Kratom outlawed Sept. 30
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“In less than a week, this drink will accrue six felonies,” said Ashley Daily, owner of the Euphorbia Kava Bar on Oak Street.
Daily gave a sad smile as she lamented the legal status of the brew she’d just concocted: kratom tea.
Kratom leaves, indigenous to Southeast Asia, are derived to make an herbal drug that has been used for centuries in folk medicine to treat alcohol withdrawal, chronic pain and gastrointestinal problems.
On Aug. 25, 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced its decision to list kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance. Once the law goes into effect on Sept. 30, 2016, it will be illegal to distribute, possess or grow the supplement in the United States.
The decision has been met with significant criticism from advocates of the drug, who report that kratom’s pain-relieving sedative effects were key to alleviating opioid addiction and anxiety, as well as being a safe, natural alternative to pharmaceutical pain medication.
On Sept. 13, a march was organized in Washington, D.C., to campaign for kratom legality.
More than 100,000 people signed a petition entreating President Obama to stop the Food and Drug Administration from taking kratom off the market.
Lauren Hall, psychology junior, is someone who has seen the benefits of kratom while caring for patients at the Visions Adolescent Treatment Center for Youths in Malibu, California.
“I worked with kids who were recovering heroin addicts, and methadone made them drowsy and zombie-like; it was so detrimental to their health, and it wasn’t safe.
Kratom has only given these patients minor stomach discomfort. This simple drink is such a better alternative,” Hall said.
DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno maintains that the ban was not born out of a lack of sympathy for former opioid addicts.
It is the lack of “legitimate medical use and quality control” with the substance that led to it being listed as a drug of concern for the agency.
“We’ve seen the use of kratom skyrocket in the last few years, and the lack of regulation was troubling to us. People don’t know what they are consuming from one dose to another, and fifteen deaths have been linked to the substance. The science and lack of substantial approval from the FDA compelled us to step in,” Carreno said.
Kratom supporters are hesitant to believe that statements like these reflect the best interests of the American populace, believing that pushing kratom out of the market and into illicit markets will cause much more harm than it will reduce, as well as generating new revenue streams for a criminal justice system some believe is corrupt.
“It’s interesting that the two active ingredients in kratom being banned, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, have already been synthesized by pharmaceutical companies and are ready for mass production,” Daily said.
“Everyone can grow a plant and make this tea or powder, so nobody can monopolize it. After the ban, natural kratom is going to be illegal while its artificial derivative will be sold over counters nationwide,” Daily said.
Daily hosted one last celebration of kratom at Euphorbia Kava Bar Sept. 23 before discontinuing its sale entirely before the ban. On Sept. 26, a bipartisan contingent of 45 members of Congress sent two letters to Chuck Rosenberg, acting administrator of the DEA, and Shaun Donovan, Office of Management and Budget director.
“This significant regulatory action was done without any opportunity for public comment from researchers, consumers and other stakeholders,” the letter read. “This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement.”