What is it really like to try a kambo cleanse? The South American detox treatment.
“Your name is light. You are a healer with your hands and your voice.”
I saw my opened palms before me, noticing their details more clearly than ever before. I blinked. I smiled. I heard the thumping from a hand drum not far away, another vulnerable body awaiting the kambo frog medicine to work through his veins. I didn’t move. My face was beginning to swell.
I was lying on my side next to a dried creek bed in the Costa Rican jungle just two hours southwest from San Jose. It was the peak of dry season—prime tourist time for dancing permaculture enthusiasts and backpacking yoga teachers who wore leopard leggings and Peruvian beaded bracelets.
An hour prior, eight of us walked to the meeting site near a rocky river beach, several hundred meters of steep winding path down from the garden swales and horse pastures which then served as a bustling post-Envision Festival gathering spot, ripe with tents, hammocks, and a few natural construction stages that held DJs and guitarists from sunset until dawn. The land was full of humans doing big work on their travels toward awakening.
Trying a Kambo Cleanse
We had signed up for the kambo cleanse at the main house. The list of open slots were slim as it seemed most of the 100 or so temporary residents wanted to feel the burn and release, for various reasons. We’d heard this all-natural healing tool, secreted from the backs of a giant South American monkey frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor), could not only clear the body of stubborn toxins and boost the immune system (legend has it that Amazon hunters use kambo to protect themselves from the dangers of the jungle; I had even heard things like it could cure cancer and defend against contracting HIV if received three times in a single moon cycle), but that it also worked energetically to remove blocks in the chakras. I had a stubborn heartbreak that wouldn’t go away. Reason enough to sign up!
Sam*, a well-known English-born kambo practitioner who transitioned from L.A.’s movie scene into dosing bodies with the alternative medicine, sat us in a circle and explained his experience and training—he lived and studied with traditional kambo healers and eventually received a shaman’s blessing to bring this tool to the world. He and his pair of helpers detailed the process and the importance of setting clear intentions before we began. Our faith and positive vibrations would carry us through the human fear and intense physical reactions to come. (*Not his real name.)
My intention was to release deep grief and a mistrust of God that I believed was tied to losing love several years prior. I sat next to another Robin (there were four of us Robins at the gathering, which seemed surreal) and across from Daniel—both skilled North American musicians and lyricists, well experienced with ayahuasca and healers of the South American world. These men became my friends.
Partner Plant Medicines for Kambo Cleanses
After a short meditation and some chanting, we were offered rapé and sananga—partner plant medicines often taken alongside the frog’s peptide-rich secretion—and then patiently waited our turn for the frog.
Rapé is a finely powdered tobacco blown through a hollow animal bone from one person into the nostrils of another, and quickly snuffed by the recipient, which sends the plant into the sinuses and down the throat. An ethereal, elfin-type helper of Sam’s walked from person to person in the circle and, when each was ready, blew the mixture in our faces. It burned. I coughed terribly and felt that my skull was cracking open. Brown slime dripped down my throat and I spit gobs into the crunchy leaves nearby. Swallowing the mucus would surely turn the stomach.
Sananga, which temporarily burns the eyes much the same as I imagine pepper spray might feel, is said to help to improve both outer eyesight and inner vision. When the rapé was complete, we stood (if not already standing and fidgeting around—it’s hard not to be awake and a bit excited after tobacco consumption in a funky circle like that) and one by one watched each other flinch and shake in pain and comedy as the eyeball-burning medicine was dropped into our eyes. It hurt so bad. And we all seemed to love it. Apparently laughter is medicine for physical pain, too.
Then, energies were calmed again as we met individually with Sam and his team. We held space for the others while trying to maintain our own inner focus and intention, most a bit uneasy but trusting, not quite sure what was to come.
There was a simple area cleaned of debris and topped with a rug upon which nearly everyone received their treatment. Then, arm in arm, we were led by the beautiful elf who waved feathers around our heads and chanted sweet melodies and a ruddy faced, gray-haired man who beat softly on a drum, to another cleared spot (there were a dozen or so) along the creek bed where bodies would purge and the person would pass out.
My Kambo Cleanse Intention
When it was my turn, I revealed my intention to release heartbreak and, when asked where on my body I felt I needed healing, I asked for dots on my heart chakra, four open wounds to allow the kambo into the body. Most people choose the upper arm or outer ankle. My placement choice was new for Sam, and because he was sure the frog medicine would work fast in that area, he suggested we begin my treatment in the final resting space.
We walked as a group down the creek bed past Daniel and others lying in post-kambo repose. My spot was on a little earthen mound below a giant tree at a curve in the creek.
I took off my shirt to expose my sternum and Sam prepared his tools by scraping at a flattened wooden stick with a knife and collecting an off-white resin on the blade. This was kambo. He asked if I was ready, in a calm English tone, and I nodded. He lit the tip of a thick incense stick and let it flame for a moment. He blew it out and faced me, quickly touching the ember four times to my chest. Then, he scraped lightly at the four wounds on my chest and dabbed the open dots with the resin. The drumming began.
Immediately my breath deepened and all felt silent save the pounding sound of my own heartbeat in my ears. I felt waves of heat rush through me, rising higher and stronger with each beat of my chest and … I vomited. It only took seconds for my system to react. Repeatedly heaving, my eyes and mind shut, I surrendered to the uncontrollable urge to purge. Violently. Over and over.
I fell to my side, my body stiff from the actual shock (closely resembling anaphylaxis). While I’m sure the drumming and the feathers continued for a while as they did for others, I passed out. Research says this lasts five to thirty minutes. I’m not sure how long I lay there but eventually, I opened my eyes.
My hands were before me, peeled apart in a prayer-like gesture. The voice of what I seriously believed (and still do) to be God spoke in a clear way I’ve never heard before or since. “Your name is light. You are a healer with your hands and your voice.” I blinked. I smiled. Ananda … bliss. The sun shone through the green canopy above my head and I was content. I felt light and airy but clear and grounded. A perfect detox reaction, perhaps. Or a direct channel to the divine. Either way, I was good.
After a while, I stood, and with a gentle strength, strode past a few bodies still lying in fetal position on leaves and dirt, toilet paper in the occasional pile near a person.
When I reached the meeting point again, Robin was also there. We smiled at each other. His face was red, his lips plump, and his eyes nearly swollen shut. They say kambo makes you look like a frog. It’s true, at least for us it was.
Sam had told us earlier that the frog enjoys water, so if we felt up to it relaxing in the river onsite would be a great idea. Robin and I walked together to its banks. We said very little, but I felt bonded to him. A frog brother with a songbird name like mine.
The water was refreshing. Sam was right. Its coolness on my flaming skin, the clear liquid in my eyes, the current washing my flesh—it all seemed to ground the experience.
I had an additional session the following day, that time receiving dots on my tailbone with an intention to work through second chakra issues. I again purged with vomit (some have diarrhea, and it supposedly depends on where the body’s toxins are stored and which chakras are blocked), and had a very similar experience but a bit less intense.
I wanted a third session so that I could receive the full effects and immune system strengthening, as the tradition goes, but there were no open slots. Gathering managers wouldn’t make an exception for the American writer.
Lasting Effects of the Kambo Cleanse
The lightness and enhanced intuition lasted for weeks, long after I returned to my boyfriend’s house in Michigan and back to my yoga teaching gigs.
Later that summer I developed menstruation pains and digestive issues so I reached out to Sam, curious if kambo was to blame. He had never heard of it happening before but encouraged me to continue a detoxing lifestyle and to remain in contact should I need him in the future.
Today, nearly six years later, I’m still quite fond of that frog and the bonds created with God and man in the creek bed. Each time I see my chest and the four white scars on my body, I remember.
A close friend of mine in California, Ashlee, uses kambo regularly. She studied the medicine in Peru and today commits to the integrity of its traditions and intended use. She carries it with her always and gives it to herself to assist with a nearly stalled digestion and remission of a chronic health condition. When connected with a pure seeker, she offers it to others for their own healing journeys. (Visit The Kambo Center for more information.)
After my kambo cleanse I became a reiki master and started writing more, trusting the message of my own abilities to heal with these hands and this voice. Knowing that the river of life continues to flow, let us see what comes of it.
Some day I’ll likely try another round of kambo, this time three in a moon cycle if I’m lucky, but now that I’m a new-ish single mother, everything—the chakra healing and body detoxes, yoga teaching and festivals alike—seem to be on pause. My son plays in the water enough for both of us right now.
Want more about traditional medicine practices? Read about healthy aging secrets from the Amazon.