Will The DEA Still Ban Kratom? Agency Receives Thousands Of Pleas To Keep The Substance Legal

John Houck

After the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced it wanted to ban the natural supplement kratom earlier this year, the agency received a wave of criticism from users and advocates. In response, the agency decided to delay the prohibition and open up a public comment period, which ended on December 1.

So far, the agency has been slammed with over 22,000 public comments, most of which are in opposition to the DEA's proposed ban on the substance, according to Pain News Network. In August, the agency announced it would make the sale and possession of kratom a felony by adding it to the list of Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.

"I think the quality of the comments and the quantity of the comments show that kratom really does have potential and that the three to five million people that are consuming kratom would suffer greatly if it becomes a Schedule I controlled substance," Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association, told Pain News Network.

Users of kratom claim the supplement helps relieve a variety of health issues, including chronic pain and anxiety. Others claim the plant can help overcome an addiction to prescription painkillers.

"Please don't ban kratom," wrote Saundra Geer. "It's the one natural alternative to opioids that I can take for my severely chronic fibromyalgia, RSD, and several other chronic pain diseases or illnesses."

One person, who has been taking the supplement for the past four years, explained how a DEA kratom ban would lead to negative consequences.

"I am [a] 62 yrs old veteran and have suffered from depression, anxiety & PTSD all my life. If kratom is banned by the DEA my quality of life will decrease tremendously. My life was out of control with benzodiazepines. With kratom, I can live a somewhat anxiety-free life and not have all the negative side effects that come with benzodiazepines."

The 127-page analysis concluded that kratom does not pose any significant public health threat and suggested the plant be regulated as a natural supplement under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, joining other herbs like St. Johns Wort and Valerian.

According to the research, the effects of kratom "are generally mild and caffeine stimulant-like at lower dosages," and using the herb does not negatively affect a person's daily life. There is a substantially lower risk of side effects and abuse when compared to other commonly prescribed drugs, wrote Henningfield in the report.

A DEA kratom ban would essentially create a black market for the substance, noted the study. Illegal sales for the herb would do more to damage to public health than maintaining access through a regulated marketplace.

However, not everyone supports keeping kratom legal. Daniel Fabricant, the CEO and Executive Director of the Natural Products Association, wants the DEA to ban the plant.

"Adding an untested and unregulated substance such as kratom to our food supply without the application of longstanding federal rules and guidelines would not only be illegal, it could likely be dangerous, leading to serious unintended consequences as our nation struggles with the crisis of opioid addiction."

Kratom, a member of the coffee family and derived from trees native to Southeast Asia, can be easily purchased online or at health food stores. Kratom is usually packaged as a powder, which can be brewed into a tea or put into capsules.

When consumed, kratom acts on the brain in much the same way as opioids like heroin and oxycodone do. As the herb mirrors some of the effects of opioids, some think kratom can be very addictive. It is for this reason that the DEA believes the drug is a threat to public health and needs to be banned.

Now that the December 1 deadline has passed, the DEA will review the thousands of comments received and then decide if a kratom ban will go into effect and make the herb a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin or ecstasy. The agency has not said how long the review will take.

[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]