The DEA Now Thinks Kratom Is as Dangerous as Heroin

Image: Joe Raedle / Getty
Image: Joe Raedle / Getty

Back in June, Gizmodo reported on kratom’s growing popularity in the US among sufferers of chronic pain and opiate addicts trying to get clean. Now the plant’s time as a self-medication agent may be coming to an end.


A new notice of intent from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) advises that kratom undergo emergency drug scheduling—a process that would classify two of the plant’s constituent chemicals to schedule 1, in the company of heroin and GHB, where it would remain for at least two years. That change is expected to go into effect by the end of September.

Among addicts in particular, kratom has been described as a sort of miracle herb, one that helps alleviate the side effects of opioid withdrawal without itself being addictive. But kratom has also developed a bad reputation, as imitators and adulterated preparations have led to serious side effects and fatalities. The FDA has been freely confiscating shipments of kratom since 2014, though it’s still quite easy to buy online.

The DEA lists potentially harmful effects to humans that mirror the findings of the FDA—findings we reported were not particularly well-sourced or investigated. Likewise, regulatory notices continue to refer to the constituent chemicals mitragynine and 7- hydroxymitragynine as opioids, which they aren’t. The letter of intent claims the emergency scheduling “will not have substantial direct effects on the States,” though many states have struck down proposed legislation to ban kratom.

While the scheduling would remove from market the fake and often dangerous products claiming to be kratom, it’s also likely to lead addicts back the substances they’re attempting to quit.

In response to questions from Gizmodo, Lawrence Payne, a DEA spokesperson, said the move was meant to allow research to catch up on kratom safety. “Temporary scheduling has been utilized quite a bit, particularly as the many designer synthetic drugs have made their way from China and other parts of the world so this is not uncommon,” he said. “This gives us up to three years to research whether something should be permanently controlled or whether it should revert back to non-controlled status.”

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Addicts replacing one drug with another isn't a great idea. Also, a quick review of your original report seems laughable. The story about the guy who stopped pain pills, but still has a healthy interest in booze isn't a huge success story.