Kambo, poison frog therapy
Many people turn to alternative medicine for one of two reasons, they are either suffering from a condition that western medicine is unable to treat, or they are simply opposed to a pharmaceutical and surgery dominated approach that primarily treats symptoms rather than eliminating the cause of disease. In my case the opposition came first, as I believed there must be a better way of managing people's health. Next came my realization that the experts were unable to treat my condition; as evidence of this they diagnosed my allergic reactions as idiopathic angioedema, which translates to swelling caused by an unknown origin. In Canada I met an excellent Ayurvedic medicine practitioner who helped me to manage this reaction through a highly disciplined diet, but was unable to eliminate the reaction entirely through diet alone. As a result, I now find myself traveling to Peru in search of some relief from this condition. This condition was not my only motivation for visiting Peru, though it was definitely a driving force behind my decision to try Kambo therapy.
As the story goes, centuries ago the people of an Amazon village were suffering from an incurable condition that killed many. The local shaman, or medicine man tried everything he could think of without success. Finally, he entered into an altered state through the use of a sacred medicinal plant called Ayahuasca in search of guidance. He received a vision of a frog along with instructions of how to properly use the frog to heal his people. The shaman's name was Kambo, and according to the story this is where the name of the treatment originated.
Modern science has relatively little understanding of exactly how Kambo works. As I'm told, there are thought to be around 200 peptides within the poison, yet only a handful have been isolated and identified. This lack of understanding may be viewed as an enormous risk to some potential candidates of the therapy. However, can we really be so arrogant to think that if western medicine doesn't understand it then it must be dangerous and ineffective? Perhaps indigenous cultures possess knowledge that we don't yet understand as a result of deeply connecting to their environment. There is a risk to anything in life, including pharmaceuticals and surgeries, and the claimed benefits of Kambo are quite intriguing. The four primary benefits are: relief from depression, improved immunity from future disease, relief or even cure from existing conditions, and increased effectiveness during hunting in the jungle. Some conditions believed to be improved by the practitioner that I chose include migraines, depression and diabetes.
Are you experienced?
You can usually recognize somebody who has had Kambo therapy by the tattoo like markings on their skin. Kambo is introduced into the body through small circular burns that tend to leave a permanent mark on the skin. While this may seem crude, it is really quite creative as indigenous cultures obviously never had access to tools such as modern syringes. The burned holes provide an entry point into the blood stream that allows doses to be controlled. A small amount of frog poison paste is applied over the burn, so three holes equals three doses, five holes equals five doses, and so on. Typically a patient receives three treatments in one month, so in my case it was three, then five and finally seven doses. After about sixty minutes the process is complete, the paste is wiped off, and the treatment is turned off like a switch. You can imagine if the paste was ingested orally there would be no way to immediately stop the process.
Preparation and process
Prior to performing the therapy the practitioner asks whether you have had any surgeries, take any medications, have any heart problems, have high or low blood pressure, have any diseases, or react strongly to bee stings. The primary concerns are that your heart cannot handle the altered rate caused by the poison, or if you are prone to systemic bee sting reactions then your throat could potentially close and prevent breathing. After determining that the therapy is appropriate for you, a twelve hour fast is initiated the night prior to the therapy. Before the therapy begins two liters of water are consumed in about forty minutes, and yes this is a lot of water to drink in a short time; it was slightly uncomfortable. As I drank the water my practitioner conducted a ceremony asking the medicine to honor us with a successful healing. Not something you would ever see in an American hospital, yet an important part of this ancient tradition. Following the application of frog poison paste I immediately felt my heart rate increase, a burning sensation on my shoulder where the paste was applied, and heat generated on my face. During my second treatment my face swelled considerably, and there was a slight closing of the throat. Though the feeling in my throat was disturbing at the time, it was quite common and nothing to worry about as I experience only localized bee sting reactions instead of the systemic kind. Within about twenty minutes the vomiting began and continued in waves for the next sixty minutes. Due to the overnight fast, only water is vomited and the water provides a medium for the toxins to exit the body. The water also acts to flush out any toxins circulating through the blood.
Post Kambo effect
The theory is that the body believes it is dying and immediately goes into emergency mode pushing all toxins out of the system. As patients, we can take advantage of this bodily response because the body is not only purging the Kambo poison, but also any other toxins stored within our tissues. I felt tired as you would expect following such a traumatic experience, and continued drinking large amounts of water for the next three days to ensure any toxins released during the process were flushed out. It was also important to scrub thoroughly in the shower to rinse any toxins released through the sweat. The following day I felt surprisingly light and energized, and the days following my second and third treatments I saw in the mirror a youthfulness that I haven't seen in years. In terms of discomfort the cost of this therapy is high, though the rewards can be even greater. The real test of course will be how I respond to my food allergens. If three days of discomfort and vomiting are necessary to eliminate a food allergy that I have endured for 5 years then I would say Kambo was definitely worth it. If the allergy persists then at least I can still enjoy the claimed benefits of a cleansed body, reduced depression, and strengthened immunity. Just as there is no guarantee that the therapy will work for me, there is also the possibility that the therapy works, but I'm not able to prove it. I'm approaching this condition from numerous angles using a variety of techniques. Taking a break from work, enjoying a change of scenery, lowering my stress, changing my climate, and consuming powerful plant medicines all contribute to my healing. If my condition is cured then I may never know the exact reason, but what I will know is that I actively used all the resources available to me rather than sit around and take the pharmaceuticals that western medicine prescribed.
While Ayurveda is my default system of medicine, I try to be open to new possibilities like Kambo. The beauty of learning an ancient system of traditional medicine like Ayurveda is that it provides a reference point to compare new and different therapies to. Yes, relative to millennias old Ayurveda the centuries old Kambo is a new therapy to many people, especially in North America. The Ayurvedic process of purging, called Pancha Karma, includes a very careful and lengthy preparatory phase and is followed by a similarly careful and lengthy rejuvenation phase, which is in great contrast to the Kambo procedure. Therefor, Pancha Karma may be helpful to those in a weakened state of health. Regardless, I am relatively strong, and I find myself in Peru now, not India, so I was curious about and willing to experience poison frog medicine.