After the Kambo, The Ecstasy

I wanted a jumpstart. This powerful Amazonian frog poison left me revitalized, recharged, and ready to “bring it”—wherever it wanted to be brought.
kambo

I’m in an Airbnb in some suburban sprawl strip mall vortex just off a major thoroughfare, sandwiched between adult shops, taquerias, and beauty supply stores. It’s a rare, not at all scenic area of Colorado—and an incongruous locale for me to take Kambo, the glue-like toxic secretion released on the skin of a rain forest monkey frog that’s now trending among experimental wellness afficionados drawn to its hard-won benefits. 

It’s been over a year since my last Kambo experience in Grass Valley, California. I was in a rough place my first time: Recently separated, living (half the time) with my two kids as well as two roommates with whom I felt like the perpetual third wheel. My mother had just died. The pandemic exacerbated the loneliness permeating my days. Dating in the age of Covid felt strangely dangerous—but to not date, to resign myself to a life devoid of adult affection, meant irreversible atrophy. 

In short, I was depressed. 

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Doing Kambo that first time, I was struck by its gift: A return to essence, to who I was before my inner narrative got hold of me. In the ruddy afterglow of Kambo, diminishment dissolved. Something shifted. I was lighter. Buoyant even. And the sense of inner benevolence remained.

Since that first time, much has changed. With the inheritance from my mother, I bought a house. My kids seem to have come through the crucible of divorce. I am dating a man who makes me believe in kismet, as if, as the poet Rumi said, he had been inside of me all along. Still, I couldn’t shake the sense of having plateaued, energetically. The nightly drinking hadn’t helped, either. Dull verging on complacent, I was ready for a change. 

 

Enter Kambo take two. 

 

I found Boulder Kambo online and the website appealed to me, professional but not overly slick. Jason Fellows and Kelly Lamb, the main practitioners, came across as sincere, sacred medicine guides. Fellows, who was formerly in the military, discovered Kambo while exploring the Amazon jungles in Peru. He told us that after the first time he took Kambo he slept through the night for the first time in years. Lamb, who shone as an athlete and student during her academic career, found her way to plant medicine as way out her crippling heroin addiction. 

I signed up to do a round in December 2021, but because it was less than four weeks since I had gotten my Covid booster, Fellows insisted I wait, as per the terms of their extensive waiver. This adherence to protocol impressed me. These guys were not messing around. I waited till the next month’s session, in the meantime giving up alcohol for that sober curious experiment called Dry January.

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Debunking the Detox Hype

A few weeks into the new year, I found myself sitting in a living room in suburbia with two others, waiting for my round of Kambo to commence. Because Fellows and Lamb live in Creede, Colorado—a mountainous town in the southwest corner of the state—they make the trek to the Denver/Boulder area every month and rent an Airbnb for three nights to host several rounds of Kambo ceremonies each morning, staggering groups so there’s not more than four in each ceremony.

The previous group was positively languid, in no hurry to get anywhere. A red plastic bucket sat in front of each of them, for purging. The two women were just finishing their session as my group, the second session, had arrived.

I hadn’t eaten since the night before and hadn’t had much water that morning, as instructed. Only enough to wet my mouth. I asked Fellows about this, because typically you are told to drink a lot of water before Kambo. 

“The main idea behind drinking water is to get people to purge. But Kambo is not the detox medicine many people mistake it for,” he told me. “It’s for vitality, enhancement, vigor, stamina—not a vehicle for detox.” 

Turns out all the purging hype was a bit misguided: “Biologically, detoxing doesn’t work that way,” Fellows went on. “Any toxin that moves from the digestive tract has to move through the body’s natural detox pathways, the kidney and the liver, which takes roughly 6 to 8 hours. Kambo can strengthen the detox pathways but Kambo itself does not remove toxins from the body.” 

I know Fellows doesn’t have any formal medical training, but this was reassuring to hear. The first time I did Kambo I didn’t vomit; I wondered if I had missed out on a critical aspect of the ceremony. It’s true that a side effect of Kambo can be the need to vomit or defecate. But this is incidental, not the main attraction. I eyed the one small bathroom and wondered what would happen if all of us got the urge at the same time. Fellows reassured me that he was staggering the doses so that wouldn’t be an issue. 

“Everybody is always afraid they are going to shit themselves, but in all the years I have been doing this, it hasn’t happened once,” he says. “That you know of,” Lamb added, laughing. 

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Why Try Kambo?

Although there is a dearth of research on Kambo, many proponents claim it triggers an immune response that can heal a wide swath of conditions—everything from infertility to cancer. However, Fellows has a more clear-eyed take on it. 

“Most of my clients use Kambo for psychological purposes, such as warding off depression or anxiety without the use of daily medication,” he says. “It’s subjective to the individual, but I have also seen it be very effective for mental health, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue, PTSD, intrusive thoughts, and insomnia. But the real magic of Kambo is that is brings the body back into homeostasis via its bio-active assortment of peptides. Many mental and physical health issues are due to the body being out of balance. Kambo is the rebalancer.” 

About those peptides: A 2018 article, published in the International Archives of Clinical Pharmacology, referred to Kambo containing 16 bio-active peptides. These peptides are attributed to beneficial effects that range from increased stamina and focus to a sense of calm and even euphoria. Whatever the mechanisms of action, I was eager—and, full disclosure, hella nervous—about how Kambo would work on me this time. 

 

Inside a Kambo Ceremony

Fellows describes the sequence of the kambo ceremony’s events. He would start by putting sananga, Amazonian eye drops, into our eyes. While not mandatory, he explained how it sets the stage for what would follow—and he didn’t mince words when it came to how it might feel, comparing it to rubbing red chili in your eyes. 

“Surely, you’re exaggerating,” I say, “so when we actually do it it’s not that bad.” Lamb, unreassuringly, chimes in with “he’s telling the truth.” I can feel myself tensing up. But there’s a reason for the sananga, Fellows says. The brief minute of intense burning requires relaxation rather than resistance. The same will hold true for the Kambo to follow. 

After the sananga, Fellows will make four small blister points with a stick of lit incense to apply the secretion. He tells us he will put the frog poison on a test point to gauge our response. If we tolerate it well, he’ll apply secretions to the other three points. If we feel at that point like we need to throw up, he advises us to drink some water, which makes retching easier. 

The initial onrush of symptoms is a flush of heat, redness of the face, quickly emerging nausea and vomiting, and dizziness. Fellows also mentions pressure in the head, buzzing in the ears, and tingling or cramping in the extremities. These sensations last approximately 5-7 minutes followed by a 10–15-minute period of flu-like symptoms, predominantly marked by weakness, achiness, and nauseas. 

“Are you afraid of the flu?” Fellows asks us. One woman says yes. “That’s an honest answer,” I say. We all laugh and the tension breaks. After resting for 30 minutes or so, Fellows says, the ceremony ends with a round of hape, a shamanic version of snuff, comprised of various sacred plants, tree ashes, and an uncured form of tobacco, that he will blow into our nostrils through a pipe.

With the stage set, we take our places on floor loungers. The shades are drawn, and chants interspersed with flute music play on the speakers. I watch the woman, the one who was afraid of the flu, grimace during the eye drops. The pain seems intense but bearable. Her silent fortitude gives me courage. Fellows tells her to relax into the pain. 

Now it’s my turn. The eyedrops hurt like hell and I curse out loud. But then the pain is over, and the ensuing relief yields its own pleasure, alongside a gratifying sense of self-mastery. The woman next to me has started to heave in response to the Kambo. Fellows reassures her she is almost through.

Kambo experience

My Ring of Fire—and the Afterglow

Fellows applies my test dot. “Woo wee, this Kambo is strong,” I say. Because last time I did six dots, he offers to do five. I tell him four seems plenty. He agrees. “I’m after the minimal effective dose,” he says. “And the more often you do Kambo, the less you need.” 

Within minutes, I feel weak, woozy and frankly, awful. I’m on the verge of having to poop or purge but uncertain of what end to focus on. All I can do is wait for it to pass. “You’re halfway done,” Fellows tells me. “Sister, you’re doing great.” And then a bit later, “Just two more minutes.” During the flu-like phase, Lamb tells me lying down in a fetal position can help. I fall into a deep state of rest, where I’m listening to the conversation happening beside me but from a galaxy that seems far, far away. Finally, after about 10 minutes, I sit up and drink the ginger tea with honey Lamb has prepared. I feel much better. I have endured. It reminded me of the peace that flooded me after I had given birth. I was returned to myself. Delivered, but with the slate wiped clean in the ordeal’s aftermath.

At the beginning of the session, Fellows told us that while many people like to say Kambo makes them feel superhuman, he thinks it just makes you feel fully human. One online article “The Ultimate Guide To Kambo”, put it this way: “Some users feel more “real” or “solid” after Kambo application—less in their heads and more in their bodies.” 

So there I was, reveling in all my human reality. Unguarded, open, and weirdly tranquil. As if I had been stripped of all the extraneous layers of my personality and gotten down to the nub. “After great pain/a formal feeling comes,” wrote the poet Emily Dickinson. I experienced a serene, almost formal sense of emptiness—like having come through a private obliteration but still intact.

I lingered for an hour or so, until I felt together enough to get in my car and drive home. You got this I told myself, as I ensconced in my car. I was functioning but lightheaded. And I seemed to have forgotten how to drive. After a few tries, I managed to get into gear and arrive home. Fellows had said I would feel energetic, then most likely crash in a few hours. He was, as in most things Kambo-related, right. It was a good tired. He said I would sleep well and the following morning I would feel the full effects of the Kambo. 

The next morning, I experienced the diametric opposite of a hangover: Revitalized, recharged, ready to “bring it”—wherever it wanted to be brought. As I write this article, one week later, I still feel the Kambo in my body: a heightened vigor, a sharper focus, a tangible taste of essence. 

I’m grateful for the Kambo reset, the clearing out of the psychic gook, the sensation of having gone through a small death in exchange for a genuine rebirth. How many peptides are floating around my system—and what exactly they are doing—is anybody’s guess. This I know for sure: I feel re-ensouled, re-embodied, realigned, and ready to do what’s mine to do. It was a supremely unpleasant road, albeit short-lived, to this revelation, but as the late spiritual teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj liked to say, “You must be extreme to reach the supreme.”

7 Tips for a Successful Kambo Experience

Kambo is an emergent therapy quickly becoming more widespread. However, this is not a recreational drug experience—and the process should be undertaken with respect. Here are some important things to consider and tips to help you get the most from your experience:

  1. Pay attention to underlying health conditions that may mean taking Kambo is contraindicated.

    For example, it’s not recommended if you take medication for low blood pressure or have any diseases that may cause a sharp drop in low blood pressure, such as Addison’s disease. A history of aneurism or stroke, major heart conditions, pregnancy or nursing, radiation or chemotherapy treatments for cancer, and a regime of immunosuppressants for an organ transplant also don’t combine well with kambo. While there are other lesser known problematic interactions, these underlying medical conditions are the primary causes for concern.  

  1. Adhere to the rules around stopping alcohol, drugs and other medications that may adversely react with kambo before your ceremony.

    This is especially true when it comes to drugs of abuse, says Fellows. The natural withdrawal process of allowing these drugs to exit the body can be very depleting—and introducing kambo while actively detoxing from drugs can make a person feel even worse. “It’s best to let the substances exit the system and then introduce kambo to bring strength back into the body and clarity back into the mind,” says Fellows.  

  1. Don’t combine Kambo with other substances in the same session, such as ayahuasca or Bufo.

    All of these medicines are known as power plants, meaning they induce alterations in consciousness. “Combining these medicines can take away from the powerful experience that each of these medicines have to offer,” says Fellows. “However, kambo’s use is synergistic with these other medicines when used a day beforehand.” The phyllokinin and phyllomedusin peptides in kambo are both potent vasodilators, he explains, increasing the permeability of the blood-brain barrier both for their own access as well as for other active peptides. This temporary effect on the blood-brain barrier allows Bufo or Ayahuasca to cross that barrier with greater ease, providing for a more enhanced DMT experience. “Important to remember with Bufo is that while kambo is great a day before, it should be avoided for about six weeks after Bufo as kambo can reactivate an intense Bufo experience,” says Fellows.  

  1. Don’t overdo the pre-Kambo hydration.

    Most Kambo guides recommend drinking water beforehand, which is not harmful as long as it’s not overdone. In a few extremely rare cases, drinking too much water before Kambo has been linked to a condition called syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone, which can be life threatening.

  1. Start with a low dose. 

    This is the best way to determine your sensitivity to kambo and what the appropriate amount is for you. In general, many who use Kambo as a part of their health regimen will sit with a session every 4-6 weeks says Fellows. “They treat it like a super vitamin for mind, body and spirit that they take once monthly or bi-monthly,” he says. “If a person is working with Kambo for a specific ailment, they may use it three days in a row for a deeper process, followed by monthly or bi-monthly sessions. And some are one-and-done, as Kambo completely reversed what ailment troubled them and they no longer feel the need for Kambo.” 

Fellows adds that some people microdose Kambo (1 dot weekly) while others prefer bigger, monthly sessions. Whatever you decide, Fellows recommends not doing more than 10 dots per month.  

  1. Find an experienced practitioner to administer the Kambo.

    Another advantage of taking Kambo with a seasoned guide is that it’s more likely the Kambo they use comes from a reputable source.

  1. Keep the day you do Kambo unscheduled.

    It’s best to savor the experience and not have to rush around.

Elizabeth Marglin is a Colorado-based journalist, writer, and poet. She is the co-author of The Wild and Sacred Feminine Deck: A 52-Card Oracle and Guidebook (Shambhala Publications 2022), and writes regularly for Yoga Journal, Spirituality & Health, AARP, and more.

Join the discussion! Have you tried psychedelic drugs—or are you interested in learning more and participating in a ceremony? We’d love to hear about your experience or get your thoughts on the topic here!

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