On August 31, 2016, the DEA ruled that as of September 30, 2016, the herbal supplement kratom will be classified as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance. Schedule 1 Controlled Substances are drugs that are thought to have a high potential for abuse and no medicinal value.
For centuries, kratom has been safely and effectively used to manage pain, relieve depression and anxiety, and increase energy. More recently, it has been used by recovering addicts to help them maintain sobriety. The drug, which comes from a tree in Southeast Asia that’s a close cousin of the coffee plant, is an inexpensive and natural alternative to addictive pain medications such as morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl.
Kratom users are presently in an uproar about the DEA ruling, which they claim will have a devastating effect on their lives. A petition, currently bearing more than 120,000 signatures, has been presented to the White House and is awaiting a response. Kratom supporters claim that the herb is no more addictive than caffeine. It can be used to treat a multitude of conditions, has few, if any, side effects and has minimal potential for abuse. Users add that it is almost impossible to overdose on kratom because it causes severe nausea and vomiting well before it can be taken to excess.
Until now, the herb has been readily available online and at gas stations, convenience stores and vape shops. Since the DEA announced its intent to make the drug illegal, kratom users have been buying as much of the herb as they can get their hands on before the ban goes into effect at the end of the month.
An important consideration for kratom users and lawmakers alike is that if kratom is banned, those who have been depending on it for pain relief and treatment of conditions like depression and anxiety will be forced to either purchase expensive prescription pain medications that they may be unable to afford, or to turn to black market drugs such as heroin and oxycodone.
Former drug addicts, who have been staying clean and sober with the help of kratom, may now have to resort to purchasing and using dangerous street drugs like the synthetic heroin fentanyl, from which users have been overdosing left and right since the start of 2016.
What will this ban mean for treatment centers? If recovering addicts cannot stay clean and sober without kratom, and they don’t revert to active addiction to street drugs, they’re going to need help. This is especially true for anyone who is suffering from withdrawal symptoms after quitting kratom. The only other alternatives are to find a doctor who will prescribe suboxone or to sign on at a local methadone clinic, assuming there even is one in the area.
Another important consideration is what the consequences will be for those who continue to use and possess kratom after the September 30th DEA ruling goes into effect. Will they be subject to the severe penalties typically imposed for using other Schedule 1 Controlled Substances like marijuana and heroin? If not, what sorts of penalties are they likely to face?
According to FindLaw, “someone charged with 500-4999 grams mixture of cocaine, a schedule II drug, will receive between 5-40 years in prison and a fine of less than $5 million. If the crime involved death or serious bodily injury, the punishment increases to between 20 years and life imprisonment, plus less than a $5 million fine. The same penalty applies to several other drugs/drug quantities, even though the drugs may be classified in different drug schedules.”
The implications of the DEA ruling for kratom users, law enforcement personnel, the courts, treatment centers, prisons and everyone else churning around in the kratom mix could prove to be quite staggering. We can only wait and watch.