T

he Drug Enforcement Administration on Tuesday announced its intention to temporarily ban the chemicals contained in kratom, a popular herbal supplement that has been widely used as a way to self-treat chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a number of other conditions.

Kratom, a plant from Southeast Asia that activates some of the same receptors as opioids, can be easily purchased online and in smoke shops. Although consumers have embraced the supplement as a painkiller and in some cases as a replacement for opioids, physicians worry about users who turn to kratom to try to wean themselves off opioids without seeking professional help. They also worry that it may be adulterated, given how little the substance is regulated.

The Food and Drug Administration has been trying to crack down on the substance, banning its import and ordering seizures of illegally packaged kratom product. But because the substance is officially considered an herbal supplement, the FDA has had little power to regulate its contents. A handful of states have banned it as well.

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Now, however, the DEA has announced plans to temporarily classify two of kratom’s psychoactive chemicals as Schedule 1 — the same category in which heroin, LSD, marijuana, and ecstasy are listed. The two chemicals are called mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. By banning the active chemicals, the DEA is making sure that both the plant and any synthetic versions of it are included in the new regulation.

The DEA can temporarily move substances to Schedule 1 for up to two years when it believes they present a public health crisis. A spokeswoman for the agency,  Barbara Carreno, said that during that time the Department of Health and Human Services needs to study the substance in question.

If their studies find that it is indeed as much of a public health threat as the DEA suspected, then it will remain banned. If not, the substance will revert to being legal.

“It’s a very tragic day,” said Susan Ash, the founder and director of the American Kratom Association, an advocacy group that works to keep the substance legal.

The issue is more than just work-related for Ash, who used kratom to wean herself off opiates to treat the chronic pain she attributes to Lyme disease. She still takes kratom every day to help control her pain.

“This just ripped my quality of life right out from under me,” she said. “This is the plant that returned me to being a productive member of society, and I truly fear for my future, and 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.”

Ash and other kratom advocates insist that the substance is no more addictive than coffee, and that as long as it is unadulterated, it is safe for adults to consume. They claim that it is impossible to overdose because consuming too much kratom will make you throw up.

Emergency room doctors and toxicologists, on the other hand, have seen kratom interact negatively with other drugs. In the most extreme cases, seizures have been reported.

“There needs to be some oversight as to what kind of products are being sold in the interest of consumer safety,” Oliver Grundmann, a pharmacologist at the University of Florida, told STAT in late July, a month before the DEA’s announcement.

He added, though, that he is “not necessarily saying that everything related to the plant should be put in Schedule 1. We have seen the damage that that can do to a drug with promising pharmacological properties… For me it’s a death sentence. Once you put a plant and its ingredients into DEA Schedule 1, it’s very hard to do research on it, and it will become very hard to move forward with any positive developments because there is such a stigma associated.”

It was not immediately clear when the temporary ban would go into effect. The notice released Tuesday said the ban would take effect no sooner than the end of September, to give those who manufacture, distribute, or take kratom enough time to get rid of whatever they have.

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  • So because BIG Pharm has been losing money in their opioid pharm sales, this is an issue. Got it. Now they can use the plant themselves and sell it on the market as a controlled substance and make more money. Good for them.

  • So they claim its dangerous because it can react badly when mixed with other drugs? Alcohol doesnt mix with most drugs either but it’s still sold. Or is this just because the privately run prisons are starting to lose inmates due to legalization of weed? We can’t let these prison populations shrink, how else will these people get their hands on all that tax money we’re forced to pay out in the name of protecting us from ourselves, or how else will police forces justify spending hundreds of millions turning themselves into a military force rather then “protecting and serving” the public as they are meant to do?

  • Mr. Patrick, You said that with a quiet yet to the point phrase….. Bravo!!! Bravo!!! See the all caps (Not a Fan) spoke in??? With such force and scary elegance…. And the award goes to “Not a Fan” for his supporting role in “The oblivious to reality”. Like Mr. Patrick said, if that were the case, I could think of better things with higher potency in any direction I go from my residence. Really you’re a waste of my time. Do some research. Use that big thing on your shoulders called a brain. The catch is, think for yourself and not what everyone tells you. Life is a game and not everything that is posed to you is what it really is. Get out of the 2 dimension mentally then stop by with something that makes people question?????

  • IF ALL OF YOU WEREN’T ALREADY ADDICTED TO SOMETHING YOU WOULDN’T
    BE WANTING KRATOM. THE DRUG IS HIGHLY ADDICTIVE AND DOES NOTHING FOR PAIN. IF
    YOU WERE UNDER THE REGULAR CARE OF A DOCTOR AND WERE NOT SEEKING YOUR NEXT HIGH YOU WOULDN’T EVEN WANT IT.

    • Kratom gave me a chance to live a pain free life,I no longer needed narcotics to control the pain I live with due to fibromyalgia, Now so much of my energy and emotional well being will go to trying to control my pain and people who live with cronic pain know what I mean. So its ok to get narcotics from my dr. and take so much tylenol that I fry my kidneys,or drink alcohol to numb the pain,but its not ok to take a herbal supplament (kratom), which has worked better than anything else to control widespread pain,all I can think is W.T.F. the FDA does not have the best intrest of the general public in mind at all.

    • I did go to a doctor for my back pain that I received from my time in the military fighting for this country and they pushed pain meds on me which I was able to come off of because of Kratom. Since I have found Kratom I have been able to feel normal again which has given me a second chance at life with my family. Your ignorant comment was uncalled for.

    • I (like MANY) have already spent decades taking what the doctor gave me and all I got was ulcers from pain killers and a massive seizure from an antidepressant combo I was prescribbed, etc. On kratom I am ULCER FREE and am not suicidal. I d been suicidal since I was 9yr/o. Get your head out of your gaping cave you call an ass and actually try to be understanding of the many things that are oh so confusing for ignorant people like you who lack compassion.

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