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What is kratom and why does Mississippi want to make it illegal?

Several Mississippi lawmakers want to criminalize the use of kratom—a plant that’s become increasingly popular in the United States for its opioid-like effects—and advocates are prepared to speak up.

What is kratom?

Kratom is a tree in the coffee family that originates in Southeast Asia and has been used in traditional medicine in Thailand, Indonesia and several other countries for more than a century.

Known for its stimulant- and opioid-like properties, kratom’s growing popularity is largely due to testimonials from users who say it’s a natural alternative to prescription painkillers and antidepressants, and can help treat opioid withdrawal symptoms. It lacks federal regulation, despite an attempt in 2016 by the Drug Enforcement Administration to ban kratom—a decision reversed due to an outpouring of comments from users who said their lives would be drastically affected without it.

Advocates stress that kratom isn’t a drug or synthetic substance, and is non-habit-forming if taken in normal doses. “If taken in excess, continuously over long periods of time, Kratom consumers may experience dependence, similar to caffeine dependence,” according to the American Kratom Association.

It is legal in most of the United States, with the exception of Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Vermont. Some cities have banned its use, including Washington D.C.

Why are lawmakers trying to make kratom illegal?

In a nation gripped by a powerful opioid epidemic, many lawmakers argue the legality of opioid-like substances could perpetuate addiction and even serve as a gateway to painkillers and/or heroin use.

In November 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned against the use kratom as treatment for opioid addiction.

“At a time when we have hit a critical point in the opioid epidemic, the increasing use of kratom as an alternative or adjunct to opioid use is extremely concerning,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

Researchers say banning kratom could do more harm than good in curbing the epidemic. Clinical psychologist Marc Swogger said in a 2016 Washington Post article that criminalizing kratom is “insane” as its users are often “in pain or addicted” to other drugs.

“Those are two groups that need options for improving their situations,” Swogger told the Post. “Without those options, I’m not sure what they’re going to do. Will they begin to take heroin? Will they show up for treatment and get the appropriate treatment?”

Fifteen overdose deaths involving kratom were documented in the U.S. between 2014-2016 compared to around 30,000 overdose deaths in 2015 alone tied to prescription painkillers and/or heroin. Swogger said in every kratom-related case, users had “either taken other drugs, too, or had a history of alcohol or heroin abuse that also could have caused or contributed to the death.”

If enacted, SB 2475 would make kratom a Schedule 1 substance in Mississippi.

This post was last modified on January 25, 2018, 10:08 am

View Comments (1)

  • Happy to see the author of this article isn't obviously a shill for the pharmaceutical companies and was kind enough to acknowledge that of every one of the 15 reported overdose deaths involving kratom, other real drugs were also used.
    As a past heroin addict, I can personally say that kratom isn't used to get high. However, people who are addicted to the opiates that the FDA does approve, the ones that kill, those people can get clean by using kratom to help ease the withdrawals while getting away from opiates. This is a blessing for people who cannot afford 400 dollars a month to get methadone or 650 a month for suboxone, or those who luckily live in an area that provides these services for free but have waiting list that are months long before you get treatment. A days dose of kratom for a hardcore heroin user can be just 10 dollars, compared to a 200 dollar a day heroin habit.
    But the pharmaceutical companies are paying big bucks lobbying to keep this out of their hands and direct the money into their pockets by selling the drugs they make to get you off of the other drugs they make.