Scores of scientists and consumers of an herbal remedy used to produce mild, opioid-like painkilling effects, are incensed that the Obama administration is set to add it to a list of Schedule I drugs that are considered by the government to be the most dangerous.
As reported by the Seattle Times, the DEA is set to add kratom – a plant from Southeast Asia with large, green leaves that are dried, powered, and ingested – to the same list where much more potent opioids like heroin are listed. Marijuana – nowhere nearly as dangerous or potent as heroin – was also recently reclassified to the list by the agency, a confusing signal from an administration that has refused to sue states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use though it remains against federal law.
Kratom has been used for generations in Asia, usually brewed into a tea as a tonic or chewed directly, as a painkiller, for those weaning themselves off of opioids. Here in the US it can be found in smoke shops around the country and can be purchased in powder or capsule form.
'This is a disservice to science'
But now, likely in deference to Big Pharma, Obama's DEA is set to classify the substance as, under federal policy, something that has "no currently acceptable medical use" ('acceptable' to whom has always meant the federal government). The classification will instantly make kratom illegal to possess or sell, while making it more restricted that oxycodone or even cocaine.
DEA officials say that the classification is necessary because bureaucrats have deemed it an "imminent hazard to the public safety," Special Agent Jodie Underwood told the Times.
Except that it's not. The announcement is confounding experts and bringing much angst to scientists who have studied the compound's effects as well as its potential medical benefits. It seems that even members of Congress are showing interest in the topic: 50 representatives from the House – 28 Democrats and 23 Republicans – have signed a letter to the agency arguing that its "hasty decision" to schedule kratom "will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions – a significant public-health threat."
When all is said and done, said Christopher McCurdy, chairman of Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Mississippi, "this is a disservice to science." His department has been at the helm of research into kratom as an opioid-free painkiller and herbal alternative to suboxone and methadone. Ole Miss is also the only university that has has had a contract with the DEA to cultivate marijuana for medical research.
Only our government would do this during a declared 'opioid epidemic'
McCurdy said that he doesn't believe that adding kratom to Schedule 1 is the right thing to do, at least not yet, because "we don't have the science yet to speak to potential medical benefits – and we think there are medical benefits."
After having studied the compound for more than a decade, McCurdy said the DEA's classification will add several more layers of bureaucracy just to get access to the plant, which will include greater security, tough-to-obtain federal licensing, special safes and in-person, scheduled visits from DEA agents who will have to ensure that the kratom obtained by the university is being kept properly and not abused.
After hearing about the DEA's plans, McCurdy said his team began "frantically" trying to prepare their latest research and get it into literature, perhaps hoping it will at least provide an impetus to have the DEA's decision rescinded at some point later on.
But for now, anyway, the substance is on its way to becoming unavailable to those who need it most and, stupidly at a time when the federal government itself has declared prescription opioid abuse "an epidemic."