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The DEA Backs Off Its Kratom Ban…For Now

Users won the battle but not the war.

Matthew Gault

Matthew Gault

Powder kratom. Ingenium/Wikimedia Commons

The internet exploded in September when America's Drug Enforcement Agency announced it would outlaw kratom—a mildly popular plant native to Southeast Asia. The DEA claimed the plant should be a Schedule I substance and join the ranks of heroin, Ecstasy and marijuana as a chemical with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

Kratom is one of those weird, understudied substances headshops sell alongside salvia and fly agaric mushrooms. And much like any drug, kratom's effects vary widely based on the user, the dose and the setting.

Some fans describe a stimulant effect at low doses, others claim a high dose mimics opiates (a claim with some scientific backing) while still others can gobble up the powdered plant with no high whatsoever. There's still a lot we don't know about the drug, which is a big reason the DEA shouldn't ban it. Marking a chemical Schedule I makes it incredibly hard to do any kind of scientific study.

But the DEA backed off. Why? According to a message the agency published on Oct. 13, "the DEA has received numerous comments from members of the public challenging the scheduling action and requesting that the agency consider those comments and accompanying information before taking further action."

People threw a fit when they heard about the kratom ban. Many on internet message boards claim the plant has helped wean them off of prescription painkillers and heroin. There's enough anecdotal evidence that researchers are taking it seriously, and they let the DEA know they were standing in the way of progress.

Denver's Department of Environmental Health Plans cracked down on shops selling the plant in the wake of the ban. In light of the DEA's change of heart, it announced it would relent and let the stores sell kratom again. Which is good news to any head shop owner who didn't destroy their stock in a panic last month.

The fight isn't over yet, though. The DEA's scheduling decision is temporary. It's bringing in the Food and Drug Administration to run some tests and more comments from the public.

At the time of this story's publication, the DEA had yet to open up electronic comments. When it does, kratom fans can head over to www.regulations.gov, search for Docket No. DEA-442W, and tell the feds what they think.

Users can also mail a letter to Drug Enforcement Administration, Attn: DEA Federal Register Representative/ODW, 8701 Morrissette Drive, Springfield, Virginia 22152, again under the heading "Docket No. DEA-442W."

Maybe don't put your return address on that letter though.