Drug Policy

DEA Withdrawing Awful Attempt to Completely Ban Kratom

After backlash, they've extended the comment period and called for FDA input.


David Becker / ZUMA Press / Splash News/Newscom

Sometimes outrage is the right response. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has heard loud and clear that it has very little support for its declaration that it was going to ban the pain-killing plant and possible opioid addiction treatment known as kratom.

The DEA announced at the end of August it was going to place kratom in schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act, meaning the government has determined that the drug had absolutely no medical purpose. This was an extreme overreaction, according to many researchers and even lawmakers, and they responded accordingly.

There were hints that the DEA might delay its own decision and today Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post got official confirmation. The DEA is withdrawing its notice that it will be placing kratom on the ban list.

But it's far from over, and one would have to be naïve to think that the feds would simply allow a psychoactive substance to be sold without any sort of oversight. The DEA is opening up a new comment period until December 1 and is asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate the use of the plant and suggest a "scheduling recommendation."

While this is all a massive improvement over what had initially be planned, kratom researchers and experts are nevertheless concerned over what is likely to happen next, Ingraham notes:

"It's certainly a positive development," said Andrew Kruegel of Columbia University in an email. Kruegel is one of the researchers working to develop next-generation painkillers based on compounds contained in kratom.

Kruegel says that the FDA's evaluation of the drug will carry a lot of weight in the DEA's decision. But the kind of rigorous, controlled trials that the FDA typically refers to in situations like this simply don't exist for kratom.

"Unfortunately, in the United States I don't think we have a good regulatory framework for handling this situation or taking perhaps more reasonable middle paths" between banning the drug outright or keeping it unregulated, Kruegel says.

Still, he says, "the FDA is a scientific agency rather than a law enforcement agency, so I am encouraged that they will now be having more serious input on this important policy decision."

Reason's Jacob Sullum has been weighing in on the oppressive "anything not permitted is strictly forbidden" approach the DEA has taken with drug controls. He wrote about the arbitrary nature of its knee-jerk effort to ban kratom just last week.

Read the DEA's withdrawal note here.