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‘There’s no scientific basis for it’: Wisconsin may stop treating kratom like a dangerous drug

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Alan Bloom was blunt when speaking to fellow members of the state’s Controlled Substances Board about Wisconsin classifying kratom, an herbal supplement, as a dangerous drug.

“There’s no scientific basis for it,” Bloom, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said Tuesday at the CSB’s monthly meeting.

Last year, two chemicals found in kratom were included in a long list of chemicals used to make synthetic opioids the state Legislature voted to classify as Schedule 1 drugs, despite the fact  kratom is neither synthetic nor an opioid.

Kratom is derived from the leaves of the kratom tree, which is closely related to the tree that produces coffee beans.

It has been used in Southeast Asia for centuries for its medicinal properties. In small doses, kratom produces an energy boost similar to caffeine. In larger doses, it works as a painkiller. It can even act as an antidepressant for some people.

No one knows how the kratom chemicals ended up on the list of drugs the Legislature made illegal.

“They stick out like a sore thumb on this list,” Bloom said.

 

RELATED: Banning kratom: Wisconsin treats a safe herbal supplement like a dangerous drug

The CSB has the authority to deschedule kratom and make it legal again in Wisconsin. Bloom wants the board to do it.

Another board member, Dr. Timothy Westlake, said there could be a real public benefit in descheduling kratom.

“We’re trying to decrease the amount of opiates that are prescribed for pain. (Kratom) is not a panacea, but the addictive potential seems a heck of a lot less than that of opiates,” said Westlake, a physician from Oconomowoc.

But science alone won’t be enough to deschedule kratom. There are also a series of bureaucratic hurdles that must be overcome.

First, the CSB will have to follow a procedure originally created by the Food and Drug Administration in the 1970s to determine the potential dangers associated with a scheduled substance, before it can use its administrative rule-making authority to deschedule kratom.

 

KRATOM; Kerry Biggs was using kratom to manage chronic pain until it became illegal in Wisconsin. Biggs want the herbal supplement to be made legal again. “It gave me a new lease on life,” she said.

Then a statement regarding the scope of the proposed rule change must submitted to the governor’s office.

If Gov. Scott Walker approves the scope statement, the CSB can formally vote to adopt the rule.

Then the rule must submitted to the state legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules for approval before it can take effect.

It’s a process that will take months or possibly years to complete, and not all members of the CSB are convinced it should use its rule-making power to reverse an act of the Legislature, but the board voted unanimously Tuesday to take the first step.

The CSB voted to have staff members research why the chemicals in kratom were placed on the list of substances to be scheduled.

It’s a small step, but Kerry Biggs was pleased.

The Milwaukee mother of two drove to Madison to speak in favor of descheduling kratom during the public comments period at the CSB meeting. Biggs used kratom to manage chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments, until it became illegal last year.

“It gave me a new lease on life,” Biggs told Wisconsin Watchdog. “It dampened down my pain without all the side effects that come with taking prescription drugs, like I had to do before I discovered kratom. And like I’ve had to do since they made it illegal in Wisconsin.”

This was the second time Biggs has addressed the board. She also spoke at the August meeting, when the issue of descheduling kratom was raised for the first time.

“I’ll keep coming back, as many times as necessary,” Biggs said. “This is very important to me. It’s very important to a lot of people.”

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