Why the DEA Banning Kratom Is a Bad Idea

Critics of the ban say the plant could help end the heroin epidemic.

Kratom is misunderstood. A temporary federal ban on the drug goes into effect on September 30. The ban is part of a Drug Enforcement Administration decision to re-classify kratom as a Schedule I substance––seen as having no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse––and is reportedly based on a current lack of information about the drug.

"The placement of these opioids into schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety," the DEA wrote in the Federal Register.

The plant-based drug, which originates in Southeast Asia, is far less mainstream than marijuana in the United States, but a growing community of users claims kratom shows promise as a pain treatment, and could help make a dent in the current epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction. 

The kratom community is actively fighting the federal ban, which would limit additional research through a reduction in access. A WhiteHouse.gov petition asking the DEA to rethink the rescheduling garnered more than 130,000 signatures. 

“Kratom is getting the same treatment that cannabis has received for years,” Susan Ash, founder and director of the advocacy group American Kratom Association previously told KINDLAND. 

Image via Washington Post

The DEA is seemingly acting out of caution, and says it could see kratom being moved to Schedule 3, or 5, designations, pending additional research.

"Kratom's at a point where it needs to be recognized as medicine,” DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson told the Washington Post. “I think that we are going to find out that probably it does."

Kratom is mostly sold in head shops, online, or in boutique cafes. Unregulated marketing tactics have given the drug a reputation as more of a “legal high,” or novel psychoactive substance, than any sort of serious medicine, though a 2015 analysis of user reports sourced from drug information hub Erowid found many users reporting kratom as helpful in managing opioid withdrawal.

But until the DEA learns more about drugs it hopes to reschedule, kratom users might be forced to find the plant on the black market, a storyline that often ends in the opposite of harm reduction, and one that the cannabis community can surely sympathize with.