Plant medicine has been under attack in the United States for many reasons, including the fact that these substances can compete with pharmaceutical products for wellness or even alcohol for recreation. It’s the reason why CBD, cannabis, psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and even kratom has been attacked.
In 2016 the FDA pushed to place kratom and its active ingredients under the control of the DEA on Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in the United States. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2018 rescinded a request for DEA to classify mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine as a Schedule I controlled substance under the CSA, but the decision wasn’t made public until 2021.
The FDA has tried a new tactic, and in July 2021, announced that it would be recommending that the WHO ban kratom worldwide as a scheduled drug of abuse, banning in the US and other countries. The FDA has requested public comments, and I submitted the following statement on July 29, 2021.
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Dr. Michele Ross’s statement to the FDA on their attack on kratom
“I strongly disagree with the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to petition the World Health Organization (WHO) to add kratom and two of its two active ingredients (mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine) as Internationally Scheduled Drugs, effectively criminalizing it and banning it worldwide.
I’m a PhD Neuroscientist trained in drug addiction who has studied kratom, published a book called Kratom is Medicine in March 2021, and worked with both patients and clinicians providing education about the risk and benefits of kratom use as the founder of the Institute For Plant-Assisted Therapy. There are many reasons why kratom should not be banned.
First off, kratom is a food often consumed as a tea made from dried leaves turned into powder, and has been used safely for hundreds of years in other countries. It is a relative of the coffee plant, and should be considered a beverage or supplement, not a scheduled drug. Criminalizing kratom use and commercial sales worldwide would be akin to making coffee and caffeine illegal.
While no substance is without potential risks or side effects, the main reasons to schedule a drug is because it is highly addictive and causing high number of overdoses or deaths. An appropriately scheduled and dangerous drug of abuse is heroin. Examples of safe and appropriately unscheduled drugs include caffeine in coffee and cannabidiol (CBD) in hemp. Kratom is not appropriate for placement as a banned drug and should not be on the same list of unsafe and untested synthetic drugs including eutylone, metonitazene and brorphine.
Recent studies suggest that kratom has more in common with CBD than heroin. Kratom has a low addiction risk and by itself cannot cause overdose death because the beta-arrestin pathway is not activated downstream of opioid receptors, preventing death by respiratory depression. In fact, kratom is currently being investigated for its use as a safe substitute for more dangerous opioids such as heroin, oxycontin, and fentanyl for those who are substance abusers or are dependent on high doses of legal opioids for chronic pain.
Millions of people in the United States and around the world use kratom for its ability to fight fatigue, relieve stress, and ease pain. Kratom contains numerous anti-inflammatory alkaloids and compounds with medicinal benefits, making this a safer choice for consumers to relax than alcohol or many other substances. Removing access to kratom would lead people back to using alcohol or dangerous prescription painkillers, doing the opposite of the intended effect, which is to save lives.
Banning kratom would also stifle research into the medicinal benefits of its numerous alkaloids and flavonoids, which have potential benefits for conditions as broad as arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, pelvic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The potential medical benefits of future research into kratom medicine is in the billions. It simply does not make sense to ban kratom as a scheduled drug, and will limit potential treatments for pain, mental health, and obesity, all of which are major health crises in the United States. As a scientist, I strongly urge the FDA not to restrict research into kratom, but to let scientists and doctors do their job and find out how kratom use impacts health and identify the potential benefits and risks of kratom, as they do with any other food.
Finally, I would like to add that kratom is one of the main reasons I have successfully stopped using prescription morphine for pain management and was able to go back to working full-time instead of being bedridden and disabled from numerous chronic illnesses including fibromyalgia. As a neuroscientist, consumer, and health coach, I have seen firsthand how proper use of safe, third-party lab-tested kratom products have been used safely to improve the quality of people’s lives.
Without kratom, I would be forced to reduce my work hours, reducing my income and my quality of life, and I know this would be true for many of the clients I work with. The harms to public health and worker productivity would be in the billions if kratom is banned.
I strongly urge the FDA to remove kratom and its active ingredients from its recent WHO scheduling recommendation, and to respect the autonomy of adults to use kratom as functional food for wellness or relaxation. Kratom should be regulated like hemp, not heroin.
If you have any questions about kratom, I am happy to answer them as a qualified neuropharmacologist as well as send copies of my book Kratom Is Medicine.