Is Kratom the New Marijuana?

The DEA moves toward a ban on another plant with promising medical properties.


After the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced an "emergency" ban on kratom at the end of August, a spokesman for the agency said "our goal is to make sure this is available."

In case that was not confusing enough, the spokesman, Melvin Patterson, also told The Washington Post that kratom, a pain-relieving leaf from Southeast Asia, does not belong in Schedule I, the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act, even though that is where the DEA had just put it. He added that kratom, which the DEA says has "no currently accepted medical use," is "at a point where it needs to be recognized as medicine."

The DEA apparently was surprised by the backlash against its ban notice, which included angry calls to Capitol Hill, a demonstration near the White House, and letters from members of Congress. In October the agency withdrew the notice, saying it would delay a decision on kratom to allow time for public comments and input from the Food and Drug Administration. Patterson said criticism of the ban "was eye-opening for me personally," adding that "I want the kratom community to know that the DEA does hear them."

That attitude was quite a contrast to the deaf arrogance the DEA displayed when it announced it was temporarily placing the drug in Schedule I, a classification that lasts at least two years and could become permanent. Saying a ban was "necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety," the DEA summarily dismissed kratom's benefits while exaggerating its dangers.

Kratom, which acts as a stimulant or a sedative, depending on the dose, has been used for centuries in Southeast Asia to ease pain, boost work performance, and wean people from opiate addiction. But the DEA views all kratom use as "abuse."

Since the DEA assumed there was no legitimate reason to use kratom, it did not need to muster much evidence that the drug is intolerably dangerous. It claimed there have been "numerous deaths associated with kratom," by which it meant 30. In the whole world. Ever.

"Deaths associated with kratom" are not necessarily caused by kratom. "Kratom is considered minimally toxic," noted a 2015 literature review. "Although death has been attributed to kratom use, there is no solid evidence that kratom was the sole contributor to an individual's death."

As further proof of kratom's dangers, the DEA noted that "U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure" from 2010 through 2015, an average of 110 a year. By comparison, exposures involving analgesics accounted for nearly 300,000 calls in 2014, while antidepressants and antihistamines each accounted for more than 100,000.

NEXT: Will Donald Trump Screw Up V.A. Privatization? Probably.

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  1. Kratom is about as potent as weak tea. I’m missing the emergency here.

  2. There obviously weren’t enough people locked away and rotting in prisons across the nation for completely victimless crimes and god forbid people are permitted to make their own medical decisions without the heavy hand of the medical community and big pharmaceutical companies. The very same government that allows gun ownership to criminally insane people couldn’t possibly allow a handful of people to ease their own pain and suffering.
    Yeah, makes perfect sense.

  3. Thank you, Mr. Sullum, for keeping this issue alive. I’m very afraid that, as the months pass, the DEA will again attempt to place a hurried ban on kratom. It’s an important medication for my family. My husband, a Vietnam vet, uses it to help with the symptoms of his diabetes, which the VA said was caused by Agent Orange. One of my sisters uses it to help with the symptom of M.S. I have a son-in-law with chronic pain who uses it to stay off of opioids, and I use to to manage the severe symptoms of restless leg syndrome. None of us gets high on it, or has any significant side-effects. It is really an amazing medication. THANK YOU!!

  4. The Kratomic Punk! (Let’s Brew some Tea!)

    I am a victim of the drug-war age
    A child of the storm, whoa yes
    I can’t remember when I was your age
    For me, it says no more, no more
    Nobody rules these streets at night like me, the kratomic punk!
    Whoa yeah, wow
    I am the ruler of these drug-war worlds
    The underground, whoa yes
    On every wall and place my fearsome name is heard
    Just look around, whoa yes
    Nobody rules these streets at night like me, the kratomic punk!
    Ooo, ahhh
    I am the ruler of these drug-war worlds
    The underground, oh, oh
    On every wall and place my fearsome name is heard
    Look around, whoa yeah
    Nobody rules these streets at night like me, nobody, ah
    The kratomic punk!

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  9. I think the truth needs to be promoted out there about the benefits of kratom. Great article. Thanks for spreading the truth about how helpful kratom is.

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