Cure or Kill: Dallasites Do Battle for Kratom, an Herbal Substitute for Narcotics the Feds May Ban

Store manager Yitzchak Palatnik closes the lid to a jar of kratom powder at the Knox Henderson location.

“CBD Kratom” reads the large sign over Dafna Revah’s storefront on Central Expressway’s frontage road. Just south of trendy Knox Street, it sits beside a Marble Slab Creamery, two doors down from a Potbelly Sandwich Shop and around the corner from an Apple store and Kate Spade shop. “You can’t miss it,” Revah says. Unblemished glass walls, doors and windows communicate to passersby: We’ve nothing to hide here.

At least not for the moment.

St. Louis native Revah and husband David Palatnik co-own a few successful smoke shops — that’s a polite term for head shop — an endeavor that began with a store in St. Louis called Mr. Nice Guy. They added another in Chicago and partnered with a California dispensary that sells medical marijuana.

A shrewd, bold businesswoman, Revah remains sanguine despite having opened two dispensary-style boutiques in Dallas, both called CBD Kratom. Medical marijuana isn’t legal in Texas, so don’t expect to find kush at the shop on Knox Street or the second on Davis Street in Oak Cliff. Still, the name is ballsy considering the controversy surrounding kratom, a South Asian plant that many users hail as a potential life-saving herbal alternative to opioids.

While conventional head shops often camouflage controversial products, at CBD Kratom, these supplements stand tall. The small bags, jars and bottles of kratom are aesthetically packaged, benign looking, and customers rattle off praises for the plant. Unfortunately, kratom’s fans don’t include federal regulators. In February, the Food and Drug Administration threatened to stop kratom from entering the United States, and the Drug Enforcement Administration has threatened its legality.

Revah seems unfazed, but the government’s threats have stirred fear and lobbying efforts among some of the countless Americans who are treating themselves for chronic pain with kratom. Some are convinced they will die without it, killed by the addictive narcotics that kratom purportedly replaces.

Kratom has been used since the 1800s for a number of purposes, including reducing the pain of opium withdrawal, but the FDA’s letter declared the plant dangerous and addictive.

Revah disagrees. Thousands use kratom for wide-ranging reasons — insomnia, coughing, pain, Crohn’s disease. There is voluminous anecdotal evidence that the herb’s subtle narcotic effects have bettered the lives of chronic pain patients and people dependent on prescription opioids.

Right now, more than 2 million Americans are hooked on some variety of opioid. Overdoses from heroin and its more powerful synthetic cousin fentanyl claimed some 30,000 American lives last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate opioids will kill another 52,000 Americans this year and as many as half a million in the next decade.

Revah says she worries for the people in pain. “It’s sad,” she says. “They do not want to addict themselves to oxycodone, so they come buy kratom. Taking it away would be very bad.”

As feds require, CBD products in her shop — oils, creams, capsules, edibles and waxes — contain less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that produces marijuana’s high. Regardless, consumers and sellers say CBD goods produced from hemp can relieve pain and inflammation and reduce anxiety and nausea.

At Revah’s shops, educated, friendly staffers won’t hover but usually are on hand to answer questions. The space resembles the sterile, practically clinical environment of legal marijuana dispensaries found throughout Colorado and other states.

CBD sales are carrying on with minimal fuss. The lesser-known kratom, however, is fighting for its legal life.

Customers browse kratom products at the CBD Kratom store in Knox Henderson.

Customers browse kratom products at the CBD Kratom store in Knox Henderson.
Danny Fulgencio

Why stop kratom?

In 2012 and again in 2014, FDA import reports included mention of kratom, indicating the agency felt it had enough evidence to warrant stopping it at the border. Since 2014, federal law enforcement officials have seized at least $5.5 million worth of kratom, according to the FDA.

So kratom disappeared from shelves of American shops, and most of the industry moved online. A growing contingent of users bought from “trusted” online vendors. (Scammers promptly were called out on kratom forums.)

And merchants placed labels like “incense: not-for-human-consumption” on bags and boxes before shipping them overseas.

In spring 2016, the DEA announced plans to make kratom (more precisely, its two primary psychoactive compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine) a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. That’s the category reserved for the worst chemicals that are medicinally irrelevant and have the highest potential for abuse — heroin and ecstasy, for example. It would mean an all-out ban.

To the thousands of Americans who treat pain with kratom, the news ignited fear and indignation. Online vendors, who spent the previous few years booming in business, stood to lose thousands of dollars in sales and inventory or risk becoming criminals.

Protests, letters, videos, petitions — the outcry was more than the government expected, and Congress stalled “for an FDA analysis.”

Still, CBD Kratom opened its two Dallas stores earlier this year, and the herb is on gas station counters again.

Original Article : http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/dallas-people-join-the-fight-to-keep-kratom-legal-despite-the-dea-and-fda-10431405

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