Is An Amazonian Frog the Cure for Addiction?
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Is An Amazonian Frog the Cure for Addiction?


Can An Amazonian Frog Help Cure Addiction?Brits are experimenting with a cure for addiction and depression that sounds bizarre, but might be strangely effective, according to a recent feature in Vice. The treatments, which involve poison from an Amazonian frog, an elaborate ceremony, projectile vomiting and burned skin, supposedly help people find strength, stamina and sobriety. Participants in what are known as “kambo ceremonies,” endure hours of discomfort in exchange for the promise of living without alcohol, anti-depressants and other substances.

What is Kambo?

Kambo ceremonies have received attention in recent years for their reported ability to help keep people sober. The Vice article contends that kambo practitioners are riding a recent wave of “life-changing Amazon medicine drugs such as the hallucinogenic plant infusion ayahuasca,” which suggests people are attracted to new, alternative methods of recovery. And, there might just be something to kambo treatments. While it’s not some one-and-done magic cure, there are reports that some have started to report behavioral changes after multiple treatments. One kambo user, “…started slipping back to wanting to get drunk, so she took another dose of kambo. Now, just before her third kambo session, she says she feels like a different person: ‘It’s a massive change. I don’t want to go back to the drunkenness and hangovers.’”

Kambo ceremonies are becoming fairly widespread throughout the UK. Vice claims that ceremonies are taken quite seriously, overseen by people trained in the Amazon or by the International Association of Kambo Practitioners (IAKP) “which administers, teaches and regulates the use of kambo [in the UK]and in several countries around the world.” The site goes on to say that training courses are completely booked up for the rest of the year.


Kambo is a poison (or medicine, depending on who you ask and what sites you visit) culled from an Amazonian frog also known as the “Giant Monkey Frog.” Found throughout the Colombian rainforest and between Brazil and Peru, the frog has been used by indigenous tribes for generations to glean “strength, immunity and hunting magic.” The poison handily repels all of the frog’s predators, but when it’s used on humans, it has an intense psychological and physical effect. The Vice feature also claims that kambo “hides a rich cocktail of more than 100 chemical compounds,” with more than 70 patents taken out on them.

One site does its damndest to sell visitors on the virtues of kambo, but I think it may actually do the opposite: “Immediate effects include a stinging sensation and quickening of the carotid pulse. Patients may feel a flushing fever sensation in the arms and face, followed by weakness. Users should expect to vomit and experience stomach cramps. These effects subside within about 45 minutes, after which the patient should rest for the remainder of the day and enjoy a good night’s sleep.” Similarly, the Vice feature is accompanied with close-up photos of swollen burn marks on skin in circular patterns, where the toxin is applied.

Most sites about kambo cleanses also go out of their way to discuss how no frog is harmed. Photos show how frogs are “positioned in an undignified X shape, with its limbs tied to sticks with string, and tapped on the head, releasing the poison on its back.” After that, just like catch-and-release fishing, the frog is returned to the wild, unharmed.

The Vice feature details the ordeal first-hand: “As the poison entered her lymphatic system, [she]felt her head rushing. She said it felt like she’d taken ‘loads of poppers.’ After about a minute came the purging: She started projectile vomiting into a bucket. The man to her left had become emotional and was crying, and the other guy was also getting sick. She felt a togetherness with her fellow kambo users. The practitioner looked after them and muttered encouragement. Then they relaxed, ate some fruit, and talked through what had just happened.” In many ways, it seems as if the kambo cleanse is as figurative as it is spiritual.

The feature, however, also pointed out that there may be a “low-level addictive quality” that is key to kambo’s current popularity, according to one researcher from Queen’s University in Belfast. Professor Chris Shaw claims that Indian tribes need to take more and more kambo over time. Kambo practitioners, in fact, restrict their use to 12 times a year. Shaw points that “if the body is regularly overloaded with molecules—for example, a heroin user taking morphine—the body switches off its own production, which leads to the need for external sources and a risk for dependency.”

Treatment—or Trend?

“Kambo is not scientifically proven for treatment, but I would not be at all surprised if kambo worked well in cases of depression, because there are so many substances in it that affect the brain,” Shaw says of the substance. “Taking kambo leads to a massive rearrangement and overload of the nervous system.” This change in brain chemistry would naturally drive people to return to it in order to recapture that high. Like anything, the mere suggestion of a positive effect on others’ recovery makes it attractive.

Turning to the Amazon for medicine is nothing new. A recent Huffington Post article examined the reality of so-called shamanistic medicine, noting that researchers have been deployed to the rainforest for decades in search of miracles. “Despite the fact that 25 percent of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest plants, currently less than 1 percent of tropical plants have been analyzed for medical purposes,” the article claimed. That’s a, well, vast forest of possibility. And while kambo ceremonies may simply be the latest recovery trend, it underscores the need to seek answers outside pharmaceutical labs. People will go to extreme lengths to get high, and it seems many will also go to similar lengths to get sober.

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About Author

Paul Fuhr is an addiction recovery writer whose work has appeared in The Literary Review, The Live Oak Review, The Sobriety Collective and InRecovery Magazine, among others. He is the author of the alcoholism memoir “Bottleneck.” He's also the creator and co-host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and recovery. Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and their cats, Dr. No and Goldeneye.