A bipartisan and bicameral duo of congressional lawmakers is imploring the U.S. government to resist efforts to impose an international ban on kratom, which has been touted as a natural painkiller that works as a safer alternative to prescription opioids.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) recently sent a letter to the secretary of the U.S. Department Health and Human Services and the country’s United Nations (UN) ambassador. They asked that the U.S. “oppose any effort to add kratom and its alkaloids to the 1971 UN Convention on psychotropic substances as a banned substance.”
The letter, which is being celebrated by the American Kratom Association (AKA), concerns a World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependency (ECDD) review of whether to recommend that kratom be globally scheduled.
As it stands, kratom is not scheduled under the federal Controlled Substances Act or under international drug treaties to which the U.S. is a party. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has considered putting restrictions on the substance, but it’s has faced resistance and has been unable to do so at this point. Some advocates suspect that, since the agency hasn’t imposed a ban on kratom domestically, it may use the WHO convention as an opportunity to get prohibition enacted internationally, a move that the country would be compelled to comply with.
If a decision is made to internationally schedule the substance, that could have immediate domestic implications, the Lee and Pocan said. The treaty obligation “forfeits the will of the American people, ties the United States to the whims of the majority of international actors, and diminishes the need for public health experts to thoroughly evaluate substances that lead to domestic decisions based on evidence and data,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter earlier this month.
As federal agencies have gone back and forth about the merits of scheduling kratom over recent years, there’s been “no conclusive evidence that would warrant the United States voting in favor of an international control of this substance.”
“Given the absence of data showing kratom’s purported harms, a vote in favor of controlling this substance would raise serious questions,” the letter continues. “If there is no scientific basis for control, Congress has not deliberated the need for control, and the clear interests of the American people are against control, then the United States should not be voting in favor of controlling that substance on the international stage.”
AKA Senior Fellow on Public Policy Mac Haddow talked to Marijuana Moment about the stakes of the global review in a phone interview.
“If there were a decision to schedule kratom internationally, we would be obligated under that treaty to commence scheduling procedures for kratom in the United States under the Controlled Substances Act,” he said. “And if that were to happen, it’s complete end run by the FDA, where they can’t justify scheduling here in the United States.”
Haddow said separately in a press release that AKA is “grateful for Sen. Lee and Congressman Pocan’s support in urging the Biden administration to oppose efforts at the international level to ban kratom. American consumers, scientists and lawmakers have previously and clearly voiced their opposition to domestic efforts to schedule kratom as a controlled substance.”
Indeed, tens of thousands of kratom advocates and stakeholders have submitted comments to FDA this year, with the hope of informing the U.S. position on how the substance should be internationally classified. FDA’s comment period was set to end on August 9, but AKA successfully sued for a short extension.
“It is critical that federal officials at Health and Human Services and our representatives to the UN stand firmly in defense of the will of the American people and not allow the whims of international actors to dictate our domestic policy,” Haddow said.
The House Appropriations Committee recently approved a report to spending legislation that says federal health agencies have “contributed to the continued understanding of the health impacts of kratom, including its constituent compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.”
“The Committee is aware of the potential promising results of kratom for acute and chronic pain patients who seek safer alternatives to sometimes dangerously addictive and potentially deadly prescription opioids and of research investigating the use of kratom’s constituent compounds for opioid use disorder,” it said.
The panel also directed the Health and Human Services secretary to continue to refrain from recommending that kratom be controlled in Schedule I.
Late last year, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) asked the public to help identify research that specifically looks at the risks and benefits of cannabinoids and kratom.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year separately received more than one thousand comments concerning kratom as part of another public solicitation.