By Pat Anson, Editor
Mitragyna speciose has some fans out there.
Tens of thousands of people who use kratom supplements – made from the leaves of the Mitragyna speciose tree that grows in southeast Asia – are furious over a decision by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to classify two chemicals in kratom as Schedule I controlled substances, right alongside heroin, LSD and marijuana.
The DEA said the move is necessary because the two main active ingredients in kratom -- mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine – are not approved as drugs and pose “an imminent hazard to public safety.” The DEA filed notice in the federal register that it plans to implement the decision at the end of the month and make kratom illegal, despite a growing public outcry.
“People are going to die because of this,” said James, one of dozens of Pain News Network readers who wrote to tell us that kratom supplements relieve their chronic pain, depression and anxiety, and also helps ease withdrawal symptoms from opioid and alcohol dependence.
“An herb that has killed no one is being banned. Many people will turn to more dangerous drugs, and others who are already addicted to opiates will not have the option of using kratom to quit,” James wrote.
“This is ridiculous! Did we learn anything from alcohol prohibition? It gave us illegal moonshine, bath tub gin and other dangerous concoctions that caused blindness and death,” wrote Bob Thompson.
“I know many people who have used and are still using kratom for pain and/or to get themselves off of drugs such as Suboxone and methadone,” said Jennifer. “It’s been a life saver for so many people, helping them have a better quality of life and not be dependent on the highly addictive crap like Oxycontin & hydrocodone. The DEA is such an evil empire.”
Many readers see a dark conspiracy behind the DEA’s action -- a scheme engineered by the pharmaceutical industry to eliminate a cheap competitor.
“I am pretty sure that the government wants to ban kratom to use it in pharmaceuticals later,” said Marlo. “They want it for themselves so they can eventually charge large amounts of money (for a) prescription form after the police have ‘cleaned up the streets’ from it.“
“The government is doing everything they can to keep people on pharma drugs and away from natural supplements,” said Rachel. “I am so sick of big pharma, big government, a broken medical system and the loss of personal freedom to choose what is best for oneself.”
“This is unbelievable. Our government is straight up sinister,” wrote Dan. “To take a plant that is so benign, with very limited side effects, that helps people with pain management and that helps others get off of hard drugs, and to make it illegal in the same category as meth and heroin is criminal.”
Whether you buy into the conspiracy theories or not, the fact is thousands of law-abiding citizens who’ve been buying kratom online and in health food stores for years have been shocked into the sudden realization that after September 30 they could be at risk of arrest, fines and imprisonment for violating the Controlled Substance Act.
In less than a week, over 50,000 people signed a WhiteHouse.gov petition asking the Obama administration to stop the DEA from scheduling kratom as a Schedule I narcotic.
The American Kratom Association has also threatened a lawsuit and is planning a march on the White House on September 13th.
Is the DEA listening?
But the odds of the DEA reversing course appear slim. The agency’s announcement Tuesday in the Federal Register clearly states that a public notice and comment period usually required under Section 553 of the federal Administrative Procedure Act “do not apply to this notice.”
“The (DEA) Administrator finds that there is good cause to forgo the notice and comment requirements of section 553, as any further delays in the process for issuance of temporary scheduling orders would be impracticable and contrary to the public interest in view of the manifest urgency to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety,” the notice states.
Is there a public safety hazard?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kratom poses an “emerging public health threat,” although the evidence cited by the CDC in a report last month seems almost laughable. The agency said there was a grand total of 660 calls to U.S. poison control centers about kratom in the last six years. Less than 8 percent of the calls involved a major life threatening condition and only one death was reported – a person who ingested antidepressant and anticonvulsant medications in addition to kratom.
As an article in Forbes points out, those 660 calls to poison control centers pale in comparison to the 6,843 kids who swallowed laundry detergent packets in the first seven months of this year.
But some say the DEA’s action is long overdue.
“This is a necessary and welcome step, but unless it is followed with real enforcement and penalties for those who are selling (kratom) in coffee bars, on the internet, and elsewhere, it will be toothless,” said Dan Frabricant, CEO and Executive Director of the Natural Products Association, an industry trade group.
“Kratom is not an herbal supplement: it is addictive, harmful, and worse, it may be contributing to America’s opiate epidemic. We are eager to work with the authorities and our members to help turn the tide against Kratom and ensure that it is seen as what the DEA says it is, a schedule I illegal narcotic that has no place in health or wellness.”
Can anything stop the DEA?
“We have spoken with many people who have been advised by lawyers that the most effective way to combat this is by having each individual who has a care for this cause to contact your congressman,” the American Kratom Association said in a statement. “Congressional action is needed to show the lies and false science issued about this plant in order to protect big pharmaceutical company. It is important to call in a polite manner and just share your story in a positive way.”