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Kambo, a lethal frog mucous used in shamanic rituals, banned by TGA after reports of deaths | Drugs

A deadly frog mucous used in shamanic rituals in Australia has been banned by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

In “Kambo” ceremonies, a participant’s skin is burned and scraped and the secretions of the South American giant leaf frog (or giant monkey frog) is rubbed into the wound. There is no medicinal benefit to Kambo and it can be lethal.

The TGA has listed it as a schedule 10 poison, in the category for “substances of such danger to health as to warrant prohibition of sale, supply and use”.

It noted that Australians have adopted Kambo rituals from traditional indigenous ceremonies in South America.

“There were reports of deaths arising from use of Kambo in ceremonies, and therefore it was declared not safe for human use,” a spokesperson said.

“Use of Kambo typically forms part of a ritualistic ceremony, involving burning of the participant’s skin followed by direct application of the substance to the burned regions,” the spokesperson noted, adding there had been “rare” deaths, along with nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, liver damage, stomach pain and other adverse effects.

There is no evidence of any medical benefit from Kambo, the TGA found.

New South Wales police investigated the death of a local woman after she suffered a cardiac arrest during a Kambo ceremony in 2019. Australian practitioners are listed on international “accreditation” sites and can be found easily online.

Guardian Australia has seen users claim, without evidence, that it is a natural antibiotic and that a “cleanse” with frog venom can strengthen and heal the mind. Some promote it as a “vaccine”. Videos of the ceremony often include vision of people vomiting afterwards.

In its submission, the Australian Medical Association supported the ban, saying it considered Kambo to be a “significant health risk”.

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“In addition to its harmful effects both intended and adverse, the act of blistering the skin and applying Kambo to the burnt area risks other health concerns such as infection,” the AMA’s submission said.

“There is also a risk that using Kambo would prevent a patient from seeing a medical practitioner for their medical condition and delay diagnosis.”

The South Australian health and community services complaints commissioner, associate professor Grant Davies, issued prohibition orders in 2019 against an Australian couple trading as Two Wolves – One Body for offering Kambo services.

Davies said their advice was that the substance was “very dangerous to humans”, and that he hoped the TGA ban would make people aware of the danger.

“At a time when people are more aware of the significance of good healthcare to their overall wellbeing, burning holes into your skin and scraping a poisonous frog secretion into the wound to induce a ‘cleanse’ is dangerous,” he said.

While practitioners claim the frog is not harmed when Kambo is harvested, it must be stressed before it secretes the toxic mucous. This is done by stretching the frog or by putting it near a fire.

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