Kambo In the West: Balancing Western Applications With Tribal Knowledge

When taking kambo, it is important to choose an application that will be helpful in your life.
When taking kambo, it is important to choose an application that will be helpful in your life. Image Source: Wikimedia user Jean-Marc Hero.

If you are seeking an alternative to Western medicine, then you may have come across kambo in your research. Kambo is a powerful cleansing medicine derived from the excretions of a frog. Traditionally used by various South American tribes, specifically in Peru and Brazil, kambo has recently started gaining popularity in the Western world as well. Whether it is because you are excited to try something new, desperate for a medicine that works for your ailments, or want an authentic spiritual experience, you may be tempted to sign up for the first kambo ceremony you find. But first, take a moment to consider your specific needs and whether it is better for you to travel to the Amazon to find an experienced shaman or to develop an ongoing relationship with a local kambo expert.

Effective Use

Western scientists have been studying the structure of kambo for decades and, while many specific peptides have been isolated, no effective medicines have yet been patented based on kambo. And although kambo has been shown to be effective against certain ailments, most of the knowledge regarding its application is passed on orally within Amazonian tribes. Years of experience help a practitioner learn to adjust the dosage of the kambo and its placement on the body to be most effective for each individual. This means that Amazonian shamans who have been working with raw kambo for years likely have a deeper understanding of and familiarity with the medicine than most Western practitioners do. The exception is if a Western practitioner has studied intensively under an Amazonian shaman. Still, you may not be able to travel to a traditional shaman, especially if you require several applications of kambo over a long time period. But while not everyone can make a journey to the Amazon for a traditional kambo ceremony, you should always try to find an experienced practitioner trained with traditional knowledge.

Those seeking a kambo experience should also consider how they are going to integrate it into their own lives. If you are seeking solely physical benefits from kambo—such as a treatment for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s—then a traditional healer may be your best option due to their great familiarity with the substance. However, if you are seeking psychological benefits from your treatment—such as help addressing addiction or depression—then you may want to consult with a Western practitioner. Western culture and traditional tribal culture have many differences, and when addressing addiction or depression, it is important to take into account how your culture affects your ailment and your recovery. If you go to a pilgrimage in the Amazon with little or no preparation, you may feel better or even cured while you are there, but this could be because you are in a new, interesting place without your daily stressors. When you return to your everyday life, you need to be able to apply the things you learned during your kambo experience to create a long-term solution that works for you. Because of this, it may be better for Westerners to seek Western practitioners who understand your culture and specific stressors more fully. If you do decide to pursue a more traditional experience in South America, you may want to work with an integration coach to help you effectively transition back into your Western life.

Safe Use

Safe use involves ensuring you will not have an adverse reaction to the medicine and that the benefits outweigh any potential side effects. When considering this element, know that different practitioners may have different definitions of safe use. In Amazonian tribes, young children and pregnant women are encouraged to take kambo, but Western practitioners consider kambo unsafe for children and pregnant women because of the potential health complications for unborn or small children. Additional contraindications for Westerners that may not always be followed by Amazonian shamans include recent surgery, high blood pressure, hypertension, and a recent psychotic episode.

When working with a traditional shaman, the lack of a shared language could also potentially create complications. Unless you and your shaman share a common first language, you may find it difficult to express medical terms concerning addiction, high blood pressure, hypertension, or other circulatory problems.  These will affect your safe dosage as well as the best application for you, so you may want to choose a Western practitioner who fully understands your health history or travel with an interpreter. If you are healthy with no known contraindications, though, then you may benefit from working with a traditional shaman.

Regardless of your health history, anyone taking kambo should be on the alert for unexpected adverse reactions. Generally, kambo use starts with a minimal dose to test its effectiveness and your reaction to it. In a tribal setting, this is usually done when you are still a child. Western practitioners will often make a single test point to make sure you do not have an allergic reaction to the medicine. But if you are traveling to the Amazon and facing a time constraint, it may not be possible for you to get to know your shaman (and for them to get to know you) or for them to perform adequate testing on you. You may be tempted to take a large initial dose to get the “full experience” before you build up to it. But whether you take your kambo from a traditional shaman or a Western practitioner, it is important to develop a relationship with your practitioner and follow safe protocol when increasing your dosage.

Ethical Use

The ethical sourcing of kambo affects both the Amazonian tribes supplying kambo and the Westerners benefiting from it. Because kambo cannot be produced synthetically, it is critical to harvest it in a sustainable manner. Traditionally, tribal members collect the frogs and gently scrape off the poison, not harming the frog in the process. They then mark the frog they have harvested and release it into the wild. Over time, the mark will fade and, when it is has disappeared, that particular frog can be harvested again. This method of harvesting ensures continued production of kambo without harming the frog population.

Historically, Western pharmaceutical companies have taken medicines from the Amazon without necessarily supporting the practitioners who developed these medicines. This was the case with captopril, a blood pressure medicine derived from the venom of the Amazonian viper. With kambo, South American governments are working to protect their rights and knowledge by setting up joint research teams consisting of both shamans and Western scientists to control the harvesting and export of kambo. This will preserve not only the source of kambo but also knowledge of effective and safe ways to use it.

If you are considering using kambo, make sure your practitioner gets their kambo supply from an Amazonian tribe that uses ethical harvesting methods. As kambo grows in popularity, it is possible some Westerners may attempt to keep their own frogs to harvest from or sell substitute substances as kambo. Getting your kambo from an experienced practitioner can ensure you are getting pure kambo obtained in an ethical manner. Working with a Western practitioner who has been trained by an Amazonian shaman or directly with an Amazonian shaman can also help support the continuation of tribal knowledge.

Balancing the authenticity of a traditional kambo ceremony with the modern complications of a Western life can be difficult. Ultimately, where you go for a kambo ceremony is your personal choice, but if you are unsure of whether you would prefer a pilgrimage to the Amazon or a local ceremony, you may want to discuss your needs with a psychedelic therapist. They can help you determine your specific goals regarding kambo use and point you towards a practitioner who will work with you to achieve the results you are looking for. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the staff at Psychedelic Times can help connect you with an experienced kambo practitioner and provide more information about the medicine and treatments.

 

 

Psychotherapists and other experts are harnessing the transcendent power of psychedelics to treat mood disorders, substance addiction, and much more. The staff at Psychedelic Times is here to provide guidance and support through the processes of psychedelic integration and recovery coaching. Contact us with your questions about psychedelic therapy―the journey starts today.
Contact Us