How I Used Tree Frog Venom to Cure My Erectile Dysfunction

A couple years ago, I left the corporate world, frustrated and unfulfilled. A supposedly promising job in the rearview, I felt like a failure. But rather than try to fit in, I did the opposite and went to Peru in pursuit of Ayahuasca, a psychedelic tea drunk by indigenous tribes. It was the most healing and purpose-affirming experience of my life. It also required I abstain from drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, and masturbation for four weeks afterward. When I returned to L.A., I went on a date and fell in love. Four weeks later, we finally had sex, and it was fire. She came four times, yet two days later, she called me saying that she felt it lacked something she needed to take it to the next level. (What? Did you need to come five times? Six?) I swore off dating, frightened by the possibility of heartbreak, and decided to focus on the book I wanted to write. After finishing the first draft, I stepped away, adding a creative dry spell to my sexual one.

Then, I got a message from a spark named Vanessa who had recently “uncoupled” herself. We went on a couple of dates and started to fall for each other, but there was one problem: my penis wouldn’t cooperate. You’d think he’d be feverish for some action, but instead, my cock went the way of a frightened turtle. He doesn’t think he can get hard, and when he does, he’s convinced it won’t last.

No, my penis is not named Charlie Brown, and, no, her vagina is not named Lucy. I am well aware this is all in my head.

Having branched away from Western medicine with Ayahuasca, I decided to pursue other means to regaining my sexual power beyond going to the doctor. Not only did I not want to be a 33-year-old man dependent on Viagra to have sex, I also didn’t have health insurance. I also had developed a dependence on weed. To be creative, to be charming, to be me. I’d get stuck on a chapter, so I’d smoke, and I’d be great for about three seconds and then shiny would happen. Then I’d get frustrated with myself, but tell myself I’d do better the next day. Of course, I’d sit down, not get anywhere, and decide, well, weed makes me creative, and the whole process started again from the top.

One day, an email popped up in my inbox inviting me to work with Kambo, a tree frog medicine. Similar to Ayahuasca in the sense that it was from the Amazon and involved giving up various substances in order to heal, it seemed to check all the right boxes. To be completely honest, from what I read, the sacrifices were also much shorter. Though I had determined to take the month of May off of weed, this diet only required giving up everything else—sex, alcohol, certain foods, and so on—for about a week. Plainly, it sounded like the easy way out.

I signed up immediately.

An email later in the week from David, our shaman, instructed us to refrain from pharmaceuticals, drugs, alcohol, and sex in the days leading up to the ceremony Sunday morning, adding dietary restrictions like red meat, dairy, processed sugar, processed foods in general, and caffeine outside of guayusa or yerba mate. Twelve hours before game time, we started fasting from food and caffeine completely. Water was our only salvage. So we brought 2 gallons of purified or spring water (not distilled) alog with a yoga mat, a blanket, and clear intentions for the ceremony, which, for me, was to let go of my sexual and creative blockages.

I am second to arrive at the apartment in Atwater Village where our Sunday morning ceremony is being held. Inside, I meet David, our shaman. As the name may suggest, he is not native to Peru. He’s a white dude, and he looks on the shallow end of his 20’s. Next to him is a white woman with pink hair who we’ll call Julia. She is quite pretty, and I ask if she’s worked with Kambo before.

“Yes, this will be my third time. It’s, like, amazing.”

Shortly after, a lithe African-American gentleman, who we’ll call Brian, walks in, apologizing for his tardiness. He has blue hair. Mine, for those of you keeping score at home, is brown. This was also Brian’s third time.

David asks if we’ve read all the information about Kambo sent ahead of time. I have and am nervous about the part where I puke my guts out, especially since there are no buckets around. But he eventually brings them out after running through a quick orientation of the medicine we’re about to ingest.

Kambo (sometimes aka’d as Sapo or Acate) is the venom of the Giant Waxy Monkey Tree Frog (or phyllomedusa bicolor for Linnaeus fans), which is used by various indigenous tribes of the Amazon. Shamanic and naturalistic cultures throughout the Americas believe frogs represent cleansing. Their ribet is believed to call upon the rain, and, as we all know, water helps us wash away the dirt. A frog medicine person, therefore, helps to cleanse negativity from your environment, in this case by draining toxins from our lymphatic systems to our stomachs. Our job is to chug up to two gallons of water, which will serve as the vehicle through which these toxins are ejected from our systems. The medicine will do the rest. In addition to healing and cleansing your body, Kambo is believed to improve physical strength and stamina, to add spiritual and mental clarity, and to lend you luck and zest in life. On a personal level, I could use all of those things.

On a scientific level, Kambo contains myriad bioactive peptides that strengthen the immune system and boost self-healing through its antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Though it reasonably sounds bat shit insane (perhaps frog shit is more appropriate), scientific studies since 1982 have corroborated these findings. The laundry list of conditions it benefits include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, infertility, hepatitis, cancer, AIDS, diabetes, epilepsy, depression, asthma, and, needless to say, the list goes on. Two of these peptides are actively being developed into drugs to be used in the Western world. One is a pain reliever that’s twice as powerful as morphine but without any addictive properties. Another has been shown to eliminate cancerous tumors in rats.

On a tribal level, medicine men of the Amazon administer Kambo to clear people of paneme, or bad luck and negative energies. To them, this cleansing agent leaves you feeling optimistic, strong, and full of energy. The Matses tribesmen in Northern Peru also use it in preparation for hunting as it boosts vision, not to mention brings you the good luck required to catch a big animal. In other words, after taking Kambo, everything in life flows better because externally we attract that which is going on internally. For example, if you’re angry, you won’t notice the beautiful trees before you, you’ll focus on the asinine parking job of the car beneath it.

The link between Kambo and Ayahuasca is inevitable. So the legend goes that a Kaxinawá Shaman named Kampu was brought to a village where everybody was very ill. The Shaman used every medicinal herb in his arsenal, yet still was unable to heal a single one. He then entered the forest under the effects of Ayahuasca and received a visit from the divine spirit who carried a frog in its hands. Kampu was then shown how to extract and administer the medicine. Returning to the village, Kampu healed them all. Kambo has been used ever since.

In order to extract the medicine, the tribe waits for the sun to go down and listens for the Kambo frog’s mating call, which is strongest when it’s raining or around the new moon.

Climbing towards the frog and imitating its mating call will beckon it toward you. Extending a large stick or branch is all the invitation it needs. These frogs are not frightened by humans as they do not have any natural predators due to their poison, which constitutes 7 percent of their body weight. If, say, a snake tried to eat it, a frog’s venom would make the snake throw it right back up, no worse for the wear. So they don’t try to escape, or even hop, but move with slow, deliberate steps like amphibious sloths.

In what looks like a bizarre medieval torture ritual, four wooden sticks are driven into the ground in a small square, and the frog’s legs are tied to the sticks with a string, suspending the frog so it can’t move. In order to excrete the venom, it must feel threatened, which is done by lightly tapping or rubbing its head, at which point it excretes a white, slimy secretion on its legs and the sides of its body, which is scraped off, wiped onto a wooden stick, and then dried out. Following the extraction, the frog is released back into its natural habitat, and, this part, I’m told, is essential. According to David, anyone can do this, provided they know what they’re looking for—and, more importantly, can properly imitate the mating call. He can’t, but the tribe who trained him took him along for the ride.

David informs me that he’ll administer the medicine to each of us by burning a small vine, which looks rather twiggy, and pushing its embers into our skin. He will then put the “dots” of Kambo on the wound, which will be quickly absorbed and will rush into our system. Within half an hour, we will have purged a lot of toxins. Like Ayahuasca, “the purge” is the name given to the expulsion of these toxins. Unlike Ayahuasca, Kambo is not a psychedelic. We will be in our bodies the entire time, aware of our surroundings and fully aware of said purging.

In a way, David found his way here by chance. Originally, he linked up with his tribe of shamans and healers at a music festival shortly after college. Not long after, he joined them for a weekend Ayahuasca ceremony and felt compelled to keep coming back. Eventually, the tribe leader invited him to work with them full time. A few years ago, in ceremony, he was approached by the frog spirit of Kambo who suggested they work together.

“I had never had anything like that happen to me before,” he said. “So, alright, I guess I’ll do that now.”

After sharing his background, he shifts to the subject of intentions. He looks at me, having spoken earlier the week about everything I’m working through, and says he’s very well informed about mine, and asks Julia or Brian if they’d like to share anything, making sure to note that, just like with Ayahuasca, we don’t have to share anything if we don’t wish to. This is a safe space, and we will respect each other’s wishes.

Julia shares a loose association of new age buzzwords—think “manifest” and “truth”—that I hope mean a lot to her as they sound elusive to me. Brian remains fairly private, like David already knows what he’s going to say, so why bother? David also informs us that banishing these things from our system will also create a void that can be filled by positive intention. Immediately, I think of love (hello, Vanessa) and abundance (hello, cash money).

First, he lays out the order of events. David will start us out with Rapé (pronounced Ha-Pay, henceforth spelled Hapé), which he says will feel like a lightning bolt moving down our bodies. Hapé is a tobacco based snuff—in this case, mapacho, or jungle tobacco, which is 20x stronger than commercial tobacco. The leaf is fermented, dried, and ground into a powder along with upwards of 50 other ingredients. Each tribe has its own recipe, which is kept secret. It’s a granular light brown powder and, for you weed smokers out there, resembles kief, which he’ll put in a wooden pipe and shoot into one nostril like a blow dart and then the other.

Since I’m the rookie here, I’ll receive Kambo first. He tells me he’ll give me three dots, burning the holes then placing the small discs of medicine over them for absorption, before singing the traditional icaros, or blessings, to call upon the spirits and activate the medicine. He will then move to the lady in the room, then the other gentleman.

After fetching our puke buckets, David informs us that any color of vomit is normal and that he’s seen red, yellow, orange, green, and even blue. He activates a Bluetooth speaker and the sounds of the rainforest fill the apartment.

Am I ready for the Hapé? I hear myself say yes, and, before I know it, my sinuses are on fucking fire and I start coughing.

“Other nostril,” he says, before punching me on the other side. “Don’t blow your nose for two minutes.”

Easier said than done. Blowing my nose is all I can think about until I realize the burning sensation is moving down my body like a flare is shooting through my body to signal to the Kambo where the toxins are. Tears leak down my face, and he tells me to breathe through my mouth. I focus on my breathing rather than, say, the wildfire erupting inside my head. Within a minute or two, I get snotty, and David gives me the go ahead to blow my nose. My snot looks granular and dark brown. Gross. We haven’t even taken the Kambo yet, and I already need to purge, and threw up, just a little, in my bucket. David moves around and gives Hapé to the others, and they also snot and purge.

Back to me. Am I ready for the Kambo? Yes. Do I have a place in mind for the dots? I don’t, I’ll defer to him. He suggests I start with three dots on my right shoulder. Three dots, it bears noting, are the most Brian or Julia has received in either of their ceremonies. Trust, and surrender.

David lights the end of the vine and gives me a warning before pushing it to my flesh. It feels like getting your finger pricked by a needle at the doctor’s office. Not too bad. Second dot. Third dot. He picks up a small piece of wood and scrapes together white powder with a knife, flattening it before lifting it off the wood like a spatula, and setting it atop each “dot.” He tells me to fill up my mason jar and start chugging a liter of water. When I finish, he tells me to do another, and I down that, too.

He starts to sing the icaros, or blessings that call upon the spirits to aid in healing in another language (I believe Quechua), and I can feel the music awaken the medicine within me, and quickly. A powerful tingling grows in my torso and head and moves downward, concentrating especially in my forearms and hands to the point that I lose faculty of them. My hands no longer have fingers and opposable thumbs. They are but fins, more or less. He fills my mason jar for me, and I can exert enough pressure on the glass to down it. Within 5-10 minutes, I start to burp. I also let a fart slip, to which David responds, “bless you.” I appreciate the levity. Then, I feel the purge.

In three substantial waves, I puke. This pain is substantial, this discomfort is violent.

This is the feeling of suffering a six-fingered man would record for posterity, but even so, curiosity gets the best of me. I open my eyes to see my bile is orange, which I find interesting since that’s the color assigned to the second chakra, which represents sexuality and creativity (if you’re into that sort of thing). Go figure.

He replaces my bucket with a much larger one and reassures me, “you’re doing great.” With each song he performs, the medicine comes on stronger and stronger, and I feel worse and worse. He keeps feeding me water, which I dutifully down, only to throw back up with orange bile in it. I feel absolutely miserable, and, for a moment, I can’t help but think how fucking ridiculous it is that, of everywhere I could be in the world, I paid to take frog venom in this apartment in order to puke my guts out. “Only $100,” they said. “You’ll feel amazing,” they said. Amazing my ass. I feel like my stomach is hosting a Xenomorph gangbang.

I remind myself to call upon my intentions. With every breath out, “I’m letting go of sexual/creative blockages,” and with every breath in, “I welcome in love and abundance.” After two cycles, an idea pops into my head to also let go of ego, and I add that to the list. I take long, deliberate breaths that fill my belly, then my diaphragm, and my chest, and squeeze them out, repeating my intention each time until it’s time to throw up some more.

After about 10 minutes, David tells me to hold still so that he can flip over my dots like you’d flip a pancake, and I soon feel another wave of purging coming on. The puking subsides and I start feeling less miserable, so he suggests I add a fourth dot.

“Whatever you think, man, I trust you.”

Burn, scrape, dot. This time, I feel a mini wave move through my body and the tingling concentrates in my legs, particularly below my knees. I purge some more, and, for a change, actually feel pretty good. My big bucket is two-thirds of the way full. He tells me, “Brother, you’re doing amazing,” and moves onto Julia. He gives her three dots.

I feel the nausea subsiding, and I see her lay down after her Hapé, which now seems like a terrific idea. Once he starts the icaros for Julia, I feel another, albeit smaller, purge coming, and roll over to puke into my baby bucket, which now looks to be half full. Or was it half empty?

Whatever, remember your intention. Breathe in love and abundance; breathe out sexual/creative blockages and ego. Julia starts burping and releases a gargling heave that sounds terrible. David reminds her to drink water, and when she purges, she misses her bucket. He hands her the bucket and tells her not to worry: he’ll clean it up. It occurs to me that modesty has no place here, that no matter how gross your experience might seem, they’ve undoubtedly seen worse.

As I close my eyes and focus on my intentional breathing, I’m enveloped by a wonderful calm. I hear Julia suffering, and her hands must have been even worse than mine as David asks her if her hands are cramping and in pain. She says yes, so he backs off the songs, and feeds her more water. Ordinary thoughts float into mind—the errands I need to run, the people I need to check in on—and I remind myself to return to my intentions.

Then, a curious thing happened.

Despite my closed eyes and the reassurance that Kambo is not psychedelic, I see a sort of cream-colored South American blanket woven above me with a red pattern running throughout. It is beautiful.

Vanessa’s face, smiling, appears before me. Then, I see her pussy, and her face again, and the visions blow away like dust and fade to black.

Positive reinforcement: don’t worry about the banal bullshit, focus on your intention, and beauty will happen.

The quotidian thoughts continue to come to mind, but each time, I remember to return to my breathing mantra. Julia keeps gurgling and misses her bucket again, and David dashes to clean it up, urging her to drink more water. When her purging slows, he moves on to Brian, who audibly winces from the burns. He asks for no more than three, on the back of his heart, which is supposed to make it run through your system a lot faster. I can’t say it felt like it took forever for me, but what do I know?

Once David starts singing for Brian’s medicine, I feel another purge, not out of the business end, but from the party end. I have complete faculty of my limbs by now, so I get up to go to the bathroom. In what may be interesting only to me, though there is, of course, some poop in the bowl along with the same unmistakable orange bile.

I return to my mat, and David’s songs no longer stir any medicine within me. Instead, I feel such immense relaxation that I stop paying attention to anything outside of me. David then begins to play a flute, which was elegant, calming, and lulls me off to sleep, for how long, I have no clue. Next thing I know, he asks if it’s okay if he plays another flute, and I open my eyes to see the others sitting straight up, saying yes. “I’d love you to play the soundtrack to all my naps,” I tell him. He starts to play again, and I lay back down, and close my eyes. A great, relaxing silence comes to mind like a twilight snowfall. After he finishes, he tells us about his various flutes made from exotic woods, before we close ceremony by sharing our experiences.

He invites me to start, first sharing his impression of how it went, reiterating that he thought I did amazing and went “super deep.” That’s consistent with most of my similar experiences (vis-à-vis Ayahuasca, mushrooms, or San Pedro). It seems I’m good at surrender.

Page Dr. Freud if you must. I reiterate everything I can recall, and David is genuinely surprised to hear that I experienced visions. In recounting her experiences, Julia speaks of the pain she felt in her hands, and David informs us that painful cramping is a sign

I reiterate everything I can recall, and David is genuinely surprised to hear that I experienced visions. In recounting her experiences, Julia speaks of the pain she felt in her hands, and David informs us that painful cramping is a sign to ease off, otherwise, you’ll pass out. Passing out, evidently, is not necessarily bad, but the pain gave him pause. Brian doesn’t have much to share, but says he feels much better, and we all bask in a feeling of extreme relaxation.

David removes our dots and covers our wounds with “dragon’s blood,” a coppery brown ointment with antibacterial and antifungal properties: essentially, a shamanic Neosporin. At this point, he tells us we can leave once it dries. In preparation for all the purging, he had asked us to bring non-GMO, all-organic berries and fruits, as well as coconut water for electrolytes, though I was the only one to bring any. Luckily, I brought enough to share. Julia hustles out of there quickly, and Brian isn’t far behind, but not before he explains that he’s a dancer. It seems this Sunday they both have shit to do. I’m the last to leave, which gives me time to speak one-on-one with David.

He offers several suggestions for what I’m dealing with. For one, I should be honest with Vanessa about what’s going on with my body. I’m thankful to say we’ve had the most open and honest communication about everything—sexual and otherwise—of anyone I’ve ever dated, so we’re good there. He then suggests I don’t release my seed (i.e., don’t cum) for four weeks, during which I should stick to a plant based diet, avoid alcohol, and also refrain from smoking weed. So much for the easy way out. He then tells me he thinks I should do two more ceremonies over that time. I am relieved to hear that I can kiss Vanessa over that time, just not ejaculate. I can work with that.

On the drive back to Venice, my mind is quiet. I’m not cursing the terrible drivers in L.A., nor am I driving like a maniac and cutting people off right and left. I feel relaxed and clean and drained. I’m also starving, so once I get home, I take my bike to grab a salad for lunch. It makes me a bit nauseous, but I find solace on the ride back by looking upward. Not unlike a psychedelic experience, I feel the same sense of wonder at the sight of plants, trees, and animals: the natural world in all its beauty. 

The next day, I feel much clearer in thought and health, and though Kambo was not fun, I would be remiss not to do the follow up. Even walking is easier, as my body seems to have forgotten about old sports injuries. I would equate it to Ayahuasca, but without the psychedelia and with much more purging.

Negative thoughts have been drained from my mind, and I lay down in my bed to rest, waking up when Vanessa comes over, and we spend the afternoon trading wonderful kisses and naps.

A couple days later, David calls me for a follow up. I’ve felt much clearer in thought, and also healthier, like I just woke up from the best night’s sleep of my life, except I only slept for 6 hours. Even walking is easier, as my body seems to have forgotten about old sports injuries. Oh, and by the way, when I made out with Vanessa the next day, I got hard.

David tells me he’s impressed with my results and tells me that I can stop here if I want, or continue through with two more treatments in this lunar cycle for a full cleanse. This recommendation stems from the understanding that there are many layers to your cleansing. My first one drained orange bile from certain organs. He also tells me that not everyone does all three, not everyone believes it’s even necessary. But he thinks they are, so, to me, I’d be remiss to walk away now.

My second Kambo ceremony proceeded in much the same way, only, in this case, I was the veteran, flanked by two rookies, but again, one male, one female. I told them everything about my first experience, including my erection problems, which lent to a very communal, almost familial feeling to the ceremony, even safer from the one before.

That didn’t stop it, however, from being far more difficult. This time, I got six smaller dots on the back of my heart, and the medicine kicked in almost immediately, tightening my forearms, and bending them toward my torso. I got painful cramps in my legs, which David had to straighten out for me because I couldn’t move. I could barely even form the word “cramps.” Later David told me it looked like I was turning into a frog. And this time, my bile was yellow.

My third and final session had a total of five participants, including Vanessa, who wished to let go of a poisonous co-dependence. In the beginning, the caretaker in me focused on Vanessa’s suffering, as she seemed to really hurt after the Hapé. Fortunately, the medicine slapped me upside the sinus with the obvious: she is more than strong enough to care for herself. In fact, later she described the Hapé as “orgasmic.” David’s response: “I’m going to add that to my Facebook: Orgasmic Hapé Shaman.” David had another healer assist him so we had one shaman to push us up, and another to make sure we didn’t fall. My bile was a dark, brownish yellow, and, though I received four big dots on the back of my heart, the ceremony ended up being the gentlest of the three.

It also brought Vanessa and I closer.

This piece ends at Vanessa’s apartment, which overlooks the boardwalk on Venice Beach. It’s a writer’s dream. Need to lose yourself in thought? Watch the people walk by, see the ocean breeze in the palm trees, and slide the window open to feel it on your face. The view here is everything, and when I stare over the sand to the water, I can’t help but think how cleansing the frog medicine was.

Whether or not you’re into such things, you’re undoubtedly comfortable with the notion of having one’s own personal demons. Addiction or depression, perhaps, or, indeed, any number of ailments essential to the modern human condition. Whether you believe these ailments are physical entities or not is immaterial: it’s helpful to conceptualize them that way. So if you have something within you that doesn’t help you be the person you want to be, you need to get it the fuck out.

I’ve already said enough about my penis, so I’ll just say this: it’s working again. Vanessa just walked in, so it’s time to put the pen down and hit send.

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