DEA To Schedule Kratom: What Is This Medicinal Plant And Why Is It Considered A Public Hazard?

According to a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announcement made on Aug. 30, Kratom, a tropical medicinal plant indigenous to Southeast Asia, will be considered as a Schedule I substance across the country from Friday, Sept. 30.

Kratom, Mitragyna speciosa, is a plant with large leaves that is taken in dried powdered form to get an opioid-like effect. It is used by people in Asia for centuries, either chewed or brewed as a tonic to be used as a painkiller or to assist in recovery of people addicted to opium.

It used in the United States for its opioid-like effect and is available in powered or capsule form in smoke shops. However, the scenario is about to change drastically as kratom use in the country the substance is classified in the same category as marijuana, heroin and peyote. As per the classification, it is illegal to sell or possess kratom.

According to DEA Special Agent Jodie Underwood, kratom —and the chemical compounds contained in it— pose a severe threat to public safety.

The DEA's decision has displeased many people in the country which includes the scientists involved in kratom research. Christopher McCurdy, chairman of Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Mississippi, said restricting kratom is a "disservice to science." The researcher said it is unfair to add kratom in Schedule I category as its medical benefits are yet to be studied.

McCurdy, who has been in kratom research for over a decade, noted that such a classification would make it tough to procure the plant, pose several security risks, cause difficulty in obtaining licenses and result in new levels of bureaucracy.

The investigator added that kratom experiment on mice regarding its benefits in helping people recover from opioid-use yielded "promising" result. However, it hasn't been dealt in humans yet.

"Our whole hope was to look at pharmacological regulation for kratom as a botanical alternative to methadone or suboxone," McCurdy said. But he's not sure the DEA or the Food and Drug Administration "even understand the science - and to be honest, even us basic scientists don't fully understand the science yet."

Meanwhile, Robin Moore, who works at Holy Smoke on Capitol Hill, said that a number of customers used kratom as an alternative to opioid to treat chronic pain. Moore added it is insane to say kratom has no medicinal use because many customers use it for treating alcohol and painkiller addiction, depression and anxiety.

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