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The Science of Kambo

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.