in health •  10 months ago

What do we know about the "magic frog" from South America and its power to clean and heal?

Hey all. Yes I know, it has been a while, there was (and is) a lot to do atm that is keeping me from blogging.
Plus, since I haven't posted about nothing else for weeks, I am kinda bored with xenoestrogens. No worries, there will be at least three more posts in that series.

But first, this:

Phyllomedusa bicolor. From Wiki, by Jean-Marc Hero, CC BY-SA 2.5

Some call this the "magic frog". It is a species living in the Amazon Rainforest.

And before you start asking yourself if good old chemist and toxicologist Sco suddenly discovered his faible for fancy amphibians: Hell no.
The reason why I write this is not the frog itself, but rather the secretion from his skin, the so-called "Kambô", that is used by some indigenous tribes in Peru and Brazil for cleansing rituals and for the treatment of various illnesses. It is also claimed to have a detoxifying and immune system - boosting effects.

Now, shamanism gains popularity in the Western world, as many people nurture a distrust against modern medicine and in particular pharmaceuticals.
And so does the magic frog sap and connected cleansing rituals, in which Kambô is administered via small sites of burnt skin.

A long time ago, @mammasitta wrote about her attendance of such a ritual. And another time, not so long ago (maybe 2 months?), she asked me if I would consider looking into the whole subject from the scientist's point of view.
I said yes, and then I forgot. Sorry for that. Today, I remembered. And one thing is sure: Kambô is not containing xenoestrogens. :P

So there we go!


According to "heartoftheinitiate.com", a gateway to a shamanic community in the US,

kambô treatments have short and long term effects. Short term, the effects are a state of alertness, good mood, enhanced resistance to tiredness, hunger and thirst, the capacity to easily concentrate and focus, and a still mind which can last for several days or weeks. Long term,
kambô empowers the immune system, overcomes fatigue and improves one’s state of health.ref

Others write that Kambô is known as a

powerful treatment for chronic pain and drug dependence.ref

And of course,

it detoxes the mind, body and soul.ref


Now, reading stuff like that will give any science-educated person an initial impulse to just debunk the whole stuff as a fairy tale and be done with it. Especially those whith an allergy to the concept of "detox".
Yes, that's me. The very word makes me sick like a dose of Kambô. Sorry, off-topic. Back on track.

Those sources quoted science, which intruiged me, so I resisted my emotions and poogled it (i.e., I made a PubMed query). First surprise: There is more science than you would expect for a fairy tale.

Scientific interest seemingly started in the 1980ies, when scientists discovered that Phyllomedusa bicolor excretes a cocktail of different interesting chemicals.
Some of them exert an extraordinary toxicity against microorganisms. In other words, these frogs produce some very potent antibiotics.
Those are the so-called dermaseptins, which are short-chain peptides able to break holes into bacterial cell membranes, thus killing the microbes.ref New antibiotics are always of interest for scientists, and research on dermaseptins seems to be ongoing.

But the magic frog doesn't stop at producing antibiotics. Its secretion also contains deltorphins and dermorphin, chemicals again belonging to the peptide class, which have been found to bind to opioid receptors. They work 30-40 times better than morphine to suppress pain, but apperantly are less likely to cause dependence.ref
Also those compounds have been studied extensively as pain killers and anti-depressants. There were even successful clinical trials in which they (as isolated, synthetic chemicals) showed better analgetic results than morphine, which comparable side effects.
I wasn't able to find reasons why they are not yet approved as drugs. What I can say is that research is ongoing. Poogling "dermorphin" will give you over 500 hits, with many studies from recent years.
Fun fact: dermorphin has a history of being used as an illegal performance-enhancing drug in horse races, as horses that don't feel pain can run harder.ref1, ref2

The chemical structure of dermorphin. Pic from wiki, public domain.

Further, Kambô contains also phyllocaerulein, phyllomedusin and phyllokinin which widen arteries and thus lower the blood pressure. They also lead to a sudden contraction of the smooth musculature of the stomach, which probably is responsible for the "deep purging" (i.e. excessive vomiting) during Kambô rituals.ref
And many more bioactive compounds which are not researched very well.

The biological function of this chemical cocktail is clear: to build a antibiotic barrier against infectious microbes, and to protect against hungry animals by a) forcing them to vomit hard as soon they the frog touches their mouth mucosa, leading to the release of the frog and b) killing them should they manage to swallow their prey.

Fact vs. Fiction

It is clear that Kambô contains lots of different chemicals, and that some of them can be used as pharmaceuticals.
I find it pretty amazing than indigenous tribes discovered antibiotics of their own, and it seems absolutly possible that Kambô can be used to combat infectious deseases.

Also the use as performance enhancer ("hunting magic"ref) by Amazonan tribes makes sense due to the pain-killing activity of the contained opioid peptides.


Indigenous tribes didn't have modern medicine. Why would you take a poisonous chemical cocktail to combat bacteria when you can also take penicillin or other antibiotics - which much less side-effects?
Would you take opioid pain-killers to enhance your physical performance when you know that pain is nothing but a signal from your body that your over-exercising is damaging it?

There are some claims that are unproven or even outright ridiculous:

  • Detox: You don't get rid of poisons by getting exposed to a different poison (except it's an antidote). That's just not how our xenobiotic metabolism works. My sincere toxicologist's facepalm to that claim.
  • Drug dependance: There are several (non-scientific) reports that combating alcohol and drug dependence with Kambo works. And while this hasn't been proven in a placebo-controlled study (yet), it seems possible it does - based on the concept of substitution therapy. However, I doubt that the Kambô mixture would be the best available treatment here... isolated demorphin might do a better job with less severe side effects.
  • Vaccination/Immunity: The claim that the repeated exposure to strong poisons would boost your immune systems is wholly without rational foundation. There is no vaccination-like effect against viruses.
    However, given the long persistancy of peptide antibiotics, it seems possible that persons enduring a Kambô ritual are somewhat immune against bacterial infections for several days or even weeks afterwards. Again, that's pure speculation and not proven.
    Anyway, that'd be like constantly swallowing antibiotics as a phrophylaxis against bacteria. Not something that people usually do, I would say.

The hazard of Kambô

This is an important topic that we need to talk about. Because if you still choose Kambô rituals over Western medicine, you should be aware of that the magic frog is highly poisoneuos, and errors with the application of frog secretes can have ugly - and terminal - consequences.
As it increases in popularity, there are increasing reports of serious poisonings and even accidental deaths after cleansing rituals.ref1, ref2, ref3 Overdosing Kambô can and will kill you.
You should at the very least really trust your shaman here (something I would never ever do, I openly admit).

Also, there are no studies at all concerning eventual long-time effects of mildly poisoning yourself over and over again with magic frogs. So people are buying a chemical jack-in-the box, which by the way is something the very same people would never accept for a regular pharmaceutic drug.

Conclusions and personal remarks

Kambô is NOT an effectless hoax, that's for sure. It contains several substances of high antibiotic, pain-killing and sedative activity that are also of high interest for science and modern medicine.
For native tribes in the Amazon Forest, Kambô was a groundbreaking invention, I am sure.

For some - but not all - of the effects that shamans claim for their cleansing rituals there can even be logic explanations.
However, I can see no advantage over conventional drugs, at least not in the application of this wild mix of poisoneous chemicals. Especially as the risks are quite grave.

While researching, I had the strong impression that the whole Kambô movement is based on the somewhat romantic believe that treatments obtained from mother nature are always better and healthier.
As a professional toxicologist, I do not share this - sorry - illusion. Mother nature can sometimes be a fucking toxic assassin.

Utterly important, the disclaimer:
In my blog, I'm stating my honest opinion as a researcher, not less and not more. Sometimes I make errors. Discuss and disagree with me - if you are bringing the better arguments, I might rethink.

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Danke dir für die vielen Infos, die ich super spannend finde. Ergänzend dazu passt der post von @mammasitta hervorragend, weil sie eigene Erfahrungen schildert. hier Der Link von dir lieber @sco funktioniert leider nicht ;)

Unsere Natur ist schon großartig und Wissenschaft guckt sich gern etwas ab...

It is clear that Kambô contains lots of different chemicals, and that some of them can be used as pharmaceuticals.
I find it pretty amazing than indigenous tribes discovered antibiotics of their own, and it seems absolutly possible that Kambô can be used to combat infectious deseases.

Ein wirklich erstaunliches Wesen, dieser Frosch. Danke für deinen ausführlichen Beitrag! LG Kadna (mein Englisch ist rudimentär...)


Finde ich toll dass Ddixh dieses Thema aus so interessiert hat


Ja, ich hatte vor Kurzem eine Phase, in der mir zu drei Gelegenheiten ein "Frosch" in die Gedanken sprang, da mache ich mir Gedanken (hab ich auch als post gemacht, in den sich dann auch @afrog eingeschaltet hat ;) Eigentlich 4 Froschbegegnungen, aber die Einladung zu einem Kambo Ritual wollte ich hier auf steemit nicht ausführen. Liebe @mammasitta, deine Erfahrungen würden mich schon interessieren - ich bin im Moment noch zu "feige"...


Danke für den Hinweis mit dem Link, wird gleich ausgebessert, und natürlich für's Kommentieren.

Ich werde übrigens in Kürze (2-3 Tage, je nachdem wann ich dazu komme) eine deutsche Adaption des Posts posten. ;-)

Edit: Jetzt weiß ich warum der Link nicht gefunzt hat. Hab mit strg+F alle "kambo" in "kambô" übersetzt, und dabei wohl den Link mit erwischt. :P


Supi, dass du noch eine Übersetzung machst - danke dir!

Upvote for poogling :D

it detoxes the mind, body and soul

I have no idea how they measure the "intoxication of the soul" but I would really like to know...


Well, let's say this is a mystery beyond our comprehension. :P

@kadna hat mich dankenswerterweise auf deinen Post aufmerksam gemacht, @sco. Für mich, den omnitoxisch erfahrenen Frosch, klingt das hochinteressant, was du schreibst. Hervorragender, durchaus animierender Froschartikel! Hoffentlich geht mir dein Post in #deutsch nicht durch die Lappen. Da sollt du auf alle Fälle noch ein Upvote bekommen. Neue Erfahrungen sind der Stoff, der das Bewusstsein erweitert.

Danke. Ich schick dir dann den Link einfach als knallharte Post-promo via Discord. :P


Erwähnung irgendwo wäre besser. In discord finde ich mich nicht so gut zurecht. War gestern dort, um @felixxx Hallo zu sagen. Habe aber nicht gewusst, wie und wo man das jetzt am Besten tut und bin unverrichteter Dinge wieder gegangen.


alles klar, wirst dann erwähnt.

I am so pleased that you did not forget about this topic! I am still reading and curious what you found out.
Echt super!!!


Ty. I hope you aren't too disappointed from the scope I took ;-)


Nein! Not disappointed! I got the idea now and appreciate your research! I still believe in the power of “purge” :)


Well, apart from the biochemistry, there is a second layer to the whole story.
Some would call it spiritual, some rather psychological - in the end it accounts to the same thing.

I think that - in addition to the direct effects of the chemicals - the whole ritual with the purging/vomiting symbolism for spitting out "the bad" and so on creates a strong psychological effect. And we today know how powerful our psyche can influence the outcome of therapy or medication, especially when we talk about dependecy or even pcychosomatic or stress-induced illnesses.
So this is an additional way that could indeed lead to a manifestation of the effects that the participants long for.

What would be a really interesting scientific setup would be a study comparing 4 groups:

  • one group with conventional medication
  • one group with Kambô, but without ritual
  • one group with Kambô and the ritual
  • one group with the ritual, but some vomit-inducing placebo

Sadly, I don't have the money to run that one (plus it'd be hard getting it through an ethic panel, as it involves giving toxins to humans).

Nice, very detailed analysis. I appreciate your attitude of investigating before completely discrediting this type of thing--it's tempting to reject knowledge that isn't gained through our modern, western scientific method but sometimes there is truth in it! There are many ways of knowing.
Of course, as your analysis shows, it may not have all the affects it's supposed to. Oh well

Nice, well-researched and well written article. Thanks!


well, what I usually propose is to take those traditions and to test and eventually refine them with scientific methods instead of outright rejecting them. Traditions are sometimes there for a reason (and sometimes not).

Ty for commenting.

Oh my word! I never believed some animals like this exists. I found this post interesting and educating. But i am very sure the side effects of this frog secretion will be higher than its medical benefits of which we are yet to know.
i will love to read more of things like this from your blog. Great job


Yes, as a cocktail, side effects are probably more severe than the beneficial effects can ever be. If we can isolate and use the single compounds though... This is what research is currently focusing on.


Thumps up man

And me who was expecting a full debunking...

It is interesting to see that there are some recognized effects in the kambo stuff, and it is even more interesting that the good component of it is not widely used. Please write an appendix to this post if you find the reasons :)


well, sometimes one can find a splinter of truth in a sea of charlatanism. I think the lecture here is to stay open-minded...not in a way to blindly adopt shamanism and other alternative medicines, but in a way to use science to test their methods. From time to time, we might find something of value.

Should I find out why dermorphin is not on the market yet, I will keep you informed. It's probably a trivial reason though. Maybe pharma corporations are on it already, and they usually don't publish results until their product is FDA-approved, else they would give valuable information to their competitors. And clinical trials can take much time, especially when you have to account for toxicological long-term effects.


Yeah, maybe this will come with time. We should not be over-excited :)

Nice writeup. As someone who's both fascinated by psychedelics and a bit of a pharmacogenetics/epigenetics nerd I have to wonder what changes on genetic expression may come from doing Kambo, and if that aspect could contribute to some of the lore around it, especially in the immune/detox deptartment. I mention it because there's some interesting research on proteomic/epigenetic changes from 5-MEO DMT relating to inflammatory immune markers (although this was an in-vitro study) which is a primary ingredient in our other favorite psychedelic frog, bufo alvarius.


Of course, "well chalk it up to epigenetics" is an easy catch all these days, but without those studies I have to wonder, especially when there are traditional/folk claims made about the immune system.

And, granted, 5-MEO DMT is a totally different class of molecule, but I bring it up because I'd be also mad skeptical about claims about it's anti-inflammatory effects without seeing that nature study.


Ty for commenting.

Your theory sounds very interesting, and I guess epigenitic changes are theoretically possible. However, there's no research whatsoever on that topic yet (or at least I'm not aware of) , so all one can do is speculate.

I see a potential series you could start here, like the benefits of licking a cane toad (Rhinella marina), the Colorado River toad (Incilius alvarius), the Argentine Rhinella arenarum or the European green toad (Bufo viridis).


I didn't know there was such a thing as toad licking. But hell, I am going to research it cuz that sound's like a great topic!


Looking forward to :) @davidkrantz nudged you already in the right direction.

I do believe Mother Nature provides the best medicine... We only need some experts and some certifications to make her solutions the ideal solutions. Thats all!


given that many of modern pharmaceuticals were discovered as natural compounds, there is truth in that. Ty for commenting.

Very interesting and all new to me! Obviously, much more to be learned about this subject. Good to see a new post from you. I haven't been here as much lately so I have catching up to do.

Excellent publication, congratulations @sco

its power to clean and heal?

Shit a frog is cleaner than me

What a strange specie of frog. I will be grateful if I can read more about uncommon species of animals from your blog. Thanks in advance.

Beautiful frog


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