Kratom Gets DEA Reprieve

Agency rethinks plan to classify coffee relative as Schedule I substance

On August 31, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced its intention to classify kratom as a Schedule I substance. Since then, a group of kratom vendors have filed a lawsuit against the government to block the move, and scientists have questioned whether they would be able to continue kratom research.

Now, the DEA is withdrawing its notice of intent to put kratom in the most restrictive category of controlled substances, along with drugs such as LSD and heroin. Instead, the DEA says it will open an official public comment period until December 1, 2016, for people to share their experiences using kratom as a medical treatment. The agency has also requested that the FDA expedite scientific research.

Kratom is derived from the leaves of a tree native to Southeast Asia. It is a relative of the coffee plant. According to David Kroll, a pharmacologist and medical writer, farmers and indigenous people have used it for hundreds of years as a stimulant to increase work output and as a way to relax.

In the U.S., kratom has become popular among people coping with chronic pain and others trying to wean themselves off opioids or alcohol.

The main active ingredients in kratom are mitragynine and a related chemical that bind to some of the same receptors as opioids, providing some pain relief and feelings of euphoria—but, Kroll said, not the same high. And the chemical isn’t known to cause the same, sometimes deadly, adverse effects as opioids, such as respiratory depression.

Still, the DEA attributed 15 deaths to kratom between 2014 and 2016. But 14 of the 15 people who died also had other drugs or illegal substances in their systems.

After the public comment period ends on December 1, the DEA could still decide to temporarily ban kratom or to permanently place the plant in a scheduled category defined by the Controlled Substances Act. The agency could also decide to leave kratom unregulated.

Source: Kaiser Health News; October 13, 2016.