Why does the “War on Drugs” feel mostly like a war on plants these days? With the public’s interest in plant-based medicine on the rise, it seems the DEA and FDA are more interested in the financial benefits of keeping Big Pharma lobbyists happy than in public health and well-being. For example, an Asian tropical tree leaf known as kratom has a long history as as an effective remedy for pain and opioid addiction. Many people see this as a good thing. Regardless, the DEA in its superior wisdom is attempting to label kratom a Schedule I narcotic of no medical value.
This action would serve two main purposes: (1) to deprive people of natural medicine they need, thereby maintaining the status quo of opioid addicts and pain sufferers; and (2) to stimulate a black market in kratom and the global crime syndicate that would administer it. Those two would offset one another to some degree as people found relief in the illegal kratom, thus reducing the number of pain sufferers and addicts. Still, it’s a painfully dull-witted, harmful way to approach harm reduction and help humanity. The plan was, thankfully, put on hold after public outcry caught the attention of certain politicians and decision makers.
Legislators including Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin wrote to the acting administrator of the DEA and complained that the decision to prohibit kratom outright was being made hastily and without public input. Pocan also referenced our nation’s severe opioid epidemic and the very promising potential of kratom to help wean addicts off opioid painkillers and other drugs.
A little background
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is an evergreen tree that is native to Southeast Asia. In low doses it acts as a mild stimulant, but in higher doses it becomes a mild depressant pain reliever and mimics opium. In 1943 the government of Thailand banned kratom, because it was an opium replacement, which threatened opium tax revenues.
In the 1930s Siam (Thailand) was a leading opium producer, and the government conspired to tax everyone involved in the opium poppy’s production and exportation. They taxed the farmers, the middlemen, the folks who converted it into medicine, and the exporters. The Siamese government made huge profits on the plant. But they noticed that the peasants and farmers never used opium, choosing instead to chew on kratom leaves for pain relief. The tree grows in wild abundance throughout Thailand and Malaysia, making pain relief practically free to the people.
Kratom can be chewed or made into tea, and its benefits are great, while its risks are minimal. Mitragynine binds to the same receptors in the brain as opioids. In fact, it truly mirrors opioid chemistry in humans. This makes it so effective at quelling opioid withdrawals that websites have sprung up around the phenomenon, such as How to Quit Heroin.
There is a risk of kratom itself being habit forming, but the withdrawal symptoms are far milder and more tolerable, and there have been no known overdoses attributed to kratom alone. When it is saving people from addiction to drugs like OxyContin, Suboxone, Methadone, and heroin, there is no comparison. (Higher concentrations and dosages can cause respiratory distress, however, and so there is a theoretical risk that it could lead to death, especially if combined with other depressants.)
So, to recap, kratom is an abundant medicinal plant, small doses of which are stimulant and larger doses depressant, that can relieve pain and help people get away from extremely addictive and lethal (yet legal!) opioid painkillers and other drugs. And it is close to being banned outright, just like another plant (cannabis) that can do similar things. Because Big Pharma..
Most of the public had no idea, and most of the politicians either didn’t know or turned a blind eye. Those who have been paying attention probably should not have been surprised that the DEA would try this. The ink was barely dry on the agency’s flat rejection of the nationwide call to reclassify cannabis so it could be studied and used to help people. But many were definitely caught off guard by the DEA’s kratom-crushing initiative. Luckily, the community came together and put enough pressure on the powers that be to earn a delay in the decision.
But the fight isn’t over. We still need to speak up, for kratom and for cannabis and hemp. All plants with healing capabilities and very favorable safety profiles should be readily available to the people and their doctors.
The DEA’s decision to keep cannabis listed as a Schedule I drug (having “no known medical use and a high risk of harm”) and to deprive suffering people of its proven benefits is a ridiculous, shameful public health disgrace. The decision to place kratom in the same category is similarly harmful to those who take or will take it to kick their addictions to dangerous and deadly drugs.
The pharmaceutical companies have a lot to lose if we are successful. So, you can bet they are turning the screws and lining the pockets of your representatives in government, as are the law enforcement bloc, privatized prisons, and drug cartels. We need to make sure that our voices are the loudest.
You can help. Call your state representative and senator. Call the DEA and tell them: People are dying unless they stop using opioids, and kratom helps with that. Suffering people don’t deserve to be deprived of the benefits of kratom, and it would be both immoral and unethical to classify it as a Schedule I narcotic when it is saving lives.
And while you’re at it, tell them cannabis ought to be legalized as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amber Boone considers writing the cornerstone of communication. She interviews MMA (mixed martial arts) athletes for CombatPress.com and opines on MMA at FightItOut.com. She’s passionate about helping folks tell their stories and making the world a better place, which includes working to win the freedom of Americans to partake of the herb. When not writing or playing beach volleyball, she can be found at her day job—for now. Follow Amber on Twitter @thruthetrees11.