The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has issued a notice of intent to add kratom to its list of Schedule I substances, according to a report published Aug. 31 in the Federal Register. The Southeast Asian plant will join heroin, LSD and ecstasy on the list.
In the report, acting DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg said the classification is necessary to avoid compromising public safety.
The DEA cited an evaluation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found 660 poison control calls involving kratom occurred from January 2010 to December 2015. About 90 percent of calls reported ingestion of the substance.
Poison control centers also received calls from people who reported using the drug with other substances such as benzodiazepines and acetaminophen.
“The consumption of kratom individually, or in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs, is of serious concern as it can lead to severe adverse effects and death,” the report states.
The DEA proposes classifying kratom as Schedule I for up to three years. After that, the drug can be permanently banned.
The report comes about three weeks after the agency refused to remove marijuana from its list of restricted substances.
Derived from a tree indigenous to Thailand, kratom is a mind-altering substance that has been used as an opium substitute for centuries across Southeast Asia. Many laborers and farmers have used the plant as a pain remedy.
Kratom comes in the form of powder, capsules, tablets, liquids, gum and resin.
The drug has become popular in the United States. Bars in Colorado, New York, North Carolina and other states have brewed the substance for its customers. It has been sold at smoke shops, at gas stations and over the internet.
Kratom is usually abused for its opioid-like effects, the DEA report stated. For this reason, numerous teens have taken to the drug.
Its active ingredients — mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine — bind to opioid receptors in the body. Low doses of the plant heighten alertness. Heavy amounts can cause sedation and produce numbing effects.
Many use kratom to stave off pain, fatigue and depression. However, the substance can also cause respiratory depression, sleeplessness and nausea.
Emergency rooms have tended to numerous kratom-related incidents in recent years. Fifteen deaths related to kratom exposure occurred from 2014 to 2016, according to the DEA report.
“This information demonstrates the severe risks associated with kratom misuse and the increasing occurrence of fatal outcomes related to kratom exposure,” the report stated.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the import of kratom in 2014. Later that year, U.S. Marshals seized more than 25,000 pounds of the substance from a facility in Van Nuys, California.
U.S. law enforcement has seized more kratom in 2016 than in any previous year, according to the DEA.
“We have identified kratom as a botanical substance that poses a risk to public health and has the potential for abuse,” said Melinda Plaisier, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, in a press release.
Kratom has been problematic for individuals in recovery. Dariya Pankova, a Brooklyn native who received addiction treatment in Delray Beach, Florida, consumed kratom in beverage form to ease her heroin withdrawals. However, her cravings for the drug only grew stronger, and she eventually relapsed.
“It’s a mind-altering substance, so people like me who are addicts and alcoholics, they think just because it’s legal, it’s fine,” Pankova told The New York Times in January. “It’s a huge epidemic down here, and it’s causing a lot of relapses.”
Medical professionals have warned people of the consequences of using kratom to reduce other drug cravings. Edward W. Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says self-medicating with kratom can be a health risk.
“It’s a fascinating drug, but we need to know a lot more about it,” he told The New York Times.