For centuries, people in Southeast Asia have used the leaves of the kratom tree—a member of the coffee family—as a pain reliever and mood balancer. Thanks largely to the internet, the rest of the world learned about the benefits of kratom and began using it to treat a variety of conditions, including…
- Chronic pain
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
In the United States, however, government officials recently tried to make the use of kratom illegal—in fact, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) attempted to add this plant-based remedy to the list of Schedule I drugs!
Why the DEA Tried to Categorize Kratom as an Illegal Drug
The substances categorized as Schedule I drugs, which are determined to have no currently accepted medical use, include…
- Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
- 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy)
The DEA began to scrutinize kratom after poison control centers noted 660 reports of adverse reactions to kratom products between January 2010 and December 2015.
Anita Gupta, DO, special advisor to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), acknowledged that there may be some validity to concerns voiced by the DEA and other physicians, but stated that “it is not at all clear kratom is the culprit behind the adverse effects”
Dr. Gupta, an osteopathic anesthesiologist, pain specialist, and licensed pharmacist, has seen many patients who have experienced the benefits of kratom. “My patients are seeking non-pharmaceutical remedies to treat pain that lack the side effects, risk, and addiction potential of opioids,” Gupta said in a press release accompanying a report on kratom published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA).
Scientists and Concerned Citizens Fight Back
The DEA’s attempt to ban kratom led to immediate backlash from the public as well as from the scientific community. Not only do many researchers disagree with the DEA’s assertion that kratom should be treated like a dangerous drug, but they also believe it could be an invaluable asset in addressing the country’s opioid crisis.
If the Schedule I classification went through, research on kratom would be severely hindered. More than 140,000 individuals signed a petition asking the White House to intervene, and 50 members of Congress publically spoke out against the DEA’s failure to ask for public input, as is customary.
“No Question” About Kratom’s Medicinal Value
Documented medical use of kratom date back to at least 1836, however, modern science has only begun to document the effects of this remarkable plant. Marc T. Swogger, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and Elain Hart, an associate scientist in the department of immunology, recently carried out a qualitative study on kratom use that many are drawn to the plant as an alternative to pharmaceutical pain treatments. They also found scant evidence of the harmful side effects cited by the DEA in their explanation for their proposed ban.
According to the first-hand accounts from individuals who used kratom analyzed by Swogger and Hart, kratom shows potential as a means of reliving pain…improving mood…and alleviating anxiety. They hope to continue their research on kratom in controlled, qualitative studies.
“There’s no question kratom compounds have complex and potentially useful pharmacologic activities,” said Walter Prozialeck, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, and author of the special report on kratom published by the JAOA. “Many important medications, including the breast cancer treatment tamoxifen, were developed from plant research,” Prozialeck added.
Legal, For Now…?
In response to outcry from the public and the scientific community, the DEA backed off their plan to outlaw kratom, opened the process up to official input from the FDA and the public. The period to comment on how kratom should be classified ended on December 1, 2016. As of now, the plant remains legal in under federal law.