Kratom, a plant from Southeast Asia that produces mild, opioid-like effects, is set to become a severely prohibited drug if the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has its way, sparking protests among scientists and users who say the plant is beneficial.
The large, green leaves of the kratom plant are usually dried and powdered, chewed or brewed into a tea to serve as a tonic, painkiller and aid in treating opioid addiction. It has been used for centuries in Southeast Asia, and is available in the United States in powder or capsule forms.
But as of Friday, the DEA is set on classifying kratom as a Schedule I substance, putting in the same class as heroin, marijuana and other drugs that, according to federal policies, have “no currently acceptable medical use.” This designation will make kratom an illegal substance to purchase, possess or sell, and will make it even more restricted than cocaine or oxycodone, The Seattle Times reports.
The announcement has caused dismay in the scientific community, especially for those who have been studying the plant’s uses and potential benefits.
More than 50 members of the House of Representatives have sent a letter to the DEA, opposing its “hasty decision” and pointing out that the move “will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions — a significant public-health threat.”
The University of Mississippi, which until recently had the only DEA contract to grow marijuana, called it a “disservice to science.” The university has been leading in kratom research as a non-opium-based painkiller and alternative to other medications.
Christopher McCurdy, chairman of Biomolecular Sciences at the university, says putting kratom on a Schedule I designation means more bureaucracy and much more restrictions on something that could be valuable. His research team is now scrambling to get their findings on kratom out to a publication before the DEA drops the hammer.
Robin Moore, who works at smoke shop Holy Smoke on Capitol Hill, says that a large portion of their kratom customers use the plant as an opioid alternative for chronic pain or recovery plans, including anxiety, depression, alcohol and painkiller addiction. Without kratom, he adds, many who rely on the leaf would be “destroyed without it.”