A potential U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency ban on the popular herbal supplement kratom will not go into effect as originally outlined. The agency has formally withdrawn its plan to place the plant on the list of Schedule I drugs under the Controlled substances Act.
In August, the DEA announced that two active chemicals found in kratom, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, should be included alongside other drugs like LSD and heroin. According to the agency, a Schedule I drug has no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse.
After extensive protest from kratom users and supporters, the DEA decided to begin a public comment period that will end on December 1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will also officially study the plant to determine any scientific or medicinal viability.
The DEA will review submitted comments and the FDA’s evaluation before making a final decision to ban kratom. After the December 1 deadline, the agency may put kratom on the Schedule I list if any “potential for abuse” is found.
To reinstate the ban, the agency will need to file a new notice of intent and the prohibition will take effect 30 days later. If the DEA kratom ban goes into effect, it could either be temporary or permanent, essentially making the popular herbal supplement illegal in the U.S. In contrast, the DEA could make the decision to not ban the substance and leave kratom unregulated.
Used for generations in Southeast Asia as an alternative to traditional medicine, kratom is derived from the leaves of the Mitragyna speciose, part of the coffee family. Taken in low doses, the herb acts as a stimulant, while at higher doses, it creates a sedative effect. It is believed that the herb activates the opioid receptors in the brain.
While kratom has been known throughout Asia for hundreds of years, it has only recently become popular in the West. The herb is easily purchased online or at many health food stores as a powder or in capsules. Advocates for kratom claim the herb can help relieve numerous health issues, including chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Some even tout its ability to help people suffering from opioid addiction wean themselves off more dangerous drugs like heroin.
The news of the DEA kratom ban delay has many advocate groups celebrating a hard-fought win.
“This is a truly remarkable moment to see the Drug Enforcement Administration, a law enforcement agency with a long track record of ignoring both science and public opinion, being forced to consider the scientific evidence and public opinion before taking additional steps with respect to kratom,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “People who oppose a federal kratom ban only have about six weeks to tell the federal government that kratom does not belong in our broken drug scheduling system.”
“We believe kratom should not be scheduled in any way, shape or form,” Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association, told The Huffington Post. “It’s been consumed safely for decades in the U.S. and world-wide for millennium, so there is no impetus to make it a controlled substance. We look forward to working cooperatively with the DEA as they conduct their review.”
Earlier this month, DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg received letters from two groups of lawmakers requesting a halt of the kratom ban. The letters urged the agency to allow time for proper research of the plant before hastily prohibiting a supplement that may have “therapeutic potential with relatively few risk factors.”
Except for a small handful of states that have banned the sales and distribution of the supplement, kratom remains legal in the U.S. While the DEA’s final decision on the herb will not be made until at least the end of the year, many researchers fear placing kratom on the Schedule I list of drugs will fundamentally stop any further study of a plant that could ultimately replace other, more addictive opiate painkillers.
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