The DEA kratom ban set to go in effect on Friday has been delayed. While the news is certainly a win for kratom advocates as well as users, the agency still plans to put the herbal supplement on the list of Schedule I drugs, joining others like heroin and LSD.
"What I can tell you is…we're not going to do it tomorrow," DEA spokesperson Russ Baer told Heavy. "I don't have a date as to when we are going to do that final order publication in the federal registry."
According to Baer, September 30 was chosen as the original date because the DEA is required to publish its "intent to schedule" a substance at least 30 days before the actual action takes place. The agency initially announced the plan to classify kratom as a Schedule I drug on August 31.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, a Schedule I designation means a substance has no medical value and has a tendency to be abused. Just like heroin, it will be illegal to purchase and possess kratom once the DEA ban takes effect.
Kratom is derived from the leaves of a tree native to Southeast Asia. The plant is typically ground into a powder or brewed as tea. While the DEA decides a definite date to ban the herb, kratom can still be purchased online or at various health food stores.
The supplement is used by millions of Americans to treat anything from chronic pain to anxiety. Many kratom supporters believe it can solve the opioid overdose crisis now plaguing the nation because it has been shown to counter opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Acting on public outcry against the DEA kratom ban, over 50 U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg asking to delay outlawing the plant. Accusing the agency of making a "hasty decision," the letter said banning kratom would essentially prevent researchers from studying any potential health benefits of the herbal supplement, including any possible treatments for people addicted to opioids.
"DEA's Federal Register notice posted on August 31, 2016 proposes placing kratom in the most restrictive category-Schedule I-within 30 days. This significant regulatory action was done without any opportunity for public comment from researchers, consumers, and other stakeholders. This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement."The kratom ban will essentially halt any further research of the plant. Many labs do not have the proper licensing to study a Schedule I drug and any samples in inventory will have to be destroyed. While getting approval to research a Schedule I drug study is possible, many labs will not take the time nor trouble to wade through the government's bureaucracy to obtain the licensing.
"In the end, this is a disservice to science," said Christopher McCurdy, chairman of Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Mississippi, who has been studying kratom for over 10 years. "I don't think Schedule I is the right thing at this moment because we don't have the science yet to speak to potential medical benefits — and we think there are medical benefits."
The DEA ban on kratom could be reversed if scientists are able to prove the plant has medical benefits. McCurdy hopes the DEA changes its decision and puts the plant in a less restrictive category that allows research to continue. However, he remains skeptical the agency will do so.
"Once the DEA goes down these kinds of paths," he said, "it's hard to reverse their course."
Some think the DEA kratom ban is just the government's way of protecting big business. Pharmaceutical companies see the natural herbal supplement as a major competitor to their much more profitable synthetic painkillers. A government ban of the substance will put just about every kratom supplier and vendor out of business.
The DEA kratom ban has been delayed, but the agency still plans to outlaw the plant in the near future. Once that happens, millions of responsible Americans who use the plant to treat pain, overcome anxiety, or kick an opioid habit will become felons practically overnight.
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