A intense purging ceremony that’s not for the faint of heart, Kambo ceremonies have been increasing in popularity over the years. Fans of the ceremony claim a range of benefits from treating depression and PTSD to removing negative energy, and treating chronic pain and fertility problems. Kambo, also known as frog medicine, is not an easy or light form of healing to undertake, but proponents swear by it, often returning several times a year.

What happens during a Kambo ceremony?

Because of the effects of Kambo on the body, ceremonies are practiced with a safety first mindset. The room will be set up to provide a safe setting for attendees, and participants will have a bucket, water and towels to hand. The floor is often lined with yoga mats.

There are no distractions in a Kambo ceremony. The challenging ritual is meant to purge, cleanse and heal, and that is what you will focus on throughout.

You’ll likely be asked to fast for at least ten to twelve hours before the ceremony, with no recreational drugs and alcohol for at least 24 hours before hand.

Ceremonies usually start with drinking about a litre of liquid such as water, cassava soup or diluted papaya juice. Your Kambo shaman should be fully versed in the dangers of hyponatraemia, and question you thoroughly about your fluid and food intake before getting started, as well as any medical and psychological conditions and medications you are taking.

The shaman will burn tiny holes into the top layer of your skin using a vine or sometimes an incense stick, then gently scrape the area before applying the Kambo dots. Sometimes referred to as gates, the burns help the Kambo enter the bloodstream faster.

The number of dots will vary depending on your previous experience with Kambo. Beginners usually start with between three and five dots, while more seasoned veterans can have up to eleven applications.

What is in the Kambo mix?

Kambo is made from the secretions of the giant monkey frog, (Phylllomedusa bicolor) which it makes when stressed. The secretion consists of a range of bioactive peptides and the potency means the body responds to it within minutes.

This bright green amphibian is found in tropical forests, preferring to sun itself by day in the canopy and descend to the forest floor at night looking for a mate. It also seems to use these secretions as a type of sunscreen, happily rubbing them all over itself.

Frog hunters call the frogs to them by mimicking the noise of its distinctive call, and the animal is taken back to a local area for milking.

A bamboo stick rubbed over the legs of the frog collects the sticky secretions, which dry into a resin.

At the ceremony, that resin is split and mixed with either a little saliva or water before being applied to the skin.

kambo medicine

What are the physical effects of Kambo?

The effects of taking Kambo are purgative and unpleasant, but short-lived, lasting around 40 minutes at the most.

A rapidly increased heart-beat, shivers, profuse sweating, and dizziness are to be expected.

While the effects can vary from person to person, you can also experience some or all of the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bladder incontinence
  • Tingling or burning beginning at the points where dots where applied and spreading through the body
  • Pressure especially in the head and neck
  • Stomach pain
  • Difficulty moving
  • Blurred vision
  • Facial swelling
  • Disassociation

There are people who’ve taken Kambo with almost none of the purgative effects, with nausea and vomiting being the most frequently experienced.

Once your heart rate returns to normal, you may need to rest for some time.

What to expect after the Kambo ceremony

You may feel that you have sharper senses, stronger physical strength, and heightened alertness in the days following the ceremony.

People also report greater focus, reduced stress, a marked increase in mental and physical energy, and a consistently better mood.

Kambo controversies

The giant monkey frog has a large distribution through the Amazon and surrounding areas, and is listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN endangered species data base.

Most of the controversy around Kambo centres on the collection and milking of the frogs, and there has been an increasing movement towards making sure Kambo collection is ethically done, with as little trauma to the frog as possible, and not over-milked.

A number of shamans insist on doing their own frog collecting and milking, and will only use the first secretions taken from the frog, ensuring it has more than enough left to protect itself once returned to the trees.

The main concern has risen from the way the frog is stimulated to produce the Kambo. This can vary from a gentle massage of the legs, to the frog legs being gently stretched out and tied apart, to the animal being placed close to a fire.

Following milking, the frogs are returned to the forest. It is quite possible that the same frog may be milked on different occasions if it responds to the hunters calls.

If you follow a vegan lifestyle, you will need to decide whether this particular ceremony is suitable for you. The Kambo ceremony requires the use of the frog, and there is no animal-free alternative.

Kambo contraindications

It’s vital to let the ceremony leader know if you have any medical conditions. There will be certain conditions that mean Kambo is not the safe or right choice for you.

Because of the effect of Kambo on the circulatory system, anyone with the following conditions should avoid the ceremony:

  • Any cardiovascular conditions
  • Aneurism, stroke, haemorrhage or blood clots in history
  • Epilepsy
  • Addison’s disease
  • Low blood pressure
  • Clinical psychosis
  • Anyone pregnant or breastfeeding

Kambo science

Kambo as a medicine is still being investigated by science.

The frog secretions are a smorgasbord of peptides that so far appear to be unique in their combination, including dermorphine and deltorphine, two naturally occurring opioids. Dermorphine is at least 30 times stronger than morphine, and deltorphine has an unusually high blood-brain barrier rate of penetration.

While there have been no human clinical trials in its use so far, medical research is still investigating the potential possibilities and applications

Overall, Kambo has developed a serious and devoted following in recent years. While the medicinal ceremony is a hard experience, devotees state it’s worth the effort – and intend coming back for more.

Our Costa Rica retreat center always ensures these ceremonies are conducted in a safe and sustainable manner.