With a federal ban on kratom gaining traction in Washington, D.C, advocates of the plant’s pain management and potential opioid withdrawal properties traveled to the nation’s capital to lobby support for the Southeast Asian plant.
Participants hoped to correct legislators’ misconceptions about the plant, which has been labeled as an equivalent to prescription opioids with no medical benefit by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
But as the Huffington Post noted, supporters found that their efforts generated a mixed response from the House and Senate, where legislative aides reportedly said that if the FDA followed through with the ban, it would most likely receive backing from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Surveys have suggested that between three and five million Americans use kratom, which is consumed as a supplement made from the dried or powdered leaves of the kratom tree.
Users claim that kratom can serve as a stimulant or sedative, and it has been touted as an alternative to prescription opioids for pain management, and in some cases, as a potential tool for withdrawal from opioids. It is currently unregulated in America, though some states have enacted a ban on the substance within their own borders.
Kratom’s interaction with opioid receptors in the body has placed it in the crosshairs of the FDA, which has claimed that it can impact the user in the same manner as opioids, and has the same potential for abuse and dependency.
The agency’s negative press eventually spurred the DEA’s decision to temporarily add kratom to its list of Schedule I drugs in 2016, though public outcry from users who relied on the substance for their quality of life forced it to rescind its order that same year.
The FDA has since renewed its efforts to take kratom off the market, this time with computer analysis that suggested the most prevalent compounds in the substance share “structural similarities” to opioids. It also officially recommended that the DEA move forward with its rescheduling, a decision which, according to sources within the agency, may happen as early as summer 2018.
In hopes of heading off such measures, kratom advocates met at the U.S. Capitol on June 5 to begin a week of lobbying in favor of the substance. Proponents testified to the positive impact of kratom use on their chronic pain, which they claimed to have treated unsuccessfully with prescription opioids.
As the HuffPost article noted, one individual spoke about her anxiety that had driven her to consider suicide, and how she had found relief through kratom use.
But attendees also reported that meetings with legislative aides at the House and Senate could not generate a concrete statement of support. Most appeared to hear and support the advocates’ aims, but could not assure the visitors that they would work on their behalf; others stated that if the FDA wanted to reassign kratom, there would be little they could do to stave off or reverse that decision.
“They were pretty much letting us know that this isn’t looking too great,” said Melanie Victor, a volunteer from Tennessee. “This is probably going to be a pretty big fight.”