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DEA Places Kratom on Schedule I, the Same Status as Heroin

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #941)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

The DEA announced Tuesday that it plans to crack down on kratom, a Southeast Asian plant that has gained increasing popularity among chronic pain sufferers and people wishing to wean themselves from opioids.

Kratom. Only on the shelves for another 30 days. (Creative Commons)
The drug agency said it was using its emergency powers to place two psychoactive substances in the plant -- mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine -- on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the same schedule as heroin. The move will take effect by the end of September and will be in effect for up to three years.

"Kratom has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision," the defining characteristics of a Schedule I drug, the DEA said.

Kratom was traditionally used in Thailand and Malaysia to help endure physical labor, relieve pain, and stop diarrhea. It was also good for relieving the symptoms of opium withdrawal.

That's because it acts like an opiate. Its active ingredients activate the same opioid receptors heroin and prescription pain pills do. And it behaves like an opiate -- with a couple of exceptions, one interesting and one quite important.

Like other opiates, it relieves pain, slows bowel activity, produces euphoric feelings, and creates physical addiction and a withdrawal syndrome. But unlike other opiates, it causes a pleasant, caffeine-type buzz in small doses and, more significantly, it is apparently very difficult -- if not impossible -- to overdose on it. The few deaths where kratom is implicated include poly-drug use, or as in a case reported by the New York Times, suicide by a young kratom user who was also being treated for depression.

And it has caught on here in the United States, especially among pain patients and people seeking to transition from opioid addiction, so much so that the DEA said it needed to act "in order to avoid an imminent threat to public safety." Calls to poison control centers about kratom jumped from a mere two between 2000 and 2005 to 660 between 2010 and 2015. DEA reported 15 "kratom-related" deaths between 2014 and now.

But that's out of millions of doses. According to DEA's own data, at least 130,000 pounds of kratom was seized by law enforcement in the last two years, and the FDA has ordered another 140,000 pounds of the stuff held pending an admissibility decision. That's enough for some 12 million doses, and that's just what they seized.

The DEA decision will doubtless lead to the removal of falsely-labeled and tainted products claiming to be kratom, but it's also likely to drive thousands of people with chronic pain and opioid problems back to the substances they were trying to avoid. And when it comes to lethality, kratom is opium's mild-mannered little sister. While the DEA cites 15 deaths linked to kratom since 2014, there were more than 29,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2014 alone.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Barbara Norton (not verified)

I have never seen such insanity.  You cannot compare kratom to heroin.  This will create unnecessary suffering for a whole lot of people, including myself.   These friggin idiots in the DEA make me furious, they know nothing about drugs apparently, even though they are suppose to   smh

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 3:51am Permalink
Thomas Dixon (not verified)


I don't believe the DEA is iignorant to the facts about kratom so I have to assume it is to either justify the tax money they receive from the American people, or it is to protect the pharmacutical companies' profits. In no way is kratom leaf dangerous nor is it anything as described by the DEA or the CDC. Government propoganda at it's worst it is an injustice and a crime to take this action. Kratom has been a Godsend for thousands of thousands of people and no doubt has saved many lives. You cannot get high, your cognitive functions are not impaired, your pain is alleviated, your anxiety is minimized, your depression is minimized, and your cravings for other drugs, including alcohol is removed with this wonderful harmless plant who's effects are no more dangerous than a cup of coffee. In fact it belongs to the same family of plants as coffee. I love my country but this is the worst, most facist, and downright malicious act I have ever seen it do to it's citizens in 51 years

Sun, 09/04/2016 - 7:48am Permalink
John A (not verified)

In reply to by Thomas Dixon (not verified)

I believe this is all about bureaucracy and corruption.  The CIA has to protect their Afghani opium business.  BIG PHARMA has to protect their pain-pill empire.  The politicians have to obey their pharma lobbyists who keep the coffers full at election time.  This all about protecting profits and keeping the bureaucracy doing what it does best, keeping itself alive.  Nothing more.  The system is corrupt to it's core.  This is a disgusting time we live in.

Fri, 09/09/2016 - 3:30pm Permalink
Anonymous111 (not verified)

It's likely that big-pharma has found a way to synthesize a synthetic or semi-synthetic analogue. They may just be attempting to hoard all the firewood so people have to come to them for heat. Not like pain pills are getting nearly the market here they should be (USA), but it sounds like a decent plan.



Big-pharma can't push pain pills as easy now because all the doctors are afraid of getting punished. But now they will have the new and improved drug with all the good and none of the bad... Until we all find out through trial and error the good they advertised is shit and the bad is way worse than anything before it...

Sun, 09/04/2016 - 11:58am Permalink
marknoo (not verified)

I have bad depression. I tried all the drugs my pyschiatrists could prescribe. SSRI's than drug cocktails. If you have depression than you know finding the right drug is a long, messy process. Anyway, none of of the drugs they gave me worked. So I drank alcohol. My abuse did not just become detrimental, it passed over into destructive. I was that way for about 15 years. (I have MIPs, lost jobs, 2 DUIIs and all sorts of other problems from my drinking. I was a drunk)

Finally I quit alcohol for a few months, thinking it would help with my depression and other problems. Everyone says the biggest problem a drunk has is alcohol so I decided to start to repair my life by quitting drinking. It did not work. Things did not improve, they got worse. Luckily I didn't go back to drinking, instead I found Kratom and it vanquished my depression and I have not drank in nearly 6 years.

That means I can hold down a job. I have no need for any social assistance programs. I am not tormented by despair and suicidal ideation. I am able to sleep at night instead of waking up to nightmares.  Kratom addressed all of that and it did it without intoxication or side effects.

Now the DEA is going to send me back to that life. A schedule 1 drug is too scary to just take anyway, not because of single use problem but because if you have enough supply to medicate yourself for a month you could likely be considered a dealer or distributor. Years in prison because I don't want to be depressed is too scary for me. If I hate the world now, how bad would it be in prison. Considerably worse I would imagine. So I am being forced back into being a mess.

The DEA is screwing us (people who use it medicinally) over. So far none of our elective representatives seem interested in trying to stop them.  I would threaten them with not voting for them but when my depression comes back I will be too much of a mess to vote anyway. So the threat would be hollow.

My future looks like I will be losing my job, will struggle with the rent, and finally become homeless. It will likely take 4 months to lose my housing, that is about how much money I have saved up.

That is what I assume will happen to me.

You know, if I were locked up in the crazy house this sort of thing would not be allowed. (I've been locked away before for 72 hours for a suicide attempt). There the people can't just screw around with the mentally ill by threatening to take away their medication.  Apparently the DEA can. A lot of people are in panic mode right now because of their Draconian edict.

I have crippling depression but think of all the other people with PTSD and other mental disorders. And that is just the "crazy" people. There is a whole different group of people who use this for pain management. Has anyone bothered to figure out how many people this is going to hurt except for you.  You didn't do a head count but you did know how many pounds were seized. If the DEA only gets 5% of the stuff smuggled in than that is a boat load of Kratom being delivered to a boat load of people. All of whom will be hurting.

Remember, this plant cannot be abused like other drugs.  If you take more than you should you get uncomfortable and vomit.  There are also diminishing returns on this plant.  It is not like alcohol, where the more you take the better things feel.  If you take double your dose with kratom you will not feel twice as good. You might feel 10% better but you are also getting close to the vomitting problem.  There is no good reason for a person to take too much because there is no payoff. I am sure some people new to the herb do overindulge but it won't take them long to learn there is just no advantage to it.

Mon, 09/05/2016 - 3:11am Permalink
saynotohypocrisy (not verified)

His DEA, and just the other week, his DEA, his HHS, and his FDA made the uber degenerate claim that cannabis is not medicine. You fucked up bad, Obama, and it won't be forgotten, you goddamn fascist pig.

Wed, 09/07/2016 - 8:43am Permalink
Semper Fi (not verified)

I have an auto-immune disorder (Lupus SLE) with several secondary diseases to the Lupus.  I was on a slew of prescription drugs.  You name it I was probably Prescribed it.  From Heavy duty pain killers ,antimalarials, Cortosteroids, anti depressants to try to get my Lupus in check.  I was a walking zombie on a chemical stew, barely able to function day to day.  It's one thing to have Lupus a whole other ballgame when you add the Rx-cocktail to it.    I was prescribed drugs to help with the side effects of other prescribed drugs....  None of which actually helped  me feel better or lesson the daily struggles I have with this at times horrific disease Lupus.  I was informed about the benefits of Kratom by my Rheumatologist of all people 7 years ago.  Since first discovering Kratom my Lupus Flare ups and Secondary  auto-immune diseases are minimal to completely in remission. 

I regained a semblance of a normal life with the use of Kratom.  I cannot for the life of me fathom why they would equate Kratom and liken it to Heroin.  It does not get you high, it has no psychoactive effects, it does not make you feel doped up or dopey like the big pharma drugs do.  It's a mild stimulant at best with many benefits. It's about addictive as a cup of coffee is.  It helps with anxiety and mood disorders as well.  I also saved a ton of money these past 7 years in Dr's visits and Co-payments and the cost to fill all the Rx drugs. 

So now I'm faced with the very sad reality that my quality of life is about to come crashing down,because some jackboot isn't able to tax the shit out of it yet.   Nonsense...  I'm Pretty sure the DEA can't label anything that would be the FDA.  I'm also pretty sure that in order to Classify it and ban it they would also have to get in to pass through Congress.   The DEA doesn't make laws....  They are supposed to enforce the IMO illegal prohibition laws...  You aren't a free people when we have to ask for permission....There are a few petitions out there.  Please sign one or a few of them...

Semper Fi

Sat, 09/10/2016 - 8:55pm Permalink
Marcelina Paez (not verified)

It is happening again. What we know for a fact doesn't work, that is saying the DEA is even remotely justified in what they are attempting to do. Which they aren't. We know the war on drugs DOESN'T WORK. We know this. We have millions in prison, MILLIONS since this started. What was it when this war started? 500k? Now over 2 millions? No statistic has improved from our war on drugs. We all know it has done more harm than good, so why, WHY, are we not ALL enraged at this attempt to add yet another plant, (a plant people, a plant in the coffee family, a plaaant) to the list of things we will throw millions of dollars at, throw countless people in jail for, not to mention the thousands we will endanger by doing this? How can we sit here and let this happen? We know for a fact marijuana treats so many things, who hasn't seen the kids with endless seizures find their first relief with marijuana?? Who doesn't know how effective it is in treating a long list of things? Everyone knows, just because the powers that be choose to ignore hard facts. Scientific evidence, absolutely everything showing it is effective, not the deadly drug feared to harm millions, a gateway to harder more lethal drugs. Ha! Our gateway to hardcore drugs is called prescription pain killers, it started with Oxycontin. We all know this. We learned the hard way with marijuana, but nevertheless, we learned. We know it was wrong, we know it shouldn't have been placed as a schedule I and we know for sure it should not still be there. It's becoming a joke even our kids are growing up with, ya we know it helps, we know it is safe, but we pretend it is as bad as heroin. Something about money. Really??? I could go on forever about how we screwed up with Marijuana, learned our lesson but still keep our head in the sand but before we get back to fighting for decriminalization of that. How about we stop another plant from being the next victim of our stupidity?? 

Fact, Kratom alone hasn't caused any deaths. One does not get "high" from kratom, sorry to say (for those looking for a high) kratom isn't going to do it. Think, really strong coffee yet much more pleasant. Is kratom a more powerful pain reliever than oxy, norco, etc? No, not exactly. However the various things kratom does, working together, is what makes it work so well. It does aide beautifully in staving off withdrawal symptoms from opiates. If deaths from heroin, and prescription opiates are so high each year. Why the heck would we ban something that can and does help with that? In the big opioid crackdown and rescheduling of Norco and Tramadol, THOUSANDS were left without their pain meds, I am not talking abusers either, I am talking chronic pain sufferers. Cancer patients, (yes, cancer patients going through chemo, radiation, couldn't get their scripts. How messed up is that?) people with Lupus, Fibro, debilitating issues, people you can look at and you wince. People you know without a doubt are in pain, pain you don't want to be in. Left withdrawing cold turkey off pain meds because doctors were too afraid of getting in trouble to keep prescribing them. That or they suddenly felt pain so bad a person couldn't function was no longer a primary concern. Even for those who, lets be real, could stand to come off opioids and try something else, alternative therapies, drugs not as strong. IT SAYS ON THE MED INFORMATION ITSELF NOT TO COLD TURKEY, I spent the months after the rescheduling, going non stop. Helping one person after another, after another. I've seen seizures, suicides, interactions (people combinging meds or trying new meds to combat symptoms they suffered going off pain meds) depression sky rocketing, people just giving up. The great decision was made to reschedule those drugs making it harder to get them. No guidelines, not even a thought was given to those who actually needed their pain meds. Guess what? Left to fend for themselves, Kratom is one that a very lucky handful were able to find. Know what else? The majority of those who turned to Kratom, never found the need to go back on prescription pain meds. People who previously were doing everything possible to get back on a regimen so they could function, found that a tea leaf not only allowed that, but was more effective, people who spent their time in bed, weren't in bed anymore. Kratom doesn't leave you loopy like pain meds, it doesn't have the side effects, so your pain isn't just helped, the fog isn't there, it is a clarity you only understand if you have been chained to prescription pain meds. Those with anxiety found it helped just enough they didn't need much stronger and also addictive, anxiety meds. Often anti depressants are given for anxiety, medications we know the danger of, just google  black box warning. People able to stop taking medications known to cause suicidal thoughts, like Ian Mautner. Who had two anti depressants in his system, as well as kratom when he died. Kratom isn't the end answer to all that plagues us, but it is an effective aide in combating many wars we face. Be it pain, addiction, anxiety, adhd, inflammation, diabetes, hypertension, Kratom is extremely helpful and for so many it is the life preserver the medical community left us without. Thousands abandoned, and or forgotten by the medical community have found Kratom, and it has done what no one else bothered to do. Give us hope. My question is, why aren't more fighting this fight with us? I promise you will be effected by this ban if it goes through. We know this isn't right. All you need is google to know the DEA made so many false claims. We know people will suffer. How can we let this happen? Again?

Sun, 09/11/2016 - 10:14am Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

I'm embarassed to say that before yesterday,I had no idea what this was.I had heard it was an opioid and that it wasn't from a poppy plant and lost interest.I checked it out yesterday and it seems to be something that not only works as an agonist,it's also either non addictive or minimally addictive.As far as I'm concerned,it's either something physical or it's not really addictive.This is obviously not physical.The reason the DEA is involved is simple.Money.This is a plant that big pharma has put research dollars into and has products readily available.Like cannabis,big pharma has no intention of sitting back and watching money be stripped from their grasp.A simple plant.Ban it!It's all about the money and all about big pharma and it's attempt to capitalize every plant and chemical on earth so it can only be acquired through big pharma.The recent acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer,the maker of heroin,bodes ill for us all.

Fri, 09/16/2016 - 5:30am Permalink
Rad (not verified)

Congress members who think they have to beg the DEA to reconsider a ban are obviously ignorant of the fact that no federal agency has the lawful authority to ban anything or to issue any regulation binding on citizens.


  The US Constitution grants the power to legislate to Congress alone.  The DEA can only issue regulations binding on their own employees.  Any ban on a substance issued by an unelected federal agency is, according to the USC, void and of no effect.


  Congress members swear an oath to uphold the US Constitution and none of them seem to have even read the document.

Mon, 10/03/2016 - 7:50am Permalink

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