After successfully representing a client in a case involving Kratom, we published a blog about it and encouraged people to research the stuff. Chris Bovey with Herba Invest Ltd reached out to us and offered to write a blog about Kratom, explaining a little more about the plant and its history both in uses and in the judicial system in the United States. Here is what he wrote.
DEA in historic reversal of emergency scheduling of kratom
In late 2016 the DEA announced that it would ban the Southeast Asian herb kratom under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. While the agency does this frequently, this time there was a storm of protest from the scientific community, public, and even two Congressmen. This led to a withdrawal of plans to ban kratom in the United States, the first time the DEA has ever backed down on such a procedure.
What is kratom?
Kratom is a Southeast Asian herb that has been used for millennia by indigenous people for a variety of reasons including as an anti-inflammatory, a pain killer and a method of dealing with the effects of opiate addiction. It can also give a bit of a ‘buzz’ so is an enjoyable way of dealing with one’s pain or suffering.
Kratom has been available in the US for quite a few years and is available online, from smoke shops and marijuana dispensaries. In addition to the main medical benefits that people use it for, the active ingredients in kratom have been shown to be good in face creams and haircare.
The DEA’s case
The DEA is able to ban substances under powers where it perceives have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Schedule 1 drugs are those that in the DEA’s view have no medicinal value. The trouble with kratom is that the herb is largely used for medical purposes and is relatively rarely used as a way to get high.
Normally the DEA bans substances and there is little in the way of complaint from the public at large. Under the emergency scheduling powers the agency has to assert the substance’s history and current pattern of abuse; the scope, duration, and significance of abuse; and what, if any, risk there is to the public health. After that there is a two year assessment period where the DEA liaises with other government agencies to assess the real risks and then, normally, the substance is permanently listed as a Schedule 1 drug.
In this case the DEA stated it would place, “the main active constituents of the plant kratom, into schedule I pursuant to the temporary scheduling provisions of the Controlled Substances Act. This action is based on a finding by the Administrator that the placement of these opioids into schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety.”
Emergency scheduling is only available for substances that have no medicinal use whatsoever, and even scientists are banned from using it for their research without a highly bureaucratic licensing process. Where a substance needs controlling but has medicinal value, the DEA has no such powers. Instead it needs to go through a process that takes around two years of proper scientific evaluation. Schedule IV for example has been classified for certain substances that are of proven medicinal value but have a low but real potential for abuse. Recently the dieting pill Lorcaserin was given a Schedule IV classification because even though it had proven medical value as a weight loss drug, “doses of lorcaserin caused increases in perceptive measures for “high,” “good drug feelings,” “hallucinations” and “sedation.””
Scientists have only recently been researching the effects of kratom on the body. More than half of the papers published on the herb have been published since 2012. It has been found to be an effective painkiller with an interesting side effect. Unlike opiates such as morphine and codeine, kratom actually stimulates the body, meaning that instead of being too whacked out to do much more than lie in bed, the person taking it can get on with their daily lives. It has also been proven to do many of the things it has been used for by the peoples of Southeast Asia – it is good at helping someone come off opiates and has anti-inflammatory properties too.
Public opinion vs DEA
While the administrators of the DEA are somewhat used to clashing with the public over matters such as the Schedule 1 classified marijuana, when the agency went to emergency schedule kratom there was a massive backlash.
“If the DEA gets its way, more people who struggle with addiction will be criminalized,” said Jag Davies, director of communications strategy at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Given the widespread moral, political and scientific consensus that drug use and addiction are best treated as health issues rather than criminal matters, there’s no good reason to criminalize people simply for using kratom – especially considering how much we already know about prohibition’s disproportionate impact on people of color and other marginalized communities.”
Scientists, afraid that they would be banned from exploring the effects of kratom, wrote to the DEA, as did some 30,000 members of the public and even two Senators. For the first time in the DEA’s history it backed down and announced a public consultation period that would end in December 2016. This received thousands of submissions and roll forward to the present day the organisation is considering the public response.
Those using kratom for whatever reason, be it for personal use or research, are not out of the woods yet. The DEA could still class it as a Schedule 1 drug, and all medical research would be stopped there and then. What is generally believed is that something far more positive will occur: “even if the DEA decides to reassert a limited access to the substance, the intensity of the opposition and unprecedented reversal by the DEA demonstrates a model that advocates of other herbal psychoactive drugs may follow in the future.” In short, should kratom be legalized in whatever form, marijuana will come to the fore again as another herbal remedy that has proven medical benefits that has been unfairly treated by the Federal authorities. Whatever happens from here, it will be very interesting indeed…