Kratom Needs to be Researched Before It’s Listed as a Schedule 1 Drug

In August of this year, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that kratom, an herbal supplement sold in headshops and mixed into drinks at trendy bars, would be reclassified as a Schedule I substance, making its use or possession illegal and stopping any research into legitimate medical uses for the drug. While the DEA considered this appropriate given the supplement’s similarities to opioids, kratom users, addiction treatment researchers and even elected officials are pushing back against this ban.

In our system, current users have a right to weigh in on a potential ban before it becomes official government policy. Typically, when considering the reclassification of a drug, the DEA follows a thorough but time consuming process that seeks input from the public as well as critical agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before determining what, if any, restrictions should be placed on a substance.

But the DEA did not follow this protocol when suggesting its latest ban on kratom. Instead, citing an increased number of calls to poison control centers as well as the urgent need to meaningfully curb the number of overdoses related to opioids, the DEA sought unilaterally to ban kratom without consulting other agencies or concerned citizens.

Although they weren’t able to participated in the DEA’s decision-making process, the public’s response to the DEA’s proposed ban has been swift. Far from apathetic, kratom users have signed petitions in the tens of thousands and staged massive protests in front of the White House to bring attention to what they describe as an unduly harsh classification code for the drug. Elected officials too are listening to their constituents and demanding the DEA reconsider its policy or reopen the decision to ban the drug, listening to broader public and government input.

There are several things to consider with regard to kratom. As a health care professional, I advocate regulating drugs. Now, kratom is sold as a supplement, which means that the consumer really has no idea what is in the bottle. For consumer protection, anything that is ingested, including kratom, should meet strict labeling requirements. People should know exactly what’s in whatever it is that they are taking; what is a safe dose; and what kind of side-effects the substance might have. Second, just as with tobacco or alcohol, states should consider age limits for kratom’s use so that children do not have open access to the drug.

There is considerable anecdotal evidence to suggest that kratom has legitimate medicinal uses. Because of this, kratom should be studied. Labeling the drug Schedule 1 halts medical research. Let’s not make the same mistake with kratom that we did with marijuana; let medical researchers find out what kratom does in the brain and body; how it works; what issues it may treat; what the effective doses are to treat those problems; and what, if any, the long term effects of kratom use are.

Ultimately when it comes to kratom there’s a lot we don’t know. Let’s limit the access children have to the drug and engage in serious research so that we know exactly what we’re looking at.


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