The DEA Takes an Exception to Kratom
Biologically, kratom acts enough like an opioid that DEA considers it a threat to public safety. The agency planned to use a regulatory mechanism called emergency scheduling to place it in the same restrictive category as heroin, LSD, and cannabis. This category, Schedule I, is reserved for what the DEA considers the most dangerous drugs—those with no redeeming medical value, and a high potential for abuse.
Before they finalized the scheduling, something surprising happened. An advocacy group called the American Kratom Association (yes, AKA) raised $400,000 from its impassioned membership—impressive for a nonprofit that typically raises $80,000 a year—to pay for lawyers and lobbyists, who got Congress on their side.
On September 30, representatives both conservative and liberal—from Orrin Hatch to Bernie Sanders—penned a letter to the DEA. “Given the long reported history of kratom use, coupled with the public’s sentiment that it is a safe alternative to prescription opioids, we believe using the regular review process would provide for a much-needed discussion among all stakeholders,” they wrote.
It worked. The DEA lifted the notice of emergency scheduling, and opened a public comment period until December 1. When was the last time the DEA backed off anything? "This is unusual," says Gantt Galloway, a Bay Area pharmacologist specializing in treatments for addictive drugs. Galloway could not recall another instance when the DEA responded to public outcry like this.
As of this writing, those comments number nearly 11,000. They are from: people who use kratom to relieve chronic pain or endometriosis or gout; people who use kratom to treat depression or wean off opioids or alcohol; people who said it saved their life. “It doesn't allow you to escape your problems,” says Susan Ash, founder of the AKA, who used kratom to treat pain and escape an addiction to prescription opioids. “It instead has you face them full on because it doesn't numb your brain at all, and it doesn't make you feel stoned like medical marijuana does. And yet it's effective on so many things, like pain and anxiety and depression.”