In a direct attack on the personal freedom of those who use plant-based medicines, the US Drug Enforcement and Administration (DEA) decided to place the plant kratom on the Schedule I list of prohibited narcotics starting September 30, 2016. It’s the most serious setback in recent history to the movement to end the War on Drugs.
Immediately after the news of the DEA’s decision broke, thousands of kratom enthusiasts began posting personal testimonies flagged #iamkratom, flooding social media with righteous indignation. Joe Rogan and the Young Turks quickly released videos decrying the ban, and
A widely circulating petition to the White House has already gained enough signatures to get Obama to respond (but sign it anyway, the more the better).
Here are the top five reasons why kratom must be kept legal and accessible to anyone who wants to use it.
1. Kratom Is the Best Alternative to Dangerous Pharmaceutical Painkillers
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US is undergoing an opioid overdose epidemic. In the last 15 years in the US the amount of prescription opioids sold has nearly quadrupled while the number of deaths from prescription opioids has also quadrupled. In 2014 alone, more than 18,000 Americans died from overdosing on drugs like methodone, hydrocodone, and oxyconode. That’s almost double the number of heroin overdose deaths. In addition, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, pharmaceutical painkillers are by far the most abused class of prescription drugs in the country, with more than two million people using them in non-medical ways every year.
The US government is cracking down on kratom even while it has made one opioid prescription painkiller more available to the nation’s youth. Last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the opioid painkiller OxyContin for kids as young as 11 years old, completely ignoring a Canadian study published in the journal Addiction in 2014 that found prescription opioid abuse to be a leading cause of death among young adults in Ontario.
Despite the DEA’s Schedule 1 classification, kratom is not an opiate, but it does contain several substances that bind to opiate receptors and block pain. It is a natural substance with a long history of traditional use. And now it’s being used by countless people in the US to successfully manage their pain. And, according to the research, it’s safe in its unadulterated form. A May 2016 report published in the journal Brain Research Bulletin found that kratom toxicity and death reports are “non-existent” in South East Asia, where the herb has a long history of use. And in the West there have been no deaths from taking kratom by itself. Rather, the report states that cases of toxicity and fatality involving kratom “pertained to kratom used together with other substances.” This would suggest that adulterated kratom or kratom used recreationally with other mood altering substances is the real danger.
2. Kratom Can Actually Break Addiction to Opiates and Turn Lives Around
Besides pain relief, one of the most common uses of kratom is as a substitute for highly addictive substances. A 2011 joint study conducted in Thailand by the International Drug Policy Consortium and the Transnational Institute reported that the “effect of kratom on the body reduces pain from withdrawal symptoms and helps manage detoxification” in long-term addicts of everything from heroin to alcohol. With heroin addiction in the US skyrocketing, it is nothing short of miraculous that a natural, plant-based medicine can help addicts wean themselves off their drugs of choice.
While kratom helps addicts stay clean, prescription painkillers do just the opposite. Not only is OxyContin so highly addictive that it is sold on the street like crack, but a 2007 research article published in the American Journal on Addictions labeled OxyContin a gateway drug. The study found that those that began using the drug for nonmedical purposes had a much quicker progression to heroin and injected-drug use within a year’s time. This the same drug that we are now giving as medicine to pre-teens.
3. Kratom Is a Potent Natural Mood Enhancer
According to a 2015 European Commision review of dozens of kratom studies done in Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries where kratom has been used for thousands of years, the plant is known for its potent ability to increase productivity at work and induce euphoria in social situations. Because the plant contains a complex pharmacology and several different active alkaloids, studies report that kratom acts as a stimulant in low doses and as a sedative in higher amounts, giving users the ability to customize their consumption to meet their specific needs and issues.
In the West, kratom is being used as a novel and natural treatment for mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and has been reported to be especially effective for those who suffer from social anxiety disorder. In fact, a May 2016 Journal of the American Chemical Society study that investigated MOR agonists—the opiate-binding compounds active in kratom leaves— found “a clear precedent for the effectiveness of MOR agonists in the treatment of depression and anxiety.”
According to the World Health Organization, “depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide” and the use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs has been growing at what the Harvard Medical School has called astounding rates. So the ban on kratom denies millions of sufferers access to a natural plant-based medicine that may be able to dramatically help them—and without the use of pharmaceuticals.
4. The Drug War is Unjust, Irrational, and Ineffective
The US already has the top incarceration rate in the world, a sad and ironic fact for a country that likes to call itself the “land of the free.” Most of this rapid increase in the prison population is the result of the War on Drugs initiated by Richard Nixon in the 1970s. After five decades of violence and trillions of dollars of taxpayer money, a major study conducted at John Hopkins University found that the not only did the War on Drugs have no real impact on the use of drugs, it also hurt public health, human rights, and development.
Expanding the War on Drugs by including another natural plant as a Schedule I substance is about as regressive a stance as the US government can take right now, something pointed out by Jacob Sullum in his recent Forbes op-ed piece. The DEA’s decision to ban kratom provides an “illuminating window on the prohibitionist mindset, which dresses pharmacological phobias in the garb of science,” Sullum wrote. In other words, by labeling kratom a Schedule I substance, a classification reserved only for the most dangerous substances that have “no currently accepted medical use,” the DEA is not only completely ignoring the evidence, but taking a regressive stance that will harm society and turn self-medicating kratom users into criminals.
5. It’s Really All about the Benjamins
The real issue here is the billions of dollars of revenue that pharmaceutical companies anticipate losing when a Western rise in kratom use knocks painkillers like OxyContin (itself a $3 billion-dollar-a-year industry) into the wastebasket as nature outperforms toxic manmade chemicals once again. Of course, this is also the real reason that marijuana (cannabis) is also on the DEA’s Schedule I list, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that it has multiple profound medicinal properties, presents no known actual danger to human health, and the American public is overwhelmingly in favor of its legalization.
Just check out this recent chart done by the Washington Post that shows that states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana have drastically lowered their prescription painkiller and anti-anxiety medication consumption rates. That’s a lot of money being redirected out of corporate pockets. Now consider the fact that kratom is an even more effective painkiller and mood booster than cannabis and that it can also be used to break addiction to prescription pharmaceuticals. It’s pretty easy to see why this herb is really being blacklisted.
The FDA and DEA are trying to take this miraculous plant away from all of us. Please join us in the effort to help try and save kratom.
Please do the following 2 steps:
1) Directly message your concerns to the Attorney General by clicking the link below. Please make sure that you select “Message to Attorney General” in the general topic section.
2) Please sign the petition link below:
Ocean Malandra is a plant medicine advocate and frequent contributor to Reset.me. He divides his time between Northern California and South America.