Kratom: Understanding the Plant and Legality

What is the legality of kratum in the United States? And why do people use it?
Kratom: Understanding the Plant and Legality
Courtesy of Ketum

Cannabis and Kratom—two natural, medicinal substances often attacked by the DEA. The DEA has listed kratom as a “drug of concern” and previously attempted to permanently add it to the federal list of controlled substances. Consumers use both kratom and cannabis for a plethora reasons and many of the reasons are similar. But what is kratom and how is the legal situation similar to and different from the legal issues surrounding cannabis? 

Kratom: Understanding the Plant and Legality
Courtesy of Ketum

What is Kratom?

Kratom, or mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical evergreen tree that is related to the coffee plant. It is native to Southeast Asia and has likely been used medicinally for thousands of years. It is traditionally ingested by chewing on the leaves or prepared as a tea, but can be consumed in a number of ways. Kratom contains a number of alkaloids including mitragynine, 7-hydroxymitragynine, paynantheine, and speciogynine. 

Kratom is used for a number of reasons and users report a range of effects from stimulation and focus to pain relief and relaxation. Research indicates that it potentially helps those who suffer from addiction to opiates or opioids and may relieve anxiety. Studies also show that it may help to manage pain and reduce fatigue. It may even help with diarrhea, and cough. Additionally, a recent John Hopkins Medicine survey concluded that the psychoactive compound in kratom  is likely less harmful than prescription opioids in the treatment of pain, anxiety, depression, and addiction. 

The effects are determined by the amount of kratom taken as well as the color of the vein in the kratom leaves. The main colors of the veins are red, green, and white. In addition, there are different strains of kratom similar to the way there are strains of cannabis. These strains are often named by the region that kratom originated. Some common names include Thai, Malay, and Bali. 

Red veined kratom is typically known for having relaxing effects that bring on a sense of well-being. The tranquility may help you get to sleep, reduce pain, or ease anxiety. Users often suggest red strains, like Red Bali, for the pain relieving effects or their ability to help with opiate withdrawal symptoms. 

White veined kratom lands on the opposite end of the spectrum from red veined kratom. White strains are usually touted as the most energizing strains and users report focus and increased productivity. Some people may also have an improved mood. It is commonly consumed in the morning along with, or in place of, coffee. White Maeng Da is described as having stimulant effects without causing anxiety or other negative side effects. 

Finally, green vein kratom is said to have a balance between stimulating and relaxing effects. These strains are often used for providing a mild sense of wellbeing and relaxation, but do not cause the user to feel sleepy. Super Green Malay is one of the most popular kratom strains and is known for pleasant, long-lasting effects. 

Kratom: Understanding the Plant and Legality
Courtesy of Ketum

Kratom Processing

A lot of consumers are interested in the process of manufacturing kratom and how additional colors of kratom are determined. To properly grow the kratom, the tree needs to be grown in a specific climate and environment just like other medicinal plants including cannabis. The preferred environment for kratom production is warm and humid with lots of sunlight. The trees can grow as high as 80 feet tall under ideal conditions at full maturity. The large leaves will be dark green and have a glossy texture. Since kratom is an evergreen, the leaves will regrow rapidly after the existing leaves are dropped. This means that kratom can be grown and produced all year long. 

When the kratom leaves grow to the preferred maturity, they can be picked and collected. Red kratom strains use very mature leaves. White strains use the youngest leaves and green strains use leaves that are less mature than reds, but more mature than white strains. 

Once the leaves are collected, they have to undergo a drying process. This process can be done in the shade or in full sunlight depending on the producer. This point in the process can alter the type of kratom even more. Farmers use unique processes to make popular kratom strains. The Red Bentuangie strain is fermented after the leaves are harvested which often results in a darker color powder. This is thought to work by increasing the alkaloid percentage. Additionally, some vendors sell yellow veined kratom that has undergone unique curing and processing to create a different range of effects.  

Now that the leaves are fully dried, they will be ground or crushed into the desired consistency. Crushed leaves are great for making tea while fine powders are often consumed in their current form or placed into capsules

Kratom: Understanding the Plant and Legality
Courtesy of Ketum

Kratom Legality

Government agencies have had kratom in their sights for a while and claim that it does not offer any therapeutic benefits and poses a wide range of problems for users and society. In 2016, the DEA temporarily banned kratom and two of the primary alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, as Schedule I substances. However, this Notice of Intent was withdrawn later in the same year. Additionally, it has recently been discovered that the DEA is no longer investigating kratom and has not been investigating it since 2019. Kratom remains legal at the federal level in the United States, but some states have restrictions and regulations on kratom. 

Kratom laws are more straightforward than cannabis laws; however, it is always important to know whether it is legal in your state. Check out this table to compare the legality of cannabis, kratom, CBD, and Delta-8 THC. Keep local city and county levels in mind as well because there are numerous local municipalities that have regulations and laws currently in effect for the possession, sale, and distribution of kratom. In addition to the states in the table, there are several states that have additional regulations on distribution. Some have regulations on the sale of kratom to those under the age of 18 or 21.

SubstanceFederal LevelState Level
KratomLegalIllegal: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin
Pending Legislation and
Some Additional Cities and Counties where Kratom is Illegal: San Diego, CA, Sarasota County, FL, Jerseyville City, NJ, Various Counties and Cities in Mississippi (plus pending state bill), Franklin City, NH, Pending Legislation in New Jersey, Pending Legislation in Oklahoma
CannabisIllegal Over .3% THCRecreational: Alaska, Arizona, California, D.C., Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington 
Medical: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia
CBDLegal if derived from hemp with less than .3% THCIllegal Unless Derived from hemp with 0% THC: Nebraska and Idaho
Delta-8 THCLegalIllegal: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Rhode Island, Utah

Even though the DEA has backed off of kratom and more and more states continue to decriminalize or legalize medical or recreational cannabis, the fight is far from over. The DEA’s attempt to ban kratom was placed on hold due to the overwhelming response from advocates including doctors and congressional representatives. If kratom were to be banned, research would be made difficult or impossible to conduct. More research is needed to discover the benefits and uses of kratom as well as harm reduction methods and potential side effects. The American Kratom Association strives to support kratom and to educate Americans about the plant in order to generate positive awareness. 

Kratom has gained significant popularity in recent years and many consumers are determined to spread their positive experiences with the plant. Whether someone suffers with addiction, pain, anxiety, or fatigue, kratom is a potential, affordable, and safer alternative to prescription drugs.

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