Kambo: poison or medicine?

“Everything is a poison, nothing is a poison.

It is the dose that makes the poison”

― Paracelsus

This famous quote is by a Swiss physician who was credited to have started the “medical revolution” almost 500 years ago. Over the years this quote has been simplified to ‘the only real difference between medicine and poison is the dose.’

The best case to illustrate this is chemotherapy, nitrogen mustard a derivative of mustard gas a chemical weapon of world war I is used to successfully treat lymphoma. Lymphoma is a cancer that affects the lymph nodes (lymph glands), spleen, thymus gland, and bone marrow. Mustard gas was found to affect the bone marrow and lymp nodes of its victims. So in controlled doses, the chemical can be used to kill off cancerous cells.

Chemotherapy uses the application of a poison that kills fast-growing cells, cancerous cells are fast-growing but so are healthy hair follicle stem cells. It is a case of choosing to run away from a hungry tiger or resting because you have a fever. You deal with the tiger and rest after.

This brings us back to the principle of dosage. Who would have thought that vitamin A could kill? Apparently, an overdose of it, like eating too many carrots as Basil Brown a 48-year-old English did, can. A 10-day carrot juice diet got him to ingest 10,000 times the recommended amount of Vitamin A. He died as vitamin A is fat-soluble meaning only the liver can flush it out and it was too much for his liver to handle.

Excessive, and by that, I mean unreasonably high and long term overconsumption, doses of vitamin C can induce migraines and vomiting; Vitamin B3 can lead to high BP, liver damage; Vitamin B6 can cause nausea, skin lesions; Vitamin B9 may affect mental function; Vitamin D can cause organ damage; Vitamin E can cause hemorrhage. Even too much oxygen results in cell damage and can lead to death (oxygen toxicity). Ironically one of the symptoms of oxygen toxicity is difficulty in breathing.

Botox, the elix of youth for many seeking to rid themselves of wrinkles is a neurotoxin. OnabotulinumtoxinA or botox is a protein that is derived from one of the most poisonous substances in the world, Botulinum toxin. Produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, it has the potency to kill 20 million people with just one gram of botulinum toxin. Dosage is what converts the most toxic substance into treatments for the spastic contractions of multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy as it blocks the release of acetylcholine, a transmitter that tells a muscle to contract.

But before you judge humans to be vain the animal kingdom isn’t far behind. Male great bustards, the heaviest flying bird, purposely eat toxic beetles to clear their systems of STDs and other diseases before mating season. This is because the females inspect the males to ensure they have no infections and are free of parasites. This concept of using poison to heal is an ancient one with Ayurvedic texts like Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita categorizing poisonous plants as Visha & Upvishathe and describing the types of poisons and their medicinal use in detail.

Shamanic traditions from the amazon offer Kambo, the healing ritual that uses the poisonous secretions of the giant monkey frog to purge the bad spirit ‘panema’ resulting in increased fertility, good luck, and a body cleansed of built-up toxins. An alternative medicine advocates claim it helps one rid themselves of addictions, depression, and chronic pain while boosting energy and vitality.

Kambo is practiced by the indigenous tribes of the Amazon and is a common name of Phyllomedusa bicolor, an Amazonian giant monkey frog. The secretions are obtained by tying the frog tightly across four sticks and stretching them. This stress triggers the frogs to secret Kambo, a chemical substance containing opioids like dermorphins and deltorphins.

The shaman makes tiny blisters on the skin using a burning stick and then scrapes the blisters. Tiny amounts of the Kambo are applied to the exposed skin allowing the opioids to enter the body. The body then reacts violently to this chemical inducing vomiting which is the body’s natural defense against poisons. This is known as the purge and is said to help the body rid itself of accumulated toxins in the body.

The whole process can be very disorienting but after the effect subsides many users claim to have discovered a newfound clarity, resistance to substances they once found addictive like smoking, drinking, or drugs. The medical association has not verified the claims and attributes it to the placebo effect, wherein your belief in something makes it happen.

There have been deaths from doing Kambo and the medical association has listed a range of medical conditions like an aneurysm, epilepsy, low BP etc. that prohibit the use of Kambo if one suffers from it. Kambo is a poison, an opioid, and the entire process is meant as a spiritual practice of the Shamans which deals with altered states of consciousness. While the realm of the spirit is unchartered we need our physical bodies to exist in this plane and hence the rules that govern the material world cannot be ignored. The spirit cannot live in this physical plane without the body.

Spirituality is where science and logic are left behind and not because it is bogus but because it deals with the spiritual side of things. Science and logic are based on the material world, where things can be studied, observed, tabulated, and understood in empirical formats. The individual is not just the human body (mater) but also the spirit. Why we like the smell of one flower but not the perfume of another, why we prefer the taste of one dish but loath another cannot be tabulated or deciphered.

People through the ages have documented life-transforming events that have altered the perception of people, societies, and entire civilizations. Is Kambo a life-altering substance? Are poisons life-transforming because of their ability to take you to the edge of your existence? The spiritual way to observe poisons is that they are either to be avoided, absolved using antidotes, or transcended. Sutras or teachings of Budha call passions the deadliest of all poisons and transcending them the challenge of every individual. 

Let me know what you think, after all we think therefore we are.. alive?

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