The herbal supplement kratom, often promoted as an effective treatment for a multitude of illness symptoms, including pain relief, is under fire from the U.S. government, specifically the Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA wants the active ingredients in kratom classified as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act. This assignment would put kratom on the same list as other drugs like heroin and LSD.
However, a petition calling for the Obama administration to intercede and stop the DEA's action has been posted to the White House's "We the People" platform. As of Thursday, over 100,000 people have shown their opposition to the kratom ban and signed the petition.
"Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," reads the petition. "This is not true for kratom, it has been shown numerous times in reports from users to help recovering Opiate addicts, treat pain, combat depression and anxiety, and much more."
With that many people opposing the kratom ban, the administration will likely respond, but it is not certain the White House will do so in time. The prohibition of any kratom sales nationwide is scheduled to take effect at the end of September and is anticipated to last two years. After two years, the government can then decide if the kratom ban will be permanent.
Advocates for the herbal supplement are frustrated that the DEA did not ask for public comment before announcing the kratom ban.
"Rather than have an emergency scheduling, why not host a summit meeting with all of the groups and organizations and investors that are out there selling this product and say, 'Hey, these are our concerns. If you don't clean this up this is what we're going to do'?" suggested Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association, a nonprofit group that represents kratom consumers. "Why not go to the sources that they're having the problems with?"
Kratom has been used as an herbal supplement in Asia for centuries and is derived from the leaves of a Southeast Asian tree known as Mitragyna speciose. The plant contains alkaloids that seem to stimulate opioid receptors in the brain.
This activation has many advocates and even some researchers convinced kratom could be used to treat various health conditions and be a possible alternative to prescription drugs, particularly painkillers and anti-anxiety pills. Some even believe the supplement could be used to help opioid addicts recover as kratom satisfies opioid cravings.
Currently, kratom is banned in several states, but can be easily purchased online and at many health food stores. It is generally found packaged as crushed leaves, powder, capsules, or liquids.
According to the DEA's kratom ban notice issued late last month, any use of kratom is considered abuse since there is no "approved medicinal use in the United States" for the substance. To add weight to its case, the DEA pointed out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers kratom a substantial risk to public health and the use of the herb has significantly increased over the past six years.
The agency also made claims that "numerous deaths" were connected to the consumption of kratom. Yet, no evidence or case was presented to support any deaths where the herb was the only factor. Worldwide, only 30 documented deaths related to kratom have been verified and these cases involved people who had taken other drugs in addition to the supplement. By contrast, nearly 25,000 people died of prescription drug overdoses during 2014 in just the U.S. alone.
Not only does the DEA and CDC want kratom banned, but the Food and Drug Administration has also been trying to prevent the importation of kratom. In 2015, the FDA announced they have the authority to legally seize kratom supplements at the agency's discretion.
"The FDA will continue to take aggressive enforcement action to safeguard the public from harmful drug products illegally marketed as treatments for which they have not been studied or approved," said Melinda Plaisier, the FDA's associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.
The kratom ban essentially makes the supplement illegal in the U.S. on October 1 and it is unlikely the petition will prevent this from happening. However, it appears believers in the benefits of the herbal product are not willing to give up so easily as many groups plan to rally in front of the White House on September 13.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]