Why Are People Taking Kambô, An Amazonian Sweat And Vomit-Inducing Frog Slime?

A Phyllomedusa bicolor photographed in the Peruvian Amazon at night. Image credit: Piet Witzier/Shutterstock.com

Intense nausea, a racing heart, beads of sweat, violent vomiting, and diarrhea. These are some of the most immediate effects of Kambô, a medicinal ritual involving the slimy secrets of a frog that’s long been used by indigenous tribes in the Amazon basin. 

It’s used by these Amazonian Indigenous communities to liberate people from streaks of bad luck, most notably while hunting, but researchers were curious to see why Kambô has become increasingly popular in the West among certain alternative healing circles. As per the new study’s findings, many looked to the drug for personal healing, physical detoxification, and spiritual growth. A surprising proportion of people also said they took the drug out of a “desire to connect with the spirit of the frog.”

But first, what exactly is Kambô?

The ritual uses the skin secretion from an Amazonian giant leaf frog, the Giant Maki Frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor). The secretion is obtained from the frog by carefully tying it up and rubbing its skin, causing it to pump out secretions that are collected on a wooden stick. This substance is then applied to the person via superficial burns on the arms, legs, or chest. Within minutes, people will start to experience hypotension, sweating, an increase in heart rate, and heavy vomiting, which typically lasts for an hour. It’s thought most of these effects are produced by bioactive peptides found in the secretion, as well as the presence of two potent opioids, dermorphin, and deltorphin.

The idea of the ritual is to purge the body of toxins and cleanse the psyche of trauma. The experience is not a psychedelic trip, as such, but it does have some acute psychoactive properties, with users often reporting feeling a renewed sense of self afterward.

In the new study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, psychiatrists at Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin asked almost 400 people (the vast majority of whom were from North America and Europe) to fill out an online survey about their experiences taking part in Kambô rituals. Just over 87 percent of the participants said they found an increase in personal well-being or life satisfaction after their experience with Kambô, while 64 percent said Kambô had some kind of spiritual significance for their lives.

The study also investigated people’s motivation for trying Kambô. Among the most commonly reported reasons were a desire for general healing (65 percent), physical detoxification (62 percent), improvement of overall well-being (61 percent), interest in spiritual experience/spiritual growth (58 percent), mental/emotional purification (52 percent), and a desire to connect with the spirit of the frog (40 percent).

While it might initially sound more like putting your body through the wringer rather than a fulfilling adventure, most people viewed it as a positive experience. However, a few participants reported persisting physical or mental health problems which they attributed to Kambô. 

It’s worth noting that none of the claimed benefits of Kambô have ever been scientifically tested and there is no scientific evidence that it is an effective treatment for maladies or improves mental or physical well-being. For this, we’d need randomized placebo-controlled trials, and none have been carried out yet. 

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