By Pat Anson, Editor
A natural supplement that most Americans are not familiar with is suddenly being thrust into the national spotlight and debate over opioid addiction.
Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries as a natural medicine. Only in recent years has kratom caught on in the United States – where the leaves are used in teas and supplements to treat pain, depression, anxiety and even addiction.
Since the DEA’s surprise decision was announced, many kratom supporters have written us saying that kratom is far more effective and safer than pharmaceutical drugs.
“I was amazed at the pain relief, energy, anxiety relief, and mood boost that it gave me,” wrote Connie Fuller, a high school teacher and mother of two who suffers from arthritis, fibromyalgia, back pain and other chronic conditions. “I still feel pain 24/7 but it’s quite tolerable most days and I gladly smile again. We MUST keep kratom legal so that I can keep my life.”
“I'm a kratom user of two years and my life has dramatically improved. I'm so scared about this. Not sure what I'm going to do. I don't want to be on pharmaceuticals again. But I don't want to be a criminal either,” said Jordan.
Is kratom really the “hazard to public safety” that the DEA says it is? Does it make people high? Where is the evidence that it actually works?
In an effort to answer some of these questions, Pain News Network has partnered with the American Kratom Association in an online survey to see why people use kratom, whether it is effective, and what they plan on doing if the sale and possession of kratom is criminalized by the DEA.
(Update: The survey is now closed. The results will be released September 20)
“The CDC, DEA and other federal agencies, as well as the media, believe that we are nothing but a bunch of teenagers or young adults who are only using kratom on a recreational basis and are abusing it,” says Susan Ash, who founded the American Kratom Association. “That is simply not the case. Our members are largely people in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. We have a lot of soccer moms, firefighters, lawyers and lobbyists who are members. To paint a truer picture of the kind of people that are using this product medicinally, this survey will be helpful in showing that we’re not the kind of people that they think we are.”
The DEA notice published in the Federal Register last week will classify the two main active ingredients in kratom -- mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine -- as Schedule I controlled substances, the same classification used for heroin, LSD and marijuana.
Although mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine are alkaloids, the DEA took the unusual step of calling them “opioid substances,” even though they don’t originate from the poppy plant like other opioid pain medications. The DEA saidkratom has “a high potential for abuse” and was linked to several deaths.
“In the United States, kratom is misused to self-treat chronic pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms, with users reporting its effects to be comparable to prescription opioids. Users have also reported dose-dependent psychoactive effects to include euphoria, simultaneous stimulation and relaxation, analgesia, vivid dreams, and sedation,” the DEA said.
“They did that on purpose,” says Ash. “They put ‘opioid’ in there to get sympathy from all of the Congress people already working on this issue, who will look at that Federal Register notice and say ‘Oh my God, another opioid.’ We need to ban it.”
Another unusual aspect of the DEA action is that there was no public notice or comment period, as there usually is when a controlled substance is scheduled. It will become illegal to possess or sell mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine – in other words, kratom itself – at the end of September.
“This emergency scheduling only gives people 30 days to come up with a solution. Most people can’t even get in to see their doctors in 30 days,” says Ash. “They’re putting tens of thousands of people in a position where they have to decide 'Do I go back to pharmaceuticals?' and 'Do I even have time to see my doctor?'
“We’re leaving people completely in the lurch that count on kratom for their health and well-being. People have been using kratom safely for years and these people are basically being told you need to cut off your use abruptly.”
Ash says the American Kratom Association is meeting with lawyers to pursue every possible legal avenue to stop or delay the DEA's scheduling process. She’s also hopeful that grassroots action, the rally in Washington, and the results of our survey will help educate the public and media about kratom’s benefits.