Whenever we discuss how the American government acts regarding kratom, the conversation usually verges into a defensive tone. And that’s because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have placed kratom on a public enemy list.
The FDA has placed a couple of import alerts on the plant, and it’s gone on record numerous times about how the agency believes everyone should steer clear from purchasing it. But none of the verbal attacks that the federal agency has reported in the media have ever been based on scientific evidence. Instead, the FDA relies on a misinformation campaign trying to scare consumers.
Then the agency teamed up with the DEA to try and pose an emergency scheduling of kratom, placing it on the DEA’s Scheduled List of Drugs, which would have made kratom illegal on the federal level. Yet, both agencies failed miserably to accomplish that particular goal. However, some state representatives banned it on a state level.
But just because two agencies and six states have been working extremely hard to do their best at banning kratom in America, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t others in our government that are trying their damnedest to keep that from happening now. In fact, when we look behind the scenes, we find plenty of evidence those representatives exist. All you have to do is follow the money trail they leave behind—money that our government gives to researchers for the purpose of studying the benefits of kratom.
While the FDA and DEA have been carrying out its not-so-silent war against kratom in the US, there has been another federal agency that has been willing to listen and follow the science surrounding the plant. That agency is none other than the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). And the reason it took an interest in kratom is that NIDA is a United States federal-government research institute that seeks to advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the agency is willing to determine how kratom might assist the medical field with combating opioid usage in our country—at a time when the epidemic was peaking.
Kratom isn’t the first controversial plant that NIDA has used to perform its research. For decades, the agency had ongoing studies about the effects of cannabis before any of the states had legalized it on a statewide level, leading to it coming under scrutiny for the monopoly it held over research-grade cannabis.
But unlike marijuana, kratom mimics the actions of traditional opioids, giving the plant the ability to assist in the ongoing opioid epidemic. So back in 2018, NIDA awarded researchers at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy with a two-year, $3.5 million grant to help bolster the needed research for Mitragyna speciosa, so the agency could determine what potential the plant carries for treating opioid dependency and its physical dependence.
The $3.5 million was for the UF to identify the pharmacology of over 40 known alkaloids that are found in kratom. The researchers have been performing a number of scientific experiments to discover the effects those alkaloids have on the brain’s receptors. The results allow them to develop a strategic treatment plan to help addicts overcome their addiction to opiates. After that stage is completed, the team is investing in research to identify the alkaloids through chromatographic methods and determine where they go once ingested in the body. Plus, the researchers are trying to understand how those alkaloids are broken down into metabolites.
But the grant that NIDA gave the UF wasn’t a one-time thing. Apparently, the institute wants to get more kratom research on the books and quickly. In the middle of last year, in May 2019, NIDA awarded another grant to the University of Florida. This time, it was a five-year, $3.4 million grant for its team to study kratom’s alkaloids working in unison, allowing the doctors to understand how each molecule works together to provide the effects that are demonstrated as a whole: individually purified alkaloids don’t affect the brain or break down in the body the same way they do when the entire plant is ingested.
Both grants gave the UF researchers their first opportunity to contrast the effects of kratom in its traditional form—tea made from fresh leaves—against the effects felt from the way kratom is consumed here in the west: dried-powdered kratom.
It’s always nice to know that a federal agency, especially one that wants to battle the effects of opioids on the US population, is looking out for American’s welfare instead of submitting to the will of Big Pharma. So NIDA’s support for scientific evidence from kratom research is a huge boon to the kratom community. Yet, we seem to have others in governmental positions that want to see the truth manifest, too.
Members of Congress came forward back in 2016 when the DEA announced its emergency scheduling plans and spoke up against it. That bipartisan group of House lawmakers, which included over 50 representatives, joined their voices together with kratom advocates to oppose the ban. And together, the DEA was made to listen.
But it wouldn’t be the last time that members of Congress showed their support for kratom, either. The Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations Bill showed that members of Congress were willing to put their differences aside to provide $1,000,000 for kratom research throughout this year.
The Appropriations Bill directed the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to make center-based grants that would support more research into kratom and its amazing alkaloids. Congress acknowledged that little research had been done up to that point and wanted to change that narrative. So the bill specified that the research should lead to clinical trials in geographic regions that are among the hardest hit by the opioid crisis, allowing researchers access to an invaluable source of opioid addicts for the studies.
The story of kratom within our borders isn’t black and white. There’s a lot of grey surrounding this specific tale.
There are officials in our government that are totally against kratom and the benefits it could provide to the US citizens. But there are also government officials that support it and want to keep it legal, understanding the miraculous impact it could make during an opioid epidemic. (We have good and bad representatives.) Still, there are lots of employees in our government that are on the fence about it, wanting to learn more about the plant before making a rash decision.
It’s those latter officials that kratom advocates must try to persuade to make the right choice. Depending on the number of representatives that we bring over to our side, the outcome will determine how fairly kratom gets represented on Capitol Hill. But we can never give up hope. We must always stay vigilant because the future of the plant depends on it.
We also need to understand that our government is a constant revolving door of government leaders. Some that oppose kratom may be gone tomorrow. But the same is true for the kratom supporters. So it’s a never-ending battle we’ll need to stand behind, even after we believe it’s over.
And there’s a battle brewing in the next few months. Elections are upon us. Do your homework on every representative on your ballot. Find out what their stance is on kratom. Then on November 3rd, 2020, vote accordingly.