As cannabis becomes legal in state after state, six states have already banned the healing plant kratom (mitragyna speciosa). The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) quietly withdrew its announcement to schedule the plant alongside heroin under Schedule I, but the recent death of police sergeant Matt Dana has reopened the case for banning the plant nationwide.
Dana passed away in August and according to Franklin County Coroner Shawn Stuart’s September 12 report, there were massive amounts of the strain Red Vein Maeng Da kratom in his system. Dana’s death may be one of about 20 deaths attributed to kratom in recorded history. Consumers report that kratom’s effects are nearly identical to synthetic opioids, because of its active ingredients mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine that bind to the same areas of the brain as opiates. Sadly, synthetic opioids killed 20,145 in 2016, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse. Judging by these numbers, kratom is similar, but potentially thousands of times less deadly, than synthetic opioids. And that’s why the plant is gaining in popularity as an opioid replacement.
To keep things in perspective, daily aspirin is behind up to 3,000 deaths per year, and is “far more” dangerous than previously thought, according to the most recent research.
Activists for the plant stand behind the plant as a viable painkiller. “This is very personal to a lot of folks,” Pete Candland, executive director of the American Kratom Association told the Associated Press. “There are so many people who feel kratom has literally saved their lives, whether it’s getting them off an opioid addiction, relieving pain or helping with overall health and well-being.”
The DEA proposed a ban on the plant last year, but after a signed petition from 62 members of Congress, the proposal was later withdrawn. The Food and Drug Administration is currently completing an analysis of the plant, before the DEA can take any formal action.
If kratom is statistically safer than aspirin, let alone opioids, then shouldn’t it be regulated and sold in pharmacies?