Updated: Jun 21, 2022
Kambo science podcast
Kambo practitioner, researcher and pioneer Caitlin Thompson was featured on the Planet Kambo podcast in April 2022 and gave her expert opinion on many of the scientific aspects of Kambo. Caitlin’s background in neurobiology and her passion for Kambo has driven her to become a true pioneer in the Kambo space. She is also an independent scientific researcher, currently conducting the first human Kambo research in the field.
The effects of Kambo are well known and appreciated by those that have embraced it. But, what is known about the science behind this wonderful natural medicine?
Kambo is the secretion of the Giant Monkey Frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor), and like many natural amphibian secretions, contains a rich cocktail of biochemical compounds and peptides. These compounds have evolved to have a variety of specific effects when they enter the bloodstream of another animal, acting on the body and brain’s messaging and signalling pathways to influence biological responses and behaviour. In the case of Kambo, many of these responses seem initially unpleasant, but the longer-term effects can be extremely beneficial in a variety of ways for both physical and mental well-being.
So what are some of these compounds and peptides? How do they work, and what effects do they have? I decided to dig in to find out more:
What are peptides and how do they work?
Peptides are chains of amino acids, much like proteins. The main difference between the two is the length of those chains: peptides are short chains of amino acids and proteins are long chains of amino acids.
Peptides bind to receptor sites on the outer surface of biological cells, and this binding serves a variety of functions in the body and brain. Often they act as a form of message or signal, causing the cell to change what it’s doing. For example to manufacture and release more of a particular hormone or neurotransmitter, or the opposite. In this way, they can influence a variety of biological processes, ranging from moods and thought patterns in the brain to muscle contractions and digestion in the body.
Peptides found in Kambo
There are a wide range of compounds and peptides that are found within Kambo, many of which are still to be fully isolated or studied. Of those that have been more extensively studied, a few have very particular effects that are strongly related to both the Kambo experience, and its effects upon those that receive it.
Phyllomedusin - Phyllomedusin is a peptide of the Tachykinin family. It has a powerful effect on the intestine, bowels, salivary glands and tear ducts and stimulates a deep cleansing of the whole digestive system. It causes a contraction of the smooth muscle in the gut and plays a role in the emetic effect of Kambo application - the vomiting and purging that occurs during a Kambo ceremony. Phyllomedusin works together with Phyllokinin, which is discussed below, to cause the contraction and relaxation of muscles associated with these gut contractions. Phyllomedusin is also a potent vasodilator and contributes to the lowering of blood pressure.
Phyllokinin - Phyllokinin is a peptide of the Bradykinin family. Similar to Phyllomedusin it also acts as a potent vasodilator and causes contraction of the smooth muscle of the gut. Phyllokinin also contributes to a reduction in blood pressure and increases vascular permeability. There is a popular theory that Phyllokinin and Phyllomedusin may increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, enhancing the ability of the other Kambo peptides to quickly enter the brain, however, there has been no scientific research to back up this claim.
Phyllocarulein and Sauvagine - Both Phyllocarulein and Sauvagine are potent stimulators of gastric and pancreatic secretions which contribute to the early symptoms of nausea and vomiting present during a Kambo process. Both cause a drop in blood pressure accompanied by tachycardia (increased heart rate) and stimulate the adrenal cortex and pituitary gland, helping to increase sensory perception and increase physical endurance.
They also possess a great analgesic power, contributing to the increase of physical strength, the capacity to confront physical pain, stress, disease and diminish the symptoms of fatigue. Interestingly, Phyllocaerulein is present in the highest concentration of all the peptides and plays a part in modulating satiety, contributes to digestive improvement, modifies sedation and affects thermoregulation, potentially leading to profuse sweating during the experience.
Sauvagine functions like a hormone, interacting with the pituitary-adrenal axis and corticotropin-releasing receptors, which are involved in cortisol, stress, anxiety, depression, and addictive behaviours. It also holds properties that affect smooth muscle contraction of the colon and urinary bladder, alongside tachycardia and a reduction in blood pressure.
Adenoregulin aka Dermaseptin B2 - Dermaseptins including Adenoregulin form part of a family of a broad spectrum of antimicrobial peptides involved in the defence of the frogs’ bare skin against microbial invasion. In laboratory settings, it has been proven that Adenoregulin has both the ability to inhibit different forms of cancer and to restore healthily blood vessel growth. Despite the potent anti-cancer and antibacterial action of this peptide, it appears to be non-toxic to healthy human and animal cells.
Deltorphin - helps to relieve pain and instils a sense of calm through its action on opioid receptors. Can have a positive influence on the addictive conditions of those with opiate dependence.
Dermorphin - also acts on opioid receptors, in concert with Deltorphins, reducing the experience of pain and moderating mood. Again, acts similarly to Deltorphin in helping to alleviate some of the symptoms and issues associated with opiate dependence.
Litorin, Phyllolitorin, Rohdei-Litorin, “Leu”-phyllolitorin - 4 neuropeptides that stimulate gastric acid and pancreatic secretion and smooth muscle contraction.
In a paper by Caitlin Thompson and Martin L Williams, the following statement was made regarding Litorin: (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/23978473221085746)
Litorin has been observed in rats to decrease body temperature by 0.9 °C in the short term. It is possible that Phyllolitorins are responsible for the shivering commonly observed during the latter stages of the Kambô experience, as well as appetite suppression.
Antimicrobial and antiviral effects
Many of the peptides found in Kambo have antimicrobial and antiviral effects. Indeed, it is thought that one of the primary roles of the frog’s secretions is to act as a defensive shield for the frog’s skin against the invasion of various parasitic fungi and other microbes that would otherwise have a relatively easy time getting through and infecting the frog.
In more recent studies, many of these same peptides have been examined for use in treating otherwise problematic and drug-resistant bacteria and viruses that can play havoc with patients that have weakened immune systems - either as a result of their general health, or, particularly those with immunodeficiency disorders.
In the same paper referenced above by Caitlin Thompson and Martin L Williams the following peptide amounts were listed (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/23978473221085746) :
The amounts of bioactive peptides present in Kambô have been measured to be approximately 7.5% by dry weight, which hence enabled estimation of the amounts entering the body via transdermal application.2 For one burn (dot or gate, as it is known by Kambô practitioners), the amount of Kambô applied has an approximate weight of 10 mg, meaning a standard dose of total peptides would be 30–50 mg via 3–5 gates. A single application of five points typically might contain phyllocaerulein (30–35 µg/mg): 1600 µg, phyllomedusin (22 µg/mg): 1100 µg, phyllokinin (18 µg/mg): 720 µg, sauvagine (3 µg/mg): 150 µg, deltorphins (5.3 µg/mg): 165 µg, and dermorphins (0.3 µg/mg): 15 µg, along with trace amounts of many other peptides. If Kambô is harvested from a P. bicolor frog that has already been milked in the recent past, lower concentrations of these peptides may be obtained. Furthermore, there might be differences in composition between Kambô harvested from a male or a female frog.2
Estimation of the amounts entering the body -
For one point, the amount of Kambo applied has an approximate weight of 10 mg, meaning a standard dose of total peptides would be 30-50 mg via 3-5 points.
A single application of five points typically might contain phyllocaerulein (30-35 µg/mg): 1600 µg, phyllomedusin (22 µg/mg): 1100 µg, phyllokinin (18 µg/mg): 720 µg, sauvagine (3 µg/mg): 150 µg, deltorphins (5.3 µg/mg): 165 µg and dermorphins (0.3 µg/mg): 15 µg, along with trace amounts of many other peptides.
If Kambo is harvested from a frog that has already been milked in the recent past, lower concentrations of these peptides may be obtained. Furthermore, there might be differences in composition between Kambo harvested from a male or a female frog
Impact of your genes on Kambo’s effects
Everyone is different and Kambo affects everyone differently too. Part of this can be attributed to your DNA - particularly, which type of very specific genes you might have.
The sensitivity to particular types of pain is controlled by the OPRD1 gene, which comes in a variety of different types - one of which is associated with somewhat reduced sensitivity to some of the analgesic effects of Kambo.
Your response to the pain relief offered by Kambo will be affected by which one of the 4 types of the OPRM1 gene you may have.
There are numerous genes associated with the impact of serotonin in the brain, some of which impact susceptibility to addiction amongst other things. Different variations of these genes can mean that you have different reactions to the serotonin-related effects of Kambo.
History of the science behind Kambo
Kambo was brought to the attention of the Western scientific community in the 1980s when anthropologist Katherine Milton, and a journalist Peter Gormon, spent time living and studying with tribes in Peru and Brazil that practised the Kambo rituals. They provided samples of Kambo to a pair of biochemists who undertook the first analysis of the biochemical composition of the frog poison.
One of those biochemists was Vittorio Erspamer from the University of Rome - famed for his prior discovery of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter. He devoted much of his research to the study of peptides.
Erspamer was interested in the composition of Kambo as it likely contained undiscovered peptides that might have uses in medicine and beyond.
Other significant historical work on Kambo was carried out in the 1990s by a team headed by the biochemist John Daly at the National Institute of Health in the US. Amongst other discoveries, they isolated and described the effects of Adenoregulin - an antimicrobial peptide found in Kambo.
The future of Kambo science
As you can see, a lot of work has gone into studying the science of Kambo and the biochemical makeup of the secretion itself. Indeed, at least 70 medical patents have been submitted based on compounds isolated from Kambo.
However, there is still much to discover and active research is ongoing to study further and isolate other compounds that may be beneficial to the broader medical field.
Vittorio Erspamer himself declared Kambo:
‘a fantastic chemical cocktail with potential medical applications unequalled by any other amphibian’.
Of course, there is wisdom beyond the science. Wisdom formulated over thousands of years by the tribes that first embraced and ceremonialised Kambo.
Current medical science has only revealed the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true effects and impacts of Kambo for healing and health, and it may never reveal the full wonder of this fantastic natural medicine.