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The Federal Government Is Trying to Ban Kratom (Again)

So much for "everything which is not forbidden is allowed."

A mitragynine molecule, which is the herbal alkaloid present in kratom. Source:OLEKUUL/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Science PhotoA mitragynine molecule, which is the herbal alkaloid present in kratom. Source:OLEKUUL/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Science PhotoA year after the Drug Enforcement Administration attempted to ban the plant-based drug kratom, only to back down when users claimed it helped them with opioid withdrawal symptoms, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Monday that is has begun blocking the importation of kratom products.

"To fulfill our public health obligations, we have identified kratom products on two import alerts and we are working to actively prevent shipments of kratom from entering the U.S.," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced in a blog post today. His agency "has detained hundreds of shipments of kratom," Gottlieb adds. "We've used our authority to conduct seizures and to oversee the voluntary destruction of kratom products. We're also working with our federal partners to address the risks posed by these imports."

Kratom is native to Southeast Asia and part of the coffee family. It works as a mild stimulant in low doses, and as a sedative in high doses. Users buy it as a nutritional or herbal supplement, and it has some rather well-known adherents in the internet community, including podcaster Joe Rogan and filmmaker Christopher Bell, who used kratom to ween himself off prescription painkillers after an injury.

Gottlieb claims that the supplement is dangerous and has no demonstrated medical value:

Calls to U.S. poison control centers regarding kratom have increased 10-fold from 2010 to 2015, with hundreds of calls made each year. The FDA is aware of reports of 36 deaths associated with the use of kratom-containing products. There have been reports of kratom being laced with other opioids like hydrocodone. The use of kratom is also associated with serious side effects like seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms.

But as Reason's Jacob Sullum reported last year, several hundred reports of adverse reactions to kratom are a miniscule number compared to other drugs:

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol causes about 88,000 deaths a year in this country, while 28,000 deaths were attributed to heroin and opioid painkillers in 2014. Kratom looks pretty benign by comparison.

Another point to keep in mind: "Deaths associated with kratom" are not necessarily caused by kratom. "Kratom is considered minimally toxic," noted a 2015 literature review in the International Journal of Legal Medicine. "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.

In his announcement, Gottlieb revealed that the DEA asked the FDA to conduct a medical review of kratom, which is the first step in the traditional process of adding a subtance to the government's "schedule" of restricted drugs. While he encourages "those who believe in the proposed medicinal uses of kratom...to conduct the research that will help us better understand kratom's risk and benefit profile," his postion right now is that "there are currently no FDA-approved therapeutic uses of kratom."

Based on Gottlieb's tone, I expect the FDA will work with the DEA to put kratom in Schedule I—the most tightly regulated category of drugs—until researchers provide evidence of its therapeutic utility. A full clinical trial of the drug would likely take a decade to complete and cost tens of millions of dollars. In the meantime, moving the drug to sSchedule I would criminalize its purchase, use, sale, production, and importation.

For more on kratom, here's filmmaker Chris Bell talking to Reason.tv about how the plant changed his life:

Photo Credit: MOLEKUUL/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Science Photo

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  • Crusty Juggler||

    it has some rather well-known adherents in the internet community, including podcaster Joe Rogan

    Riggs' Rules

    Number 1: always trust a man who wears a fanny pack

  • Mike Riggs||

    Do we frequent the same gym? I never lift without my fanny pack.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    My God.

  • jogibew||

    I'm making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

    This is what I do... www.netcash10.com

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Rob Dyrdek? I guess he knows a lot about drugs as well as skateboards.

  • Rich||

    "We've used our authority to conduct seizures and to oversee the voluntary destruction of kratom products."

    "*Voluntary* seizures, of course."

  • BlueStarDragon||

    Now that marijuana is being legalize, they seem to need a new plant to criminalize so the D.E.A can continue to justify it's existence. Plus the government get to justify it's wasting of 25 billion plus dollars for a drug war.

  • SQRLSY One||

    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!

  • Crying Zelda Morning Link||

    It was only a matter of time before they tried again, especially with MAGA-boy Sessions around. Mike Munger was on EconTalk a few weeks ago discussing "Permissionless Innovation" and the assumption in America that you can do something unless it's prohibited. But the assumption with drugs is that they're prohibited unless validated with expensive and drawn-out studies.

  • Zeb||

    Gottlieb claims that the supplement is dangerous and has no demonstrated medical value

    No, it's not dangerous and the only reason it has not demonstrated medical benefits is that no one has demonstrated any yet. It's pretty ridiculous that "no demonstrated medical value" is an argument for banning something.

  • Zeb||

    I think that before recent years, the only country to ban Kratom was Thailand, and they only banned it because it was fucking up the government's opium monopoly.

  • Crying Zelda Morning Link||

    I thought that Australia had too, but it was more to do with marginalizing Thai immigrants than health concerns. So very Drug War.

  • Berserkerscientist||

    I've used low doses of Kratom for general pain for over a year. The good thing about Kratom is you get nauseous if you take too much. Its euphoric effects are very mild. I haven't experienced any side effects, beyond some mild nausea (and it tastes gross). Luckily, I live in Canada, where its still in the gray market.

  • Crying Zelda Morning Link||

    While I use more frequently than I used to, my dose has never increased. I prefer the less euphoric strains; I like the mild stimulant effects most. But the main reason I take it is because it takes away my desire to drink. I've noticed that I play piano a little better too. The only side effects are that my eyes get dry and I'm not as horny (which is also a benefit, I suppose). My fiancé is a bit paranoid about my use, so I've promised to stop once we're married. It's a shame others won't be able to legally benefit from it, in whatever way they discover it helps.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Stop once you are married... As far as she knows, if it is important to you!

    I have tried it, and it is a VERY mild stimulant, for me. About the same as coffee, if even that much! That Government Almighty gets its panties all wadded up over this, astounds me... Until I recall that the "trading card" of Government Almighty is to protect us from imaginary boogey-men!

    "See, ye are getting SOMETHING for your tax money, we are protecting you from the EVIL COUSIN of coffee!!!!"

    So WHO will protect us from the protection of Government Almighty!?!?!?

  • Verbum Vincet||

    I thought we were in the midst of a terribly deadly opioid epidemic, for which we were seeking novel, effective solutions?

    "If you rejects were meant to have Kratom or mitragynine, DEA would establish a quota for how much could be produced! What is it with you pathetic junkies? Drink a shot of Jack Daniels or something! You damned serfs should not be allowed to purchase products which would enable you to wean yourselves off the synthetics at home. You must go to a state-sanctioned drug dealer, or better still, Narconon! They do things the natural, drug-free way and help you sweat it all out - all while releasing your inner Thetan!"

    And to think how many people die or need liver transplants every year in the US, yet I can go buy a literal truckload of NSAIDs because they have no psychoactive effects! I can even grow Ricin-containing castor beans in my yard (talk about a TRIP, dude!)

  • Robert||

    Can't Trump lean on somebody to stop this? Or would that go against his anti-imports grain?

  • BYODB||


    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol causes about 88,000 deaths a year in this country, while 28,000 deaths were attributed to heroin and opioid painkillers in 2014. Kratom looks pretty benign by comparison.


    Ok, I don't have any dog in this hunt necessarily but we need to start understanding that arguments that are presented this way teach the wrong lesson. All the statists hear is 'also ban alcohol and double-secret ban heroin and opioids'.


    Kind of like how gun control critics pointed to vehicles as killing more people per year and the end result is that everyone is pushing for autonomous cars, the command and control types don't hear those arguments in the same way a regular non-crazy person might hear it.

  • jvolpehoo||

    This explains it quite nicely:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jijb5E1XnVc

  • RigidPrinciples||

    Let's talk about the timing on this. The Administration announces a war on opioids. Glaxo Smith Kline owns the patent on the crystallized (manipulated) version of Mitragyna Speciosa. In this patent, it fully describes their scientific testing which shows minimal side effects. In fact Glaxo Smith Kline describes it as being harmless compared to many controlled substances. Now let's look at the FDA Head, Dr. Scott Gottlieb. Prior to his assignment at the FDA, he sat on several big Pharma boards INCLUDING Glaxo Smith Kline. He is also a member of GSKs "New Product Investment Board". Americans aren't dumb. When you look at this in totality, Dr. Gottlieb knows that Kratom isn't dangerous, he's seen this GSK patent, so everyone do the math. This is perfect timing for GSK to release their crystallized version of Kratom as a controlled substance and charge hundreds of dollars for a bottle of crystallized Kratom capsules. And look at who is going to benefit from a ban on raw leaf Kratom. The one and only Glaxo Smith Kline AND Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

    https://www.google.com/patents/US3256149

  • ||

    I knew this would happen. Been taking Kratum for about 6 months and I love it. Helps with my back pain enough so I don't have to take opioids. I take 3 or 4 capsules around 4 times a day and stopped twice just to see if I had any side withdrawal symptoms (I didn't). Now I'm gonna be forced to live in pain or get on opioids again. Congrats dr. Gottlieb you are officially on the long list of government jerks.

  • RigidPrinciples||

    Given the rhetoric of so many vets who are contemplating suicide now if their kratom is taken away, I think it would have to such to be Dr. Gottlieb, constantly looking over your shoulder. Could you imagine going to war to fight for our freedoms, and seeing and experiencing all of those horrors, only to return with PTSD and chronic pain, ready to die, but then kratom saves your life. Then, the same government that sent you to war, takes away the only thing giving you a quality of life worth living for. I wonder if these vets will just roll over and die, or not. Maybe these vets will begin fighting for our freedoms on US soil...instead of Iraq and Afghanistan?

  • RigidPrinciples||

    Dr. Scott Gottlieb has received close to $100K from GlaxoSmithKline in consulting fees. And this is only what's disclosed on the record.

    projects.propublica.org /docdollars/doctors/pid/89830

    I should also mention that he's received $414,000+ from all pharmaceutical companies since 2013.

  • Jim Strom||

    If it had no medicinal effect, they would not care about it. This is the information age. People can make their own informed decisions.

  • Jenners||

    wean, not ween. IJS
    Great article otherwise!

  • commentguy||

    Did you know that thousands of surgical deaths are "associated" with the use of anaesthetics? Someone should ban them! Think of the children!

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