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Legality of Kambo

Disclaimer: The information below reflects the opinion of a qualified barrister who both prosecutes and defends drug related charges in the courts of England and Wales. The legality of Kambo has never been formally tested in UK Courts. For this reason, the views below remain untested and do not offer a guarantee against prosecution.


Is Kambo legal to possess in my country?


Laws change all over the world. In the UK Kambo is not illegal. However, there is nothing to say it is specifically legal. It is not a specified crime to possess it, or receive it during a ceremony.


Is Kambo legal to travel with?


Since Laws differ from country to country you must check whether or not a country has listed Kambo as a prohibited substance. It is illegal to travel to Australia with Kambo. In Europe and South America, there are no known laws prohibiting the use and carrying of Kambo. Please note that most Kambo kits often include a knife. In the UK carrying a knife on you without a reasonable excuse is a crime carrying a possible sentence of around 6 months in custody depending on the circumstances. There is a very high threshold to what amounts to a “reasonable excuse”. Carrying a knife for the purposes of work or craftsmanship are typical ‘reasonable excuses’. It is important that if you are travelling with a kit for ceremony, you keep the knife tightly packed in your kit and do not carry it for any reason other than ceremony. In other words, do not stop by any other place on your way home with a knife in your bag.


Is it legal to attend a Kambo ceremony?


Yes. No law prohibits you from receiving Kambo.


Is Kambo legal to sell?


This is a grey area: No law explicitly prohibits its sale. Kambo is not a prohibited substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act. However, the same arguments outlined above apply in terms of the Act.


Is Kambo legal in the UK? Does Kambo fall under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016?


Kambo is not illegal in the UK. However, whether it is legal has been considered a grey area. There is no law prohibiting its possession, use, sale or supply. However, some argue that because Kambo contains two neuropeptide opioids: dermorphin and deltorphin; it is, therefore, a psychoactive substance and thus prohibited by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.


It is not that simple.


s.2 of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 states that a substance is psychoactive when it


(a)  is capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it, and
(b)  is not an exempted substance


s.2(2) of the Act defines ‘psychoactive’ as follows:


“For the purposes of this Act a substance produces a psychoactive effect in a person if, by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state; and references to a substance’s psychoactive effects are to be read accordingly.”


The Act was brought into effect to act as a prohibitive framework for substances that “mimic the effects of traditional drugs” such as cannabis or MDMA. This is because of a surge in harmful ‘legal highs’ which have a similar effect to other drugs prohibited under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1973. Substances typically prohibited by the Act include synthetic cannabis (‘spice’) and nitrous oxide often inhaled from balloons.


There is scientific debate as to whether Kambo is psychoactive or not, and whether or not the peptides even cross the blood brain barrier. A study published in 2020 “demonstrates with standardized questionnaire data that the acute effects of Kambô are not reported to include effects on consciousness comparable to serotonergic psychedelics, especially no comparable effects are reported on perception and thinking.” (“Acute and subacute psychoactive effects of Kambô, the secretion of the Amazonian Giant Maki Frog (Phyllomedusa bicolor): retrospective reports” ; Schmidt, T.T., Reiche, S., Hage, C.L.C. et al. Sci Rep 10, 21544 (2020).


Further, the science demonstrates that dermorphin and deltorphin are almost negligible in a kambo application. In 1993 Erspamer, et al. estimated the weight amount of the bioactive peptides entering the body after the application. For one burn, dot or gate as Kambo practitioners call it, the Kambo applied has an approximate weight of 10 mg. A single application would contain: Caerulein 320 ug, phyllomedusin 220 ug, phyllokinin 180 ug, sauvagine 30 ug, deltorphins 53 ug and dermorphin 3 ug (see “Kambo and its Multitude of
Biological Effects: Adverse Events or Pharmacological Effects?” Jan M Keppel Hesselink1,2; 2018).


Also, dermorphin and deltorphin interact with the other peptides and their effect on the brain must be assessed holistically. One thing is for sure: Kambo is used for healing practices. There is nothing recreational
about a Kambô experience: it is uncomfortable, often involving muscle contractions and purging. Dermorphin and deltorphin do not work in isolation; and as part of the Kambo experience, certainly do not cause the kind of pleasant effect sought from recreational drugs.


For this reason, a very strong argument can be made that Kambo does not fall within the scope of the Act.


Is Kambo a medicine regulated by the UK’s Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)?
 

No it is not.


Is Kambo legal to apply to someone?
 

Medicines, including traditional herbal medicines are exempt from the Act. Kambo is not classified as a regulated medicine, but many will agree it is informally classified as a traditional medicine in some countries. This does not automatically make it exempt under the Act’s list of exemptions.


You must be suitably qualified to apply Kambo to a client, but even if so, it is important to note that Kambo application is not regulated and there is no specific licensing mechanism in place as yet ensuring complete legality of the practice.

How can I be prosecuted for serving Kambo?

In order to prove that possession or supply of Kambo is a crime, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must prove, so that a jury are sure, that Kambo falls within the scope of the Act and is thus legally prohibited.

 

Before pursuing a prosecution, the CPS must decide
 

(1) Whether the Act actually applies in this case. In order to do so the prosecution
must present expert scientific evidence proving the psychoactive effects of
Kambo. As mentioned, the scientific research has not shown Kambo to be
either.


(2) Secondly, the CPS must decide whether or not it is in the public interest to
prosecute. The extent of the harm caused by Kambo, and whether or not it
mimics a legal high will be the primary factors to be considered.


A recent case at City of London Magistrates’ Court tested whether or not someone carrying a knife in a kambo kit for the purpose of using it in a Kambo ceremony. There, the District Judge ruled: “I state categorically that I do not purport to say that anyone carrying a kambo kit in public has a defence in law.  But X was only carrying the item because it was in the kit provided to him and because he was going to an event that day.” Whilst the legality of Kambo was not the primary concern of that case, the presiding District Judge did raise the question during proceedings and the prosecutor stated that there was nothing substantiating the illegality of Kambo at this stage.


Is Kambo Illegal anywhere?


In Australia, Kambo is listed as a poison and its sale, use, supply and administration is banned. In Brazil, the advertising of the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of Kambo is prohibited.