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Kratom, she says, "would be a terrible recreational drug. You either drink a liquid extract of kratom or swallow it as a powder, and it tastes awful. It tastes like green tea mixed with dirt."
Anyone looking for a high, legal or otherwise, is going to be disappointed by kratom, according to Dr. Jack Henningfield, the former chief of the Clinical Pharmacology Research Branch at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
"Kratom has what is known as a ceiling effect – that is, the pain relief it provides in larger doses has a definite limit. No matter how much you take, it is never going to reproduce the effect of a morphine-like opiate," Henningfield said.
"The best comparison is caffeine. People drink coffee or cola to get the stimulant effect of caffeine. But even drinking a lot of coffee is never going to achieve the stimulant effect of amphetamines because caffeine also has a ceiling effect."
Henningfield is vice president of Health Policy and Abuse Liability at Pinney Associate, a scientific consulting firm. (Pinney was hired to study kratom by United Naturals, which makes a low-dose liquid extract of kratom that it sells as a short-term energy booster.)
"My team and I reviewed the medical literature to determine the potential for abuse of kratom," Henningfield said. "Again, the best comparison is caffeine. Some people may come to depend on it for its effects, but it doesn't pose a real danger of addiction or other severe adverse effects."
CSB member Dr. Timothy Westlake sees the possible public benefits in making kratom legal again.
"We're trying to decrease the amount of opiates that are prescribed for pain. [Kratom] is not a panacea, but the addictive potential seems a heck of a lot less than that of opiates," Westlake, a physician, said at last week's meeting.
Descheduling kratom in Wisconsin would be a long process. But last week the board voted unanimously to take the first step, directing its staff to research how the two chemicals in kratom found their ways onto last year's list of substances to be scheduled.
The only reason the CSB took that first, tentative step is because Kerry Biggs and a group of other Wisconsinites represented by AKA pressed the board to do so at its August meeting.
Biggs, who attended the more recent CSB December, was pleased by the board's action. She intends to make the long drive from her Milwaukee home to Madison every time kratom is on the board's agenda.
"I'll keep coming back, as many times as necessary," Biggs said. "This is very important to me. It's very important to a lot of people."
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