DEA Bans Kratom: Pros and Cons

In August 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration declared its intention to classify chemicals contained in kratom, a drug with effects similar to oxycodone and other opiates, as Schedule I substances. After protests broke out in front of the White House and Congress pushed back, the DEA announced its reconsideration of the ban in early October. No further statement has been released.

What Is Kratom?

Kratom is marketed as an herbal supplement and made from the tree Mitragyna speciosa (Korth). That classification is attributed to botanist Pieter Willem Korthals, who first described the plant in 1839, writing that the stigmas of its flowers resembled a bishop’s mitre. The supplement is used as an alternative to oxycodone or hydrocodone as its active chemicals, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, affect the same receptors in the brain. Kratom helps to relieve pain and causes a state of euphoria and relaxation. Available most widely on the Internet and occasionally offered at certain convenience stores and head shops, kratom is claimed by the DEA to have a high potential for abuse due to its sedative effects in high doses.

Are There Any Cons to the DEA’s Potential Scheduling?

Some claim a benefit to self-treatment with kratom. Due to the fact that it affects the same brain receptors as opioids, kratom may help relieve the severe withdrawal symptoms associated with oxycodone and hydrocodone abuse. A brief study on a single individual showed the beneficial self-treatment of chronic pain and opioid withdrawal. An article in Scientific American also referenced the experience of Susan Ash, the founder of the American Kratom Association, who used kratom to wean off an opioid addiction that stemmed from the treatment of her chronic Lyme disease. However, with such little research and the unpredictability of self-treatment, can it truly be considered beneficial and safe?

Positives of the Potential Ban

A study conducted in Malaysia on 293 regular users of kratom showed that more than half of the individuals who had used kratom for more than six months developed severe dependence issues on the drug. Additionally, 45% showed moderate dependence issues. Withdrawal symptoms existed in those who participated in the study. Physical withdrawal symptoms included pain, muscle spasms, sleep issues, hot flashes, decreased appetite and fever; psychological symptoms included restlessness, anger, tension, anxiety and depression. Since kratom is so similar to oxycodone and hydrocodone, the scheduling of the active chemicals may be a welcome relief. Often referred to as a “legal high,” the potential for addiction does exist and there should be no reason to expose individuals to yet another addictive substance on convenience store shelves. Individuals who are addicted to kratom should seek treatment just like those addicted to other substances. Alcohol, one of the most dangerous drugs on the market, is already widely available; why offer something as potentially dangerous as an opioid in stores as well? The DEA is also troubled by the self-treatment of opioid dependence with the use of kratom. Individuals who should truly be seeking help from medical professionals are instead turning to over-the-counter or through-the-Internet methods of treating serious dependence issues. There is an inherent danger in self-treatment and the agency hope to avoid any potential unnecessary deaths due to a lack of seeking proper medical treatment. Resources “DEA May Reconsider Its Ban on Herbal Painkiller Kratom” Scientific American “Self-treatment of opioid withdrawal using kratom (Mitragyna speciosa Korth)” Edward W. Boyer, Kavita M. Babu, Jessica E. Adkins, Christopher R. McCurdy and John H. Halpern “Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) dependence, withdrawal symptoms and craving in regular users” Singh D, Müller CP and Vicknasingam BK

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