The Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced a temporary ban on two major chemicals in kratom – mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Kratom is an herbal supplement which is claimed to help treat various health issues, ranging from depression to chronic pain to an addict’s physical and psychological dependence on opioids. On September 30, these two kratom chemicals will be classified as Schedule I substances.
The DEA filed to place the plant and its two main components on Schedule I on Wednesday. It will now be listed alongside marijuana, ecstasy and LSD on Schedule I. The DEA ban on these two primary chemicals can be applied both to kratom, the plant, and any other synthetic alternatives to the plant.
Kratom originates in Southeast Asia and is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family. The species is indigenous to Thailand and has been used in traditional medicine, but it has no approved medical applications and few studies have been done into its health effects. It is currently used recreationally or to regulate chronic pain or opioid withdrawal. The effects of the drug are similar to an opiate and last between two and five hours, with side effects that include constipation, vomiting, itchiness, difficulty breathing, psychosis, and seizure.
Users of the drug claim that kratom evokes a peaceful effect, similar to that of drugs like morphine. Prior to the ban, the drug could be purchased online and in smoke shops. Some advocates claim the drug is not addictive, while other users counter that claim.
Kratom has attributed to 15 deaths in the US between 2014 and 2016. According to the DEA’s website, “The abuse rate is a determinate factor in the scheduling of the drug; for example, Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and the potential to create severe psychological and/or physical dependence.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a July report, which declared that, between 2010 and 2015, 600 calls to poison control centers were due to kratom intoxication. Advocates of the drug claim that the interaction of other illegal drugs with kratom is the source of a majority of these intoxication cases. They also argue that poisoning cases from other substances – both legal and illegal – are much more numbered than those associated with kratom.
Many states have jumped on board and banned the plant, but regulating this ban has been tough, being that the plant is considered an herbal supplement. The Food and Drug Administration, along with many medical professionals and law enforcement officials, have also designated kratom a potentially harmful substance.
The Department of Health and Human Services is currently studying the plant to test whether or not it is harmful. Until the verdict is in, the DEA may hold the ban for up to two years. And if the HHS declares kratom to be a public health threat, it will remain on the Controlled Substance list, which will affect all krakom advocates and users.
Many advocates point to the lack of financial gain for pharmaceutical companies as the primary reason for this ban. Prior to the ban, the natural plant was inexpensive and readily accessible. They argue that alternative pharmaceutical drugs to combat pain, such as Oxycontin, are much more addictive, have more potential for abuse, and are the cause of more overdose fatalities than krakom.
As reported by The Fix, Susan Ash, the founder and director of the American Kratom Association told STAT, “I fear for all of the people who found kratom to be a solution for them to get off things like heroin. I foresee a large jump in the already epidemic proportions of opiate deaths in this country.”