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You Might Want to Think Twice Before Trying a Kambo Cleanse

A Kambo cleanse is a healing ritual that originated in some South American countries and is one of the latest health trends sweeping the internet. “It has its basis in folkloric medicine or rituals in certain South American tribes,” said Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a toxicology management specialist and pharmacist at the Banner Poison and Drug Information Center in Phoenix.

Now you can find people offering Kambo cleanses at natural healing centers in the United States. You can even shop for Kambo products online. Proponents claim it triggers an immune response that can heal a wide range of conditions, from addiction to infertility to cancer.

Here’s what happens in a Kambo cleanse

During the Kambo ritual, a shaman burns several superficial holes in the top layer of your skin. Typically, women are burned on their legs to promote fertility, while men are burned on their arms and chests to promote a successful hunt or virility, Dr. Kuhn said.

Then, the shaman adds Kambo—toxins extracted from a giant monkey frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor)—to the burn and leaves it on for about 15 minutes. The small burns makes it easier for your body to absorb the toxins. The toxin contains several different compounds which can cause adverse side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal cramping. You may also experience an opioid-like mellow feeling or euphoria.

Do Kambo cleanses work?

While Kambo cleanses claim a long list of health benefits, Dr. Kuhn disagrees. “There’s no evidence to support any therapeutic benefits for any medical condition. Period. End of story,” he said.

The effects of a Kambo cleanse don’t last long, so it’s unlikely they could impact a chronic health condition. It’s true that the bioactive peptides in the toxins cause a pharmacological response, but there’s no research to support whether that translates into lasting benefits.

In Western medicine, treatment recommendations always say to go where the evidence supports using a particular therapy for a particular disease. “This has no evidence to support beneficial use for any disease states,” Kuhn said.

Health risks of Kambo cleanse

Just because the frog secretions are natural, that doesn’t mean they’re effective or safe. There are some worrisome factors to consider:

What dosage are you getting? “Do you do five burns, and three swipes of each burn? The process is variable, so the dose response is variable,” Dr. Kuhn said. And the frog has three different glands. Were the secretions all collected equally?

Do you have other health conditions? The toxins can dilate blood vessels and speed up heart rate, so they could trigger a heart attack or unsafe heart rhythms.

What medications do you take? No one knows how the toxins might interact with your pharmaceutical medications.

He acknowledges that for most people, the purging and opioid-like symptoms of a cleanse are not a problem. But it does come with dangers. “It’s not benign. There have been deaths—they are rare, but not zero,” Dr. Kuhn said.

Kambo cleanses could bring unforeseen dangers

There’s also an unexpected risk to Kambo cleanses—overhydration. That’s because Kambo practitioners generally tell people to drink a lot of water before a cleanse. And excess water can dilute your electrolyte levels. “It’s rare, but not impossible, to go overboard,” Dr. Kuhn said.

And there’s a financial risk if you need medical care. Dr. Kuhn points to one woman who had nausea and vomiting for a prolonged timeframe after a Kambo cleanse and went to an emergency department.

What’s the bottom line?

“I cannot recommend turning to a non-healthcare professional in the United States for information about Kambo cleansing unless they have long-term experience seeing this done as a practitioner in South America,” Dr. Kuhn said. “This is a cultural treatment, and it should probably stay in its culture and not be used without supervision until we have a better understanding of it.”

If you have questions about using Kambo to cleans the body or other alternative treatments, contact the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center at (800) 222-1222.

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