The DEA’s deadline for placing kratom alkaloids on the schedule 1 controlled substance list grows closer, and the outpouring of support for the ancient plant grows louder.
More than 130,000 people have signed a petition on WhiteHouse.gov to keep kratom legal. The effort is drawing attention in high places.
Two congressmen have penned a “dear colleague letter” asking that the DEA ”delay a final decision on the placement of kratom as a schedule I [and]
provide ample time for public comment on this significant decision,”… which the agency has so far declined to do.
I see a pattern here with government agencies like the CDC and the DEA using covert processes to create new prohibitions on a regular basis:
- first opioids were practically banned,
- then marijuana was left in the most dangerous schedule despite overwhelming scientific evidence it does not belong there, and
- now a ban on kratom suddenly appears.
Congressmen Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) drafted the letter that will be circulated to every member of Congress. The kratom community is now reaching out to their representatives to sign onto the Pocan-Salmon letter.
The DEA has justified its plan by citing stats showing a reported increase in calls to poison control centers involving kratom.
These were published in a CDC weekly report in July that seems to have been at least partially a trigger for what’s happened since. The DEA also cited 15 deaths between 2014 and 2016 the agency says are attributable to kratom use. Since these stats are at the core of the schedule 1 plan, they deserve closer attention.
When you investigate the stats, and slog through online forums where people discuss their experiences with the plant, a couple of trends emerge.
One is that the potential for harm is highest when someone is ingesting kratom with other substances.
When someone who has taken kratom overdoses, it’s typical for a toxicology report to show they were also using other drugs, and the question then becomes which substances triggered the overdose.
Accounts of kratom-only overdose are exceedingly rare, and some would argue they simply don’t exist. Fourteen of the 15 alleged kratom-related deaths cited by the DEA involved other drugs, as reported by NPR.
The other trend is that people experiencing negative outcomes with kratom are often using concentrated extracts, many times more potent than the traditional powdered leaf material.
Having said that, the situation isn’t far removed from that of our favorite legal drug, caffeine.
A great analogy, true of so many other substances as well:
Drinking a cup of coffee will reliably provide the caffeine boost we all know well, with some downsides.
Drinking a concentrated caffeine product will provide a more acute effect and worse downsides.
Drink enough of the concentrated form and the downsides can quickly become severe. At least 34 people are documented to have died in the U.S. from overdosing on caffeinated energy drinks since 2004.
Same principle applies to nicotine.
With caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
we accept that consumers must exercise personal responsibility in using the products, and
we know that a certain percentage of consumers will not.
For good or bad, that’s life in an open society with a free market.
We don’t punish the majority of responsible consumers for the missteps of the minority.
Oh, yes we do!
Pain patients are punished for that tiny percentage of overdoses in a tiny population of the 3% – 5% pain patients for whom use becomes problematic.
Unlike nicotine and alcohol, and more profoundly than caffeine, kratom actually provides its responsible users with benefits, often for people who felt like they’d run out of options.
I covered this point in my previous article but it bears repeating: read the personal testimonials and you’ll see one after another report that kratom was the last hope in a battle against drugs that were killing them, and to treat pain that was driving them to life-long addiction. For those people, this is about life and death.
A final few words are worth mentioning on what is perhaps the most difficult angle of this story to flesh out: conflicting interests.
Because kratom alkaloids have documented benefits related to treatment of pain and mitigating the nightmare of opioid withdrawal, you might assume they’ve attracted the interest of those vested in the invention and sale of new pharmaceuticals. It doesn’t require a conspiratorial stretch to find evidence of this interest.
Afer this, David goes on to describe the breadcrumbs he’s followed so far, but I don’t want to seem like I’m advocating for a conspiracy theory. Of course, we all know that money rules, so it’s not so much a conspiracy as a clever marketing strategy.