Deep in the Peruvian Amazon lives a giant tree frog that is in high demand for its natural toxins, which people are using to poison themselves in a ceremony that has become the latest supercleanse trend.
For hundreds of years, these frogs have been used by Amazonian tribes for their supposedly powerful healing properties. The person first burns a small area of skin and then applies the frog toxins, called kambo or sapo, to the burned spot so they’re quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.
At first, the person feels a few moments of serenity, but within seconds, that feeling turns to suffering and can force the person to vomit.
Lenny Kosh works as a mortgage broker and went to a kambo practitioner in the Los Angeles hills on a recommendation from his holistic health practitioner.
“Kambo is helping me resolve emotions to understand them. It’s almost like a guide to a resolution,” Kosh said. “I believe that everyone should go through this experience at least once in their life.”
“It did kind of scare me,” said Johndell Hill, who was trying kambo for the first time. “But I kind of trusted … my intuition.”
Currently, there is no research indicating kambo benefits human health, and it is not officially classified as a medicine. There is no regulation of this treatment by the Food and Drug Administration or other authorities, though kambo is legal in the U.S., and people who use it swear by it.
“Like any medicine, if you … do it with no knowledge, [there] is obviously more danger,” said Simon Scott, the founder of Kambo Cleanse, a retreat organization based in Arizona. “It requires a certain amount of preparation … So I would say it’s not wise to do kambo if you have not done it before, you know, alone.”
Amazon explorer Peter Gorman, who claims credit for bringing sapo to the U.S., owns a camp in the rain forest where visitors who want to try kambo can stay.
“[Kambo] somehow just seemed to explode on the scene,” he said. “It’s the emerging stages of a small but legitimate phenomenon.”
As treatments from the Amazon like kambo become more popular, Gorman said, people can’t ignore the impact it could have on the local ecosystem.
“I don’t think any indigenous group in the Amazon is large enough to be able to handle busloads of tourists coming in,” he said. “I think that would destroy their entire way of life.”
In order to extract the toxins from the frog, a guide places strings around its four feet and spreads out the limbs between four sticks. The toxins the frog releases as a defense mechanism are then scraped off its back with another stick. The frog is then released back into the wild.
Once the toxins have dried on the stick, the skin is burned, and the toxins are reconstituted with saliva or water and applied to the burned skin. It takes about 15 seconds to feel the effects.
Peter Arnold traveled all the way from Switzerland for kambo. He said he has tried it four times already because he wanted the “unique” experience.
“You throw up, you feel very sick, you feel like you’re going to die,” he said, laughing. “And finally it’s going away, and after that, you have a kind of a feeling of being relieved.”
But afterward, participants say they feel cleansed.
“It was a unique experience,” Arnold said. “I believe it really works like the detoxification of your body.”