Kratom is a tree in the coffee family, native to Southeast Asia with closely related species found in Africa. In those regions, medicinal and recreational use of kratom dates back centuries. As natural wellness has become a hot topic of discussion over the last decade, kratom is gaining popularity in the United States as well. It’s a holistic remedy commonly used for pain that could potentially replace the need for more dangerous and addictive pharmaceutical opioids – a healing plant like cannabis.
Despite this, it surprisingly has not yet been banned by the federal government, although they have tried. As a matter of fact, a bill was passed to protect a consumer’s right to possess and use kratom products. However, because state governments have legalities separate from the federal government’s, many states have taken steps to regulate kratom, and a handful have banned it completely.
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What is kratom?
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a flowering evergreen tree related to the coffee plant. It is indigenous to Southeast Asia but has been gaining popularity in western culture for its stimulating and pain-relieving effects. Kratom is used both recreationally and therapeutically, and just like cannabis, it’s incredibly controversial. Quite a few studies have noted the pharmaceutical potential of Kratom.
Kratom is made up of dozens of alkaloids, compounds which are known to hold medicinal value and have been studied independently for decades. Alkaloids are a class of basic, naturally occurring organic compounds that contain at least one nitrogen atom. They are produced by a large variety of organisms including bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals and can be purified from crude extracts of these organisms by acid-base extraction, or solvent extractions followed by silica-gel column chromatography.
Alkaloids have a wide range of pharmacological activities and there is a lot of existing research to back this up. The most abundant alkaloid in Kratom is mitragynine, and for decades it was also believed to be the most potent. Then in 2002, a group of Japanese researchers found a variant called 7-hydronitragynine. This minor compound is extremely potent, more powerful than morphine, and despite being found only in trace amounts, it’s responsible for most of kratom’s pain-fighting properties. Further research has determined that both alkaloids act as partial opioid receptor agonists by activating the supraspinal mu- and delta- opioid receptors.
For quite some time now, the US Drug Enforcement Agency has been trying to add kratom to the Schedule I list of controlled substances. But their position has been met with resistance from both consumers and researchers alike.
Medical benefits of kratom
Clinical studies on kratom are lacking, but a recent survey of more than 2,700 self-reported users conducted by Johns Hopkins University found that a staggering majority of people are using this plant to alleviate pain. They also concluded that kratom “likely has a lower rate of harm and abuse” than prescription opioids, which are responsible for almost 50,000 deaths in the United States every year.
In a report on their findings, published in the February 3, 2020, issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the researchers caution that “while self-reporting surveys aren’t always entirely reliable, they confirmed that kratom is not regulated or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and that scientific studies have not been done to formally establish safety and benefits.” According to American Kratom Association (AKA), a consumer advocacy group, an estimated 10 to 16 million people in the U.S. are using kratom regularly.
Kratom is full of alkaloids, which are present in many different facets of human life, including much of what we consume. Alkaloids have showed anti-inflammatory, anticancer, analgesics, local anesthetic and pain relief, neuropharmacologic, antimicrobial, antifungal, and many other activities
Benefits of kratom use include but are not limited to: elevated mood, increased energy, healthy and restful sleep, boosted energy, muscle relaxation, natural aphrodisiac, eliminate social anxiety, pain relief, and it can be used to help minimize the symptoms of withdrawal from illicit drugs.
The Kratom Consumer Protection Act (KCPA)
Similar to how states have been granted the authority to regulate cannabis use, despite it going against federal regulations, states are taking similar actions to either protect or prohibit kratom. The Kratom Consumer Protection Act (KCPA) is a bill, drafted by the American Kratom Association, that aims to progressively regulate the US kratom industry.
The act is currently under review by several state governments, and the Kratom association is attempting to get more states to adopt better kratom policies. Although this act has been in the works for years, it has not been covered extensively by the mainstream media. The bill addresses all topics relating to the growing kratom industry, such as: cultivation, manufacture, distribution, medical benefits, sale, possession, use, age limits, testing, labeling, fines and penalties.
Overall, the main purpose of the Kratom Consumer Protection Act is to protect customers from shady companies, and ensure that kratom producers and vendors are only supplying safe, high-quality products that are free of pesticides, heavy metals, fungus, and other contaminants.
Where is kratom still banned in the United States?
Kratom is not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act, so it is not listed on the drug schedules. However, different states have implemented their own regulations or prohibitions against the possession and use of kratom. According to the DEA’s website, “Kratom has not been approved for any medical use. In addition, DEA has listed kratom as a Drug and Chemical of Concern.” The following states have regulated kratom to some extent.
Kratom is illegal to buy, sell, possess or use:
- Rhode Island
Kratom is legal, but may be regulated:
- Arizona – KCPA passed
- California – Outside San Diego, which banned it, kratom is legal in California
- Colorado – Outside Denver, where it’s considered illegal for human consumption, kratom is legal in Colorado
- Florida – Aside from being banned in Sarasota Country, kratom is legal in Florida
- Georgia – KCPA passed
- Illinois – Outside the city of Jerseyville, kratom is legal in Illinois for those over the age of 18
- Mississippi – Outside Union County, which has banned the substance, kratom is legal to use in Mississippi
- Nevada – KCPA passed
- New Hampshire – Kratom is legal for those over the age of 18
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Tennessee – Kratom is legal for those over the age of 21
- Utah – KCPA passed
- West Virginia
The following cities also prohibit the possession and use of kratom:
- Oceanside, CA
- San Diego, CA
- Sarasota, FL
- Jerseyville, IL
- Union County, MS
What about the rest of the world?
For the most part, kratom is unregulated globally. But it is prohibited in the following countries:
- Argentina – Labeled as a narcotic drug under Decree 69/2017.
- Australia – Classified as a schedule 9 narcotic by the Drug and Poisons Schedule Committee. It has been approved for clinical research.
- Belarus – Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine are labeled as psychotropic illegal substances under the Republican List of Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances, and their precursors.
- Bulgaria – Kratom is regulated and requires a prescription from a physician for use.
- Croatia – Kratom, as well as mitragynine specifically, are listed on the Croatian Ministry of Health’s directory of drugs, psychotropic substances, and plants from which drugs can be obtained and substances.
- Denmark – In 2008, Denmark added Kratom to its Executive Order on Narcotics, making it illegal in all regards. Medical prescriptions are still permitted.
- Estonia – Mitragynine is listed as a narcotic under Regulation 73.
- Finland – Kratom is prohibited as per Finland’s Government Decree on psychoactive substances banned from the consumer market.
- France – Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, as well as whole-plant kratom, were all added to France’s list of psychotropic substances under decree 23, established in 2019.
- Germany – Kratom is prohibited in Germany.
- Ireland – Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine are classified as a Schedule 1 controlled drug under S.I. No. 173/2017 – Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2017.
- Indonesia – Despite being one of the largest global producers and distributors of kratom, regional bans are becoming commonplace within the country.
- Israel – Kratom is banned as per the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
- Italy – In 2017, kratom was added to Italy’s table containing the indication of narcotic and psychotropic substances.
- Latvia – Kratom is a controlled substance based on Latvia’s Regulations Regarding Narcotic Substances, Psychotropic Substances and Precursors.
- Lithuania – Kratom and mitragynine are both illegal based on Lithuania’s Lists of Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
- Luxembourg – Kratom, mitragynine, and 7-hydroxymitragynine were classified as psychotropic substances by the Luxembourg minister of health.
- Moldova – Kratom is illegal, classified as “narcotic substances and psychotropic substances not used for medical purposes”.
- Norway – According to the Journal of Forensic Sciences, kratom is either an illegal or controlled substance in Norway.
- Poland – Kratom is banned in Poland.
- Portugal – Kratom was classified as an illegal, psychoactive substance in ordinance No. 154/2013.
- Malaysia – Mitragynine was classified in Malaysia as a psychotropic substance under the Poisons Act of 1952. Kratom is indigenous to Malaysia.
- Myanmar – Kratom is banned in Myanmar.
- New Zealand – Kratom is banned in New Zealand.
- Romania – Romania was classified as a narcotic in Romania under emergency ordinance no. 6 of February 10, 2010.
- Slovenia – Kratom was classified as an illicit drug by Slovenia in 2019.
- Singapore – Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine are both included in the Misuse of Drugs Act, and classified as First Schedule controlled drug.
- Sweden – Kratom is banned in Sweden.
- Switzerland – Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine appear in Switzerland’s Narcotics Act.
- Thailand – Kratom is approved only for medical use and research in Thailand.
- United Arab Emirates – Kratom is banned in the UAE.
- United Kingdom – UK laws regarding kratom are a bit confusing. There is no specific kratom regulation in the UK. However, the Psychoactive Substances Act’s definition of psychoactive substance, being “[a substance that] is capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it,” would likely include kratom, therefore making it illegal to sell, buy, produce, import and export. Simple possession of kratom is not covered under this legislation but possession with the intent to supply is, and the difference would be decided in court on an individual basis.
Up until now, kratom has remained fairly unregulated. But as the world becomes increasingly familiar with its many benefits, the natural plant and its compounds will continue to get banned at the federal level while the government sets kratom aside for future pharmaceutical use.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advice, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.