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Should The Psychoactive Herb Kratom Be Banned Globally? The FDA Seeks Public Comments

·3 min read

The Federal Drug Administration is seeking public comments on kratom, a tropical plant native to Southeast Asia, which is currently not illegal and can have “opioid-like” effects.

Due to its legality, kratom can be easily purchased around the country as a dietary supplement often used as an energy booster, mood enhancer and pain reliever. In higher doses, kratom’s affinity with opioid receptors can produce sedation and pleasure.

Lack of conclusive research around the plant’s safety and efficacy has launched an all-out battle between kratom advocates and federal agencies working towards regulating or banning the plant.

Is Kratom Dangerous?

According to data from the National Poison Data System, between 2011 and 2017, eleven deaths were associated with kratom use mixed with other drugs, and only two deaths were associated with pure kratom use.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), “the FDA reports that many of the kratom-associated deaths appeared to have resulted from adulterated products or taking kratom with other potent substances, including illicit drugs, opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol, gabapentin, and over-the-counter medications, such as cough syrup.”

This evidence would suggest that regulating kratom products could work better than prohibition at alleviating kratom-related deaths.

While conclusive evidence has yet to be amassed, anecdotal reports account for the use of kratom as an herbal alternative to medical treatments in controlling withdrawal symptoms and cravings caused by opioid addiction.

According to the American Kratom Association, an advocacy group in favor of the herb’s use, “Kratom is a safe herbal supplement used by millions of Americans to manage pain, or as an alternative to coffee to help their mood and focus.”

While kratom can have opioid-like effects by partially binding to opioid receptors, the herb “does not suppress the respiratory system which is the primary cause of overdoses,” says the association’s website.

A Move To Ban Kratom Internationally?

According to the American Kratom Association, the FDA has unfairly demonized kratom since 2009, spreading “inaccurate, distorted, and, in some cases, completely false information.”

A 2018 animal study found that kratom “does not have abuse potential and reduces morphine intake” in rats. A follow-up NIDA-funded study suggested “a limited abuse liability,” marking kratom as a potential treatment to reduce opioid abuse.

While the plant remains legal, the American Kratom Association has established good manufacturing practices and labeling programs as efforts to independently regulate kratom products currently sold online and in brick-and-mortar stores.

Marijuana Moment reported that the FDA has issued a call for comments that can inform the country’s position in advance of an October meeting of the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.


Comments can be submitted until August 9, 2021. The call for comments also encompasses six other substances including synthetic opioids and synthetic cannabinoids.

While an expert committee from the WHO will consider whether information presented during the review period may justify the scheduling of some of these substances, kratom is still in a pre-review period, meaning that the international body is conducting preliminary analysis that should not determine whether the control status of the substance should be changed.

Photo by Uomo vitruviano on WIkimedia Commons

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