I’ve been detoxifying recently. Doing some work on myself. Trying to make myself feel good. Making sure I’ve got the energy to keep swinging until the job lands. I’m doing it by drinking lots of water, consuming carefully, poisoning myself, exercising more, eating plenty of fruit and vomiting copiously into a bucket.

When I was in the Amazon some years ago my guide pointed at a small green tree frog. “Sacred frog,” he told me. At the time I internally called bullshit. Trying to persuade the idiot tourist that there are sacred frogs – pull the other one, it detaches.

Turns out it was a phyllomedusa bicolour. Turns out it was, essentially, a sacred frog.


Some of the phyllomedusinae have a convenient means of stopping themselves from drying out when they’re up a tree. They secrete a sticky waxy substance onto themselves from glands in their legs. This substance has the added advantage of being poisonous, so they can just hang out on the branches knowing that thousands of years of natural selection has weeded out all predators.

Somebody in the mists of prehistory decided to experiment with their poison and somehow established that the one from  P.bicolour has healing properties if used correctly. How the hell they did that is anybody’s guess. Time, trial and error and lots of deaths. They call it “kambo”.

For thousands of years kambo has been used to make warriors faster. Analysis has shown it’s full of bioactive peptides – amino acid chains that bind to human tissue. Their effects range from releasing tension, decreasing blood pressure, temporarily making the blood-brain barrier more permeable, stimulating the adrenal cortex and pituitary gland and much more besides. The ancient practitioners wouldn’t have known that in so many words but they observed the effect and passed it down orally. They just realised that if the frog was a little bit bothered it would secrete the stuff, and they managed to find a use for it. It hugely detoxifies and is known to be extremely effective in breaking addictions. So far, so positive. What’s the catch?

This morning I sat cross legged with a completely empty stomach, watching people go one by one to the practitioner. I was a bit nervous. When it was close to my turn, I opened a two litre bottle of water and drank almost all of it. Having a stomach full of water makes things less uncomfortable. The practitioner had a bit of bark with some glistening wax stuck to it, and an incense stick. When it came to my turn, he burnt a circular hole in my upper arm. Then he applied a single dot of the secretion. Some people – regulars – had as many as 7. I started with one. To assess my tolerance. (They put it in a burn in order that it goes directly into your lymphatic system. As a result it takes hold extremely quickly.) About a minute after application, “How are you feeling, Alex” was answered with “Extremely dizzy and a bit hot.” Everything was swimming. My face and lips had swollen up. Then he added two more burns and drops and suddenly I’m on my side and I don’t know how I got there and he is asking “Do you know where you are, Alex?” “Yes. I went somewhere else for a bit.” (Apparently I’d passed out for six seconds.) Nobody else had passed out. Dammit. My pride is up for a second. “Sit back up.” he says, and I do, attempting to pretend that I hadn’t collapsed in the first place which is comical. I look at the 3 blobs clinging to my upper arm. My face is hot. I’m not really capable of coherent thought. I feel beyond terrible. There’s no room for pride here. There is, however, a bucket between my legs. Hallelujah.

I begin to liquid shout into the bucket. There is nothing else I can do. The next half hour is mostly spent garking out fantastic amounts of horrible crap, refilling my belly when I’m dry-retching, and then bodysnatchering it all back out into the bucket with more horrible stuff attached. The bucket is brimming with foul toxic water by the time I’m capable of moving away from it. And suddenly I’m feeling strong.

Unlike some other natural Amazonian medicines, kambo is legal as it has no psychotropic properties, so nobody could argue that people do it for fun. If you did it for shits and giggles you’d get one of the two and it wouldn’t be the giggles. I’ve seen it described as an “ordeal medicine.” I’d agree with that. It’s not pleasant. But on balance I think it’s worth it. I’d be surprised if I didn’t go back some time, once the memory has loosened. Although I won’t look forward to it. So yeah. That was my day. I just had a big vegetable stew so it seems things are back to normal…


Anyone that thinks this is for them I’ve got permission from the practitioner to link to his website here.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: