KAMBÔ: an Amazonian enigma

J Venom Res. 2020 May 26;10:13-17. eCollection 2020.


The secretions of the Giant Monkey Frog Phyllomedusa bicolor are used by populations in the Amazon regions (mainly the indigenous Katukinas and Kaxinawás). The so-called "toad vaccine" or "kambô" is applied as a medication for infections and to prevent diseases, and also as physical and mental invigorator, and analgesic. Since the 1980s, researchers and companies have been interested in the composition of these secretions. Phyllomedusin, phyllokinin, caerulein and sauvagine are the polypeptides in these secretions that can cause intense effects on smooth muscles, vessels provoking, nausea and vomiting, arterial hypotension, flushing, palpitations, nausea, vomiting, bile secretion and angioedema. These actions are similar to bradykinin. However, the feeling of well-being and improvement of motor skills described by the users seems to be associated with dermorphine, caerulein or deltorphin - peptides with analgesic properties - and their affinity for the opiate receptor systems. Caerulein is a peptide that increases digestive secretions. Phyllomedusin and Phyllokinin lead to blood pressure and digestive effects. Sauvagine release corticotropin and mimics the physiological reactions of exposure to stress. Deltorphins and dermorphins have high affinity for the opiate receptor system and can lead to analgesia. The fame acquired by the therapy motivated the use by individuals from urban areas worldwide, without safety considerations. While in indigenous communities, there is an entire cultural tradition that provides relative safety to the application, however, the extension of use to individuals from urban areas worldwide is a problem, with reports of severe adverse effects and deaths. Undoubtedly, the skin secretions of the Phyllomedusa genus contain substances of intense pharmacological action and that can lead to research for therapeutic uses, but control over their application in rituals outside the forest is needed due the risks presented.

Keywords: Frog venoms; amphibians; indigenous medicine; pharmacological and toxicological phenomena; toxinology.

Publication types

  • Review