Wellness seekers across the West Coast go to extreme lengths to enhance their health. In search of this optimal state of being, diet trends like celery juice, intermittent fasting, and keto rise in the ranks of the latest trends. It seems like a new HIIT gym or Whole30 diet challenge is launching among co-workers and friends every other week, and trends like charcoal toothpaste and adding CBD oil to just about everything are the new normal. For those that want to amplify their wellness routine, microdosing psychedelics and kambo therapy is the next-level approach to achieving a physical and mental state of being. Said to purify the body while alleviating the mind, kambo is gaining popularity among West Coast elites. So where is this taking place, and is it just a trend, or is kambo the next big thing in wellness culture?
What Is Kambo?
Indigenous to the Amazon basin in South America, the Phyllomedusa bicolor — or giant leaf frog — lives high up in the treetops. A bright green, nocturnal creature, the giant leaf frog is incredibly desired for its poison. When stressed or frightened, the giant leaf frog secretes a toxic substance onto its back to ward off predators. This waxy, sticky substance is used in ceremonial settings by the local tribes for its therapeutic properties. The substance, and the ritual itself, is known as kambo. Although kambo is not a psychedelic substance, and will not cause hallucinations, it is often used in ritual ceremonies much like ayahuasca or DMT. Also much like ayahuasca — kambo is a purgative and induces vomiting, which is considered the most vital part of the process.
Sometimes referred to as a ‘kambo cleanse’ or ‘kambo detox’, this poisonous substance is known to produce facial swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and dizziness when applied to the skin of a participant. A kambo practitioner will burn small holes in the top layer of skin on a shoulder, arm, leg, or back to apply the substance. Then, the kambo is pressed into the burned flesh to allow the poison to penetrate the system rapidly. A tingling, burning sensation is often followed by a reaction to the poison that can range from unpleasant to extremely uncomfortable, but the after-effects are what keep people interested in doing it again.
To prepare for a kambo ceremony, participants are often asked to modify their diet and consume large amounts of water in the days leading up to the ceremony. The entire experience itself lasts around 30 minutes, but the emotional, mental and physical preparation can begin weeks in advance. While the evidence is merely anecdotal, users report a variety of diverse benefits in response to their kambo cleanse. Some believers in the power of kambo report that it may help with depression, chronic pain, diabetes, anxiety, and hepatitis among other benefits.
Bringing Kambo to the West Coast
Over the last 50 years, Silicon Valley has become the epicenter of wellness trends on the West Coast. This comes as no surprise since the region is home to tech giants like Apple, Google and Facebook. Silicon Valley is culturally influenced by the wealth and affluence of the Bay Area, and the health-conscious lifestyles of Northern California residents. The world looks to Silicon Valley for inspiration and direction. First, it was merely computer technology, but the healthcare industry merged to advance medical technology in this area. The merger blurred into alternative wellness practices, and thus, Silicon Valley found itself the leader in even more trends. As far as the user reviews go, kambo is worth its weight in frog poison.
Silicon Valley Celebrity Culture
The world has always looked to celebrities for their endorsements across a broad spectrum of products and lifestyles. Whether it’s fashion, cars, travel destinations, high-end skincare, or wellness trends — the celebrity vote brings people in like moths to a flame. While most people cannot afford the lifestyles that most celebrities indulge in effortlessly, other trends are more attainable. Silicon Valley icons like Elon Musk and Dave Asprey need only tweet about a new topic for it to go viral.
A decade ago, ayahuasca was at the forefront of psychedelic experimentation in an attempt to rattle loose old ideologies that no longer serve one’s personal evolution. People flocked to the Peruvian jungles to sit with this medicine and come home renewed. Intrigued by the promising results that may enhance work performance, executives needed something closer to home. Hence, microdosing mushrooms, LSD and MDMA became popular. Now, it’s often this same group of elites that are turning to kambo therapy.
The allure is understandable. A kambo therapy session lasts less than an hour, and in the days and weeks following, participants claim to be free of toxic psychological trauma. The after-effects are akin to being washed from the inside out, and with less mental fog comes greater physical strength and energy. So it’s no wonder that the Silicon Valley elites are so intrigued. This is a group of people who spend their careers trying to make things better — why not start with yourself?
As with many trends, people feel called to post evidence of their experiences on social media platforms to associate with a practice, movement, or belief. For example, people often post pictures of themselves with frog face, or the scars left behind from where the kambo was administered into their burnt flesh.
The Kambo Appeal
With such limited scientific research, it’s hard to pin down the truth to kambo’s efficacy as a wellness powerhouse. Some schools of thought believe that its effects are merely in response to purging the poisons from the body. When something toxic is introduced to the system, and the body responds by vomiting, defecating, sweating, and swelling it is likely that anyone might feel better once these symptoms subside. Julia Allison, a media strategist for San Francisco tech companies, sums up this sentiment in her review of kambo in a 2021 New York Times article:
“It was the worst experience of my life. And I can’t wait to do it again.”
However, others claim more than overall feelings of wellness, saying that their time with kambo has led to life-altering emotional release and physical recovery. For example, Andrew Styer, a product developer in the tech industry in Silicon Valley sought out kambo therapy to help with lingering feelings of long-lasting grief. After just one treatment, he had the following to say:
“The memory is still there, but the emotional weight and attachment that had formed to that memory was no longer overwhelming…I even felt a physical looseness. I was feeling lighter.”
Kambo is legal in the U.S., making it much easier to access than ayahuasca and sometimes even more accessible than psilocybin or LSD. A typical treatment ranges from $150-200 per person, and often includes integration counseling to help people process their experience after the fact. Integration is an essential part of any harm reduction plan, and helps participants feel more engaged with a like-minded community.
Consider Your Options
Although kambo therapy has grown in popularity with the West Coast group of wellness elites, it’s not merely reserved for executives and leaders in technology. Many people from all walks of life have shared their stories with this frog medicine. However, it’s important for anyone seeking kambo therapy to know that there are many side effects, including risk of death. Finding a qualified and highly experienced kambo practitioner can help mitigate many risks. Still, each person must determine if they are healthy enough to participate in a ceremony and decide if they agree with the ethicality of harvesting from the giant leaf frog.
Have you participated in a kambo ceremony in the U.S.? We’d love to hear from you. Drop us a comment below and share your experience.