For centuries, people in a number of Asian countries have relied on the natural plant kratom. Native to Thailand, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea, the tropical evergreen tree known as Mitragyna speciosa has been refined to produce kratom, a traditional medicine for a wide variety of health concerns. In recent years, kratom has been imported into the United States, where it has enjoyed attention from ethnobotanical enthusiasts as well as the scientific community.
Concerns about the substance, particularly its active ingredients, has led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as of November 2017 to propose a ban on the importation, sale, and distribution of kratom. The agency is pushing for a total ban, arguing that there are risks from the use of kratom and that there is a rise in kratom-related deaths in the United States. The following article will discuss kratom’s uses as well as the position of the FDA in moving for a ban on importation of this ethnobotanical substance.
What is Kratom?
Kratom is a natural substance produced from Mitragyna speciosa, an evergreen tree that is a close relative of coffee. It grows in a number of Asian countries, particularly in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In those countries, it has been used as a traditional medicine for generations. It has both opioid-like and stimulant-like properties, depending on the amount ingested by users. The active ingredients the FDA is focusing on are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, two key psychoactive compounds.
How is Kratom Used?
Traditionally, kratom leaves were chewed or brewed into a tea and were used to combat a wide variety of ailments, including diarrhea, infections, and pain relief. It is viewed as a natural means of increasing energy and elevating the mood.
Today, kratom has been shown to hold promise for opioid-addiction treatment, particularly by staving off withdrawal symptoms while promoting pain relief. It is also used recreationally, often by smoking the plant material or by making it into a tea or cocktail preparation. Click here to learn more about its uses.
Why is the FDA Trying to Ban Kratom?
Leading proponents of kratom, such as United Kratom Association and Edens Ethnos founder Sebastian Guthery, know that the FDA is attempting to impose a ban on importation of the substance to U.S. shores. As recently as September 2016, the DEA attempted to classify kratom as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance in the United States. Schedule 1 drugs are classified as having no medical value and a high potential for abuse; drugs like LSD, methamphetamine, and heroin are also on the Schedule 1 list.
Despite a vocal public outcry during the public commenting period, the FDA has moved forward with a ban proposal. In November 2017, the agency issued a health advisory on kratom, saying that it has posed serious health risks as an uncontrolled and unapproved substance. The agency claims that kratom-related calls to poison control centers have skyrocketed, as have deaths associated with the use or overuse of this ethnobotanical product.
The scientific community has conducted limited studies on the properties, uses, and indications for kratom; it shows promise for treating a wide variety of health conditions. Despite this scientific evidence, the FDA claims that kratom’s importation threatens the health and well-being of Americans. Further scientific studies must be conducted on this ethnobotanical, and a ban on the importation will stifle the scientific process, potentially robbing many people of the potential health benefits this natural substance provides.