kambo medicine. I obediently complied.
Betty then pasted the first dose of Kambo medicine into one of the dots on my arm.
We calmly waited for the physical symptoms to appear. Betty told me I should feel the impact quickly.
After about 3-4 minutes, I felt nothing. At this point, I didn’t have much fear of any health repercussions from Kambo. It felt like my body could take it.
Betty administered two more Kambo dots. We sat and we waited.
A few minutes went by. I started to feel some warmth around my head, shoulders and abdominal region.
Then the warmth disappeared and I felt completely fine.
Another few minutes passed. I started to admire my strength. I wondered if I was some kind of superhuman who was immune to the frog’s poison.
As though in response to my arrogance, I felt a huge pang of pain in my abdominals.
I was bloated from water. My guts seemed to be swelling in reaction to the Kambo. It was a very uncomfortable feeling.
All I wanted to do was reach my hands into my mouth to force myself to vomit.
“I ask of you one thing,” Betty said. “Please don’t induce the first vomit with your fingers. Wait for the Kambo medicine to do its work. When it’s ready, you won’t have a choice with vomiting. It will come.”
At this moment, I started to feel desperate. I wanted the pain to go away.
I couldn’t stand the feeling of being bloated from the water, combined with the pain in my guts. I was feeling pretty uncomfortable throughout the whole body, but most of the pain was in my guts.
I was now drenched in sweat, just sitting and rocking in place and waiting for the vomit to come.
This state lasted for about 10 minutes. I cursed to myself. I started to get very anxious.
I vaguely remember pleading with Betty that I needed to force the vomiting. Betty calmly asked me to sit with the discomfort, to just wait for the Kambo medicine to work its way through my body.
Looking back, I appreciate Betty’s forthrightness in this moment. I knew that if I needed to, I would have just found a way to force myself to vomit. But I also knew that Betty had experienced this situation hundreds of times.
I’d come this far. I’d already gone through a good amount of pain. I did my best to just connect with the pain and wait for the vomit to spontaneously emerge.
After what I think was about 20 minutes, the vomit suddenly came. And it came with a rush.
I looked in the bucket. Surely this was more than 1.5 liters? And it was bright yellow with little black things floating about.
It didn’t look pretty. It looked toxic.
Betty then administered Kambo to the two remaining dots on my arm. I drank 1.5 more liters of water and waited a few more minutes.
Betty then told me that it’s okay to induce the vomiting. In a scene reminiscent of getting drunk with my friends in my late teens, I shoved my fingers down my throat and brought everything up.
The vomit was yellow once again and the bucket was getting quite full.
I drank another 1.5 liters of water and waited a few more minutes. I then repeated the vomiting. This time the vomit was completely clear.
“We’re done,” Betty said matter-of-factly. She was waiting for the vomit to become clear. The Kambo medicine had brought up all it was going to during our ceremony.
I was completely exhausted. I just sat there in a daze.
Betty packed up the items from the ceremony with care and checked in to make sure I was doing okay.
All I wanted to do was sleep. I told her I was feeling quite weak but fine. She left. I managed to have a short nap.
After the Kambo ceremony
For the rest of the day, I took it easy. I ate some fruits in the afternoon and then had a salad for dinner.
I was expecting to feel unwell for at least the rest of the day. I’d been poisoned, after all. But to my surprise, I simply felt tired from the lack of sleep the previous few nights.
I went to sleep at 9 pm and had my best night of sleep for as long as I can remember. I woke up at 6.20 am feeling incredibly refreshed.
The next day was incredible. I felt a huge amount of energy. I hadn’t written for Ideapod in months, but during my first coffee in the morning wrote out half of this article. Most importantly, I enjoyed writing it.
I felt like I had my mojo back.
Kambo medicine and fatigue
I’m now finishing this article two days after the Kambo ceremony. Today, I feel a little more tired than yesterday. I’m still working on introducing some new sleeping habits so that I can sleep through the night (a problem I’ve had for many years).
One thing I’m sure of is that the fatigue is gone. The feeling of fatigue is different than being tired. When I’m tired, it’s usually due to a lack of sleep. But I experience fatigue as a different kind of fogginess.
It feels like a general malaise. I don’t think it’s anything as serious as depression. I’m able to function optimally with my experience of fatigue.
But the fatigue has been present for the last six weeks.
Yet since the Kambo ceremony, I haven’t experienced any fatigue. I do feel clear in my mind. I have energy to do whatever I want to do during the day.
Is Kambo the reason for not feeling fatigued?
It’s difficult to know. I put my body under a lot of stress with the fear of death – even if I was overthinking this part of the Kambo experience.
I did some Ybytu breathwork exercises before the Kambo ceremony. I have been restructuring how my business and how I work during the days.
Over the last week in Koh Phangan I have been taking time out to go snorkeling every day.
I’m living a very balanced life.
The Kambo ceremony may have been the shock to the system that I needed. Given the violent physical reaction from frog poison, it could be that Kambo is the ultimate placebo.
Or it could be that Kambo medicine did exactly what its proponents say it can do. It reset my system.
More research is needed into the benefits or pitfalls of taking Kambo. In the meantime, I’m grateful for not feeling fatigued and will continue making changes to my life to have a better relationship with stress, productivity, and creativity.
Why am I feeling conflicted?
Finally, I must admit to feeling conflicted about the treatment of frogs in extracting their medicine.
The frog medicine is harvested by capturing the Amazonian tree frog at night.
The person will often climb trees 15-20 meters high and offer a large stick for the frog to climb onto.
The frogs are then tied by their four hands and feet, stretched out, and put under stress so that they will secrete the medicine.
After the medicine has been excreted and captured, the frog is then released into the jungle. It takes 1-3 months for the frogs to build up their reservoirs of poison.
According to Betty, it’s not a pleasant process to watch and doesn’t look like a pleasant experience for the frogs to endure.
In her Kambo ceremonies, Betty emphasizes “Ayni”, which is the concept of reciprocity or mutualism shared by many tribes in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. Here’s what Betty wrote to me after the ceremony:
“The word itself [Ayni] is actually the Quechuan word for ‘today for you, tomorrow for me’ and the Q’ero concept of circular energy being given and received. I mention it in every ceremony at the beginning and the end. I say it as a little reminder that we are taking this sacred secretion from the frog while he is wildly uncomfortable while using it, and hopefully, afterward, we are in a place to give a better version of ourselves to the world and in all our relationships with self and others.”
From my perspective, the key question I’m left with is whether the extraction process leaves the frogs vulnerable to predators such as snakes. Or do they have enough natural reservoirs to protect themselves? I haven’t been able to figure this out in my research.
Ideally, I would like to learn more about the process of Kambo extraction by spending time with the tribes of the Amazon.
This is what Betty has done. She has spent significant time with the Matses tribe in the Peruvian Amazon, participating in the extraction process so she could bring it herself to Thailand. She has developed a stock of knowledge through direct experience. The concept of Ayni is ingrained into her practices.
I’m feeling conflicted because I don’t have the same understanding of the frog medicine extraction process. On the one hand, I feel elated right now. I’ve certainly gone through an incredible transformation.
On the other hand, I can’t help but feel like an ignorant Westerner jumping on the bandwagon of an indigenous tradition beginning to become more popular around the world.
If you’re interested in joining me on my journey of reflecting on this theme, please let me know. You can sign up for Ideapod’s email newsletter and write back to one of the emails I send. Or leave a comment below.