Kratom is derived from the leaves of mitragyna speciosa, a tropical tree related to coffee and native to Southeast Asia. It has been used as a traditional medicine in those areas for centuries. Its users testify that it is an effective pain reliever, alleviates opiate drug withdrawal symptoms, lifts moods, promotes energy, eases anxiety, relieves depression, enhances sexual function, stimulates the immune system, boosts cognition, lowers blood sugar, and is antimalarial, anti-leukemic, and anti-inflammatory.
One would think that a natural substance with those potential benefits would be a welcome addition to western medicine. It should at least be tested in double-blind studies to determine the statistical validity of the testimonial claims.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reacted by banning the import of kratom. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., released a statement in February that focuses almost entirely on his organization’s Public Health Assessment via Structural Evaluation (PHASE) model to claim that the chemical compounds in kratom are opioids. He then suggests that, because there are already plenty of extensively studied, FDA-approved opioids, evaluating the merits of kratom would be redundant.
“We all know how harmless ‘extensively tested’ opioids like Oxycontin have turned out to be,” said Libertarian National Committee Executive Director Wes Benedict. “It’s time for the heavy-handed bureaucrats at the FDA to get out of the way of useful research and responsible substance use. At the very least, the FDA should move to a lighter regulatory regime by allowing double-blind tests on kratom for effectiveness and safety. Banning its import instead only protects established drug manufacturers from competition by a more natural, less costly, and potentially more effective remedy.”
Competing federal bureaucracies are having a difficult time getting on the same page. The FDA claims that kratom use can be fatal by citing examples of death occurring when kratom has been laced with other compounds. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported until recently that “Kratom by itself is not associated with fatal overdose, but some forms of the drug packaged as dietary supplements or dietary ingredients can be laced with other compounds that have caused deaths.” This accurate statement was recently removed from the NIDA website, reports American Kratom Association Chair Dave Herman, probably censored because of political pressure from the FDA.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has even proposed putting kratom on Schedule I, defined by the federal government as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse — and with no way to test those hypotheses. Intense public pressure from satisfied users of kratom caused the DEA to back off for the time being.
“The question isn’t so much whether drugs should be regulated, but who should do the regulating,” Benedict said. “Should it be federal or state government bureaucrats with coercive legal powers of enforcement? Government functionaries who have repeatedly demonstrated their eagerness to cage people for inhaling unapproved smoke? More effective solutions involve voluntary evaluation and certification by independent watchdog organizations like Consumers Union that rigorously test products and services, then issue unequivocal advisories on their pros and cons. Given reliable information, most adults will make the choices that are right for them. Government should get out of the way and let them.”
The Libertarian Party is running hundreds of candidates this year for local, state, and federal office. They are all united in their convictions that self-regulation is more effective and less harmful than heavy-handed government regulation.