Democratic Rep. U.S. Lois Frankel has joined efforts to delay the DEA’s attempt to outlaw kratom tomorrow, claiming the drug – abused for its opioid-like effects – shows promise in treating addiction and outlawing the drug would halt research.
Frankel is one of 51 members of Congress who signed a letter to DEA Acting Administrator Charles Rosenberg on Sept. 26, asking the agency to “engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters.”
On Aug. 30 the Agency filed notice in the Federal Register that it intended to place kratom’s active ingredients ― the opioids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine ― on Schedule I, a list of drugs such as heroin that have no accepted medical and have a high potential for abuse.
Kratom is derived from a tree (Mitragyna speciosa korth) grown in Southeast Asia. It has become increasingly marketed and sold to recreational drug users as an alternative to controlled substances. Kratom is legal but is currently on the DEA’s “drugs of concern” list.
Law enforcement has seized kratom in various forms, including powder, plant, capsules, tablets, liquid, gum/resin and drug patch. Because the identity and purity levels are uncertain and inconsistent, “they pose significant health risk to users,” according to a DEA press release announcing the intention to ban kratom.
However, research funded by the National Institutes of Health at the University of Mississippi and University of Massachusetts found that a kratom extract, mitragynine, could be useful in treating opioid withdrawal.
In 2010 the schools applied for a patent. According to the patent application, “the present invention contemplates that kratom extract may also be useful for the treatment of other addictive drugs besides opiate derivatives.”
According to the letter sent to the DEA, outlawing kratom “will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions – a significant health threat,”
The ban proposed by DEA would go into effect on Sept. 30. The ban would sunset after two years and the agency could downgrade kratom to less restrictive Schedule 3 to 5 – drugs that are less addictive and have come medical use.
The response to the DEA’s announcement has been intense.
In a recent survey of 6,000 kratom users conducted by the Pain News Network and American Kratom Association, 98 percent of kratom users do not believe kratom is a harmful or dangerous substance; 75 percent said it is not possible to get “high” from kratom; and 95 percent said that making kratom illegal would be harmful or society.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers identified two exposures to kratom from 2000 and 2005. Between 2010 and 2015, U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that kratom abuse leads to agitation, irritability, tachycardia, nausea, drowsiness, and hypertension. Health risks found in kratom abusers include hepatotoxicity, psychosis, seizure, weight loss, insomnia, tachycardia, vomiting, poor concentration, hallucinations, and death.
DEA is aware of 15 kratom-related deaths between 2014 and 2016.