Kratom, a tree native to southeast Asia—Thailand and Malaysia—can reach towering heights of 50 feet, or more. Its trunk, when fully grown, is an impressive 15 feet in diameter. Its leaves, well, the chemical compounds in kratom leaves behave like those found in opioids including morphine. This is not your average shade tree.
Users of “Biak-Biak,” as kratom is called in Malaysia, introduce the drug into the body by smoking, chewing, or brewing the leaves into a tea. Interestingly, chewing the leaves produces a milder effect than other means of consumption. And, the effects achieved when chewing the raw leaves is that of a mild stimulant.
However, when ingesting kratom in higher dosages (extracts, powders, etc) it produces an effect quite similar to that of opium-like narcotic analgesics.
Kratom is a listed as a controlled substance in Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar (Burma). And, it is listed in Schedule 9, the most highest level, of the Australian National Drugs and Poisons Schedule. It is not, however, illegal in the U.S.
Kratom is legal in the U.S.
The DEA, the same DEA that lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, took a look at kratom and decided to not include it in either of the five drug schedule categories. Shoot, even Robitussin AC, a peach-mint or grape/menthol cough syrup, is on the list of “dangerous” drugs, but not kratom, a substitute for opium.
Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs are:
heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote
Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous. Some examples of Schedule II drugs are:
Combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicodin), cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin
Schedule III drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. Schedule III drugs abuse potential is less than Schedule I and Schedule II drugs but more than Schedule IV. Some examples of Schedule III drugs are:
Products containing less than 90 milligrams of codeine per dosage unit (Tylenol with codeine), ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone
Schedule IV drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. Some examples of Schedule IV drugs are:
Xanax, Soma, Darvon, Darvocet, Valium, Ativan, Talwin, Ambien, Tramadol
Schedule V drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics. Schedule V drugs are generally used for antidiarrheal, antitussive, and analgesic purposes. Some examples of Schedule V drugs are:
cough preparations with less than 200 milligrams of codeine or per 100 milliliters (Robitussin AC), Lomotil, Motofen, Lyrica, Parepectolin
The DEA briefly considered placing kratom in the Schedule 1 category but opted not to due to public outcry from people who claim the drug helps as a treatment for pain, anxiety and drug dependence.
Others say it’s safer than opioid painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.
Yeah, well, so is Lyrica, a drug prescribed for fibromyalgia and epilepsy. Lyrica warning labels list minor side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, constipation, difficulty concentrating, swollen arms/legs, and weight gain.
Possible side effects from using kratom include vomiting, sweating, itching, psychotic episodes, delusions and respiratory depression. The FDA has identified 44 reports of death involving kratom since 2011.
There are a large number of Kratom vendors in the United States. The drug typically enters the U.S. in shipments from Asia and from western European countries. These deliveries slip past U.S. Customs, an agency that confiscates all kratom it locates.
Kratom is sold in various forms, including raw leaves, and extracts, capsules, and powders. Vendors include convenience stores, gas stations, and even delis.
Will the DEA eventually add Kratom to the drug schedule? Will the drug be made illegal? Who knows? In the meantime, though, we can all rest easier knowing our nation’s supply of cough syrup and constipation-inducing Lyrica is kept safely under lock and key.