Last month, when the DEA dashed activist hopes for a rescheduling of cannabis, it also issued another lesser-noted decision—to put the psychoactive herb kratom in the same Schedule I classification as pot, that for the most dangerous drugs with no medical use. Advocates have launched a White House petition against the kratom ban, and have already won the required 100,000 signatures to trigger an administration reponse. The DEA decision takes effect on Sept. 30, while the White House has 60 days to respond to the petition, under its own policy.
The DEA press release on the decision says kratom has a “high potential for abuse,” and claims there have been 15 “kratom-related deaths” in the US over the past two years. But this is questioned by researchers, who want to be able to continue their research. Kratom is not used recreationally, but largely as an aid to those seeking to break heroin or opioid addictions. Therefore, it is likely that other factors could have been involved in the deaths attributed to kratom.
“We do not know what the actual health impact is of kratom in the United States,” Oliver Grundmann, a toxicologist at the University of Florida, told the health news website STAT. “The profile of those who are using kratom is not the usual profile of illicit drug users or those who seek the high… of a drug.”
Researchers agree that kratom, long used medicinally in Southeast Asia, poses some risks—including seizures, addiction, and possibly death. But they believe that if a responsible treatment for opioid addiction is found using the herb, it could ultimately save lives.
Meanwhile, addicts could continue to self-treat with kratom without medical oversight. As usual, the prohibitionist response seems counter-productive. We’ll be watching to see how the White House acts.