Coffee’s funky little cousin kratom may finally be banned by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, graduating to a controlled substance from merely being a “drug or chemical of concern.”
The plant and its derivatives have been used for recreational and medicinal purposes in Southeast Asia for as long as anyone can remember, and the DEA’s proposed criminalization of kratom has sparked protests in Washington, D.C., and a petition with more than 120,000 signatures.
Indigenous to Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea — all of which, not coincidentally, are coffee origins — kratom is the anglicized word for Mitragyna Speciosa, a tropical plant in the coffee (Rubiaceae) family, and its leaves bear a striking resemblance.
U.S. customs and drug enforcement officials have been seizing kratom with increased frequency in the forms of powder, plant, capsules, tablets, liquids, gum/resin, and patch, and the substance has become widely available in U.S. stores and through online sales.
While only two kratom exposures were reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers from 2000 to 2005, the organization received 660 kratom-related calls between 2010 and 2015, the DEA said. Proponents of kratom praise it as a natural painkiller and for its reported ability to help treat addiction and mental illnesses.
“Because the identity, purity levels, and quantity of these substances are uncertain and inconsistent, they pose significant adverse health risks to users,” said the DEA, which expects to enact the criminalization of kratom by the end of this month.