Did the DEA Really Abandon Its Plan to Ban Kratom?

Has public support for kratom stopped the DEA in its proverbial tracks?

Several years ago, when I was living with my ex-boyfriend, I stumbled upon a package he received. The receipt said it was a bottle of kratom – a word I had never heard of before. A cursory Google search didn’t pull up much either, beside the fact it is “described” as an herbal supplement.

I never did ask him about it, what he was using it for or why he was searching on Chinese websites in the first place. In fact, I’d forgotten all about the strange herb…until I came across this article.

Now, not only is there a lot more known about kratom, it’s the subject of much debate lately.

The Past, Present and Future

Kratom is an herbal supplement derived from the leaves of a tree native to Southeast Asia, the Mitragyna speciose tree, which is a part of the coffee plant family. It’s been used for centuries as both a stimulant and a painkiller and has become popular in the U.S. for those coping with chronic pain.

It’s also used by those trying to wean themselves off opioids or alcohol, since it provides a milder painkilling effect than synthetic substances, such as methadone.

On August 31, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced its intention to classify the plant as a Schedule I substance – the most restrictive drug category, alongside drugs like heroin, ecstasy and LSD. The DEA initially proposed this category because kratom has a “high potential for abuse and has no currently accepted medicinal use in treatment in the United States.” In addition, the agency is trying to avoid what it called “an imminent hazard to public safety.” Under this new classification, then, possessing or selling kratom would become illegal, resulting in an immediate shutdown of all scientific studies on the herb’s role in opioid treatment.

The Public Strikes Back

After a public outcry from civilians, lawmakers and scientists alike, the agency moved to lift its ban on kratom in October – just one month later. The DEA now says it will instead open an official public comment period to last until Dec. 1, 2016 – giving the public the opportunity to share their feedback before it makes a final determination. The DEA has also requested the Food and Drug Administration expedite its scientific research and relay the findings.

After the public comment period ends Dec. 1, there are several routes the DEA could go. It could decide to temporarily ban kratom – or permanently place the plant in a scheduled category defined by the Controlled Substances Act. On the other hand, it could also decide to leave kratom unregulated.

What will kratom’s fate be? Only time will tell – stay tuned.

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