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We are not to blame for frog toxin therapy death: Kambo couple

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Two South Australian practitioners of a controversial therapy using Amazonian frog toxin say they have been targeted by authorities over the death of a woman linked to the treatment, despite her not being their client.

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Natasha Lechner died of cardiac arrest at her home in Mullumbimby New South Wales on March 8.

Police say while the exact cause of the 39-year-old’s death is yet to be determined, media reports have linked it to Kambo.

Kambo is an alternative therapy where applicants burn the top layer of their skin and apply secretions from the Amazonian giant monkey frog onto the wound to induce vomiting, sweating and diarrhoea.

It has been traditionally used by Amazonian tribes to increase stamina and health, but is increasingly used in the West for spiritual purposes.

Frog secretions containing toxins are legally imported in powdered form.

Carlie Angel and Brad Williams together run Two Wolves – One Body, travelling interstate to apply the treatment to clients.

Despite Lechner not being their client, her death has prompted authorities to impose a temporary ban on their business.

Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner Karen Cusack issued a 12-week interim prohibition order temporarily banning the provision of Two Wolves – One Body practicing Kambo.

“I’m incredibly concerned about any services that are claiming to provide health benefits by using the South American poison, Kambo,” Commissioner Cusack said.

The couple is also banned under the South Australian code of conduct for “certain health care workers”, until the Victorian investigation is completed.

The pair said they had “no relationship with the death of Natasha”.

“Her death has been linked to her receiving Kambo from an untrained individual,” they said.

“The 12 week ban has come into effect in SA as a follow on result of Victoria.

“After speaking with the assigned investigator into our case, it appears we were selected due to our strong web presence, and openness about our practice.

“We are not under investigation for malpractice.”

In a separate interview in November 2018, Angel and Williams said they had conducted 600 Kambo ceremonies safely after training with International Association of Kambo Practitioners (IAKP).

Williams said his training focussed on understanding the traditions behind Kambo, but also the science and how to bring the practice safely into the West.

“Kambo can be scary. You need to have a lot of experience and know what you’re doing,” he said.

Angel said they did not accept clients who failed to meet certain health criteria, including pregnancy, a history of heart failure or strokes, a low heart rate, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

”We’re really quite responsible for a lot,” said Angel. “They’re in a hugely vulnerable state.”

The business employed a test point system to gauge whether first timers were suitable for Kambo.

“We burn these three gates in their arm or the leg, and that’s just the top layer of skin about the size of a tip of an incense stick. It’s three dots,” said Williams.

“If it’s unsafe we can take that test plate off and get back to normal very quickly. We’ve never had to do that, where we’ve taken it off.”

Prior to participation, clients drink 1.5 to 2 litres of water and must fast 10 hours beforehand.

“This is because of all the vomiting,” said Angel.

Giant Waxy Monkey Frog. Photo: AAP

Frog secretions are applied onto three points, after which clients “purge” for 20 to 40 minutes.

Purging usually includes vomiting, diarrhoea and sweating profusely. Some also experience emotional purging.

“You really see a lot of sadness, anger sometimes,” said Angel.

“It’s meant to get all the crap and toxins out of you.”

Fainting can also occur, as well as rigor, making hands or legs go stiff.

Angel and Williams said while there was no official IAKP procedure on storing a client’s data surrounding their history with Kambo, Williams spent “hours making a program” to “securely store client information”.

“We have some duty of care,” said Williams.

 Kambo can be scary. You need to have a lot of experience and know what you’re doing

In a statement to InDaily, IAKP said: “The truth about Natasha’s death will come out in due course. We would be grateful if the press stopped assuming that Kambo was responsible until the inquest.

“We are very unhappy that IAKP practitioners are being put in the frame for this, when the person who gave Natasha the Kambo was not a member of our organisation and was, as far as we are aware, untrained in both Kambo work and first aid.

“There have been very few adverse events linked to Kambo despite many tens of thousands of people self administering and being administered to around the world. Every single adverse event to date has been practitioner error.” 

Toxicologist and pharmacologist Dr Ian Musgrave from the University of Adelaide said that despite precautions, Kambo can never truly be safe.

“You’ve got these very extreme responses to these peptides that have the potential to straight out kill people,” he said.

There was no standardisation of Kambo substances and its composition can change in consistency between batches.

“You’re dealing with something that is a complex chemical mixture,” Musgrave said.

“Frogs have a large number of compounds in their secretion that they use to evade predators and kill off microbes. Amongst those secretions are peptides, which have very potent biological effects.

“The sarulin family, one of the frog peptides in Kambo, generally interacts with the central nervous system and vomiting is an important one.”

Kambo could also prompt dramatic changes in blood pressure and ” extreme physiological responses from the opioid-like materials in it”.

Musgrave said he was aware of two deaths overseas linked to Kambo and believes there may be more.

“But because they’re scattered all over the world it’s very hard to pull them together,” he said.

In considering whether to try it, Musgrave said any benefit should be measured against the risk.

“You have to balance it against what is it you’re trying to do,” he said.

“If you’re just getting a sense of well being out of it, are we balancing the risk and benefit appropriately?”

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