When I first started reading about kambo, I felt a little perplexed as to why people would want to take it. While kambo can help treat several physical ailments—such as migraines, Alzheimer’s, and cancer—the purgative nature of administering kambo makes it more challenging to handle physically than some other substances, and it is also not considered hallucinogenic. But as I read and watched more accounts of kambo use, I began to understand the ways it has helped individuals deal with their physical, emotional, and psychological struggles. And I noticed a recurring theme that is not often talked about: the deeply social aspect of the kambo ceremony. It made me realize that, although there are certainly physical benefits of using kambo, the community created in a traditional ceremony may be a big factor in kambo’s effectiveness in treating addiction.
The Social Aspect of Addiction
A recent TED Talk by Johann Hari critiqued how society approaches addiction and substance abuse. Drawing on studies completed in the 1970’s regarding rats’ increased abuse of heroin when they were cut off from social interactions, the talk encouraged people to examine how a lack of strong social bonds can increase addictive tendencies in addition to to the physical and psychological components. The talk quickly became popular as many recognized a large amount of truth in the theory that people who become easily addicted may do so because they lack deep, meaningful social connections. Because of this connection, it is important to help those struggling with addiction learn to form trusting, secure bonds with those around them in addition to treating the physical aspects of addiction.
Developing social connections while battling addiction is usually a long process. Some people choose psychotherapy to help deal with attachment issues while others utilize 12-step programs focusing on developing honesty and accountability in relationships. And since kambo ceremonies tend to be significant social events, it makes sense that kambo, when taken in the right setting, could help jumpstart social bonding, perhaps reducing the time it takes for someone with addiction to begin engaging in healthy social interactions.
Social Bonding During a Kambo Ceremony
In traditional settings, hunting parties would undergo a kambo ceremony together before a hunting trip. In some tribes, children and women would also have kambo treatments, making it an experience the entire tribe shared from a young age. Even when taken by an individual, the kambo is applied by a shaman or expert practitioner, and it is not recommended for an individual to use on their own. This contrasts with how many people take addictive substances, procuring them and administering them on their own, often in secret. It is also different from the way modern medical treatments are delivered in clinical settings that work to separate the medical practitioner from the patient. Instead, a kambo ceremony tends to put an individual in a social setting they may not be able to find otherwise.
During the kambo ceremony itself, you may be more open to social bonding. Kambo is considered by many to be a somewhat difficult physical experience; after the substance is applied, you will likely spend several minutes vomiting and experience swelling in your face. However, because kambo is not a hallucinogen, you will remain aware of your situation and the others around you who are going through the same thing. Research has found that pain and difficult experiences can be a particularly effective bonding tool because it becomes a shared experience that helps you identify as part of a group, so the physical discomfort of kambo may, in fact, be a key element in increasing bonding.
After your kambo experience, the points where the kambo was placed will slowly fade. With diligent aftercare—including the application of aloe and sun protection—the marks may fade completely. But many people choose to keep their marks visible, both as a personal reminder of their experience and as an identifying mark to others who have gone through a kambo ceremony. In some areas, local meetups are formed by people who have experienced kambo to either continue with kambo treatments or talk about, share, and process their experiences.
If you are suffering from addiction and do not have the necessary tools to form healthy social bonds, these social aspects of the kambo ceremony may be a helpful way to practice open, honest communication with others while fulfilling your need for social connections. The ceremony can also put you in touch with others who are going through similar issues and can provide support during your recovery. But it is also important that you work with a therapist to integrate your experience into your life for a lasting change.
Going Beyond the Ceremony to Increase Your Social Bonds
While a kambo ceremony may help meet your needs for social bonding and improve addiction recovery, it is important to consider whether a kambo ceremony will have a lasting positive effect on your ability to form social bonds. There are several ways you may be able to extend the benefits of a kambo ceremony.
Most kambo practitioners recommend 2-3 treatments within a 28-day period in order to fully purge and cleanse your body. A good way to encourage bonding is to complete these treatments with the same practitioner and the same group of participants. You may also want to prepare for your first experience with your specific kambo group by engaging in group therapy together for 2-3 weeks before your experience. After your treatments, continuing group therapy can help integrate the experience into your life. For some people, this may be an effective way to start developing social bonds with others who are going through similar challenges.
Even if you do not continue therapy with your specific kambo group, you may consider therapy with a psychedelic therapist both before and after your kambo ceremony. Your therapist can help you work with set and setting for your kambo experience in order to focus on your social connections during the ceremony. They can also help you integrate any insights you may have gained during your kambo ceremony into your everyday life.
Kambo use is still relatively new in the West, and it is important for research on the substance and its potential medicinal purposes to continue. At the same time, it could be worthwhile to pursue the potential social benefits of traditional ceremonies and consider ways that Western practitioners and therapists can preserve the social benefits in Western usage of the substance. For people suffering from addiction, the kambo ceremony may act as a holistic experience that both breaks the physical components of addiction while reducing chances of relapse and helping to bridge the gap to better social connections.