For those of you who haven’t heard of Kratom (Mitragyna Speciosa)… it’s a cousin of the coffee plant that naturally grows in South East Asia. Often the source of a lot of controversy, a quick google will show pages of clickbaity results about the ‘dangers’ of this plant.
For millions of people, it’s a miracle drug that helps people with pain management and opiate addiction. Detractors make claims that it’s an addictive gateway drug, that is a menace to society.
How could there be so much vitrole over a simple plant?
A short history:
Kratom initially became popular in Thailand in the 1930’s. It was primarily used by farmers, who found it to be a useful supplement for providing energy in the early mornings and also helped to soothe aches and pains at the end of the day.
At this time, opium was the popular drug of choice for most people throughout Asia. Due to opiums popularity, governments began to tax it heavily and this turned out to be a cash cow governments across Asia. Though as taxes raised the cost of opium over the years, Thais began looking for alternatives and many found Kratom.
World War II broke out in the early 40’s and the government was fighting both an insurgency within the country and it was bankrupting the government. When the Phibun administration realized that opium tax revenues were declining due to the increased use of non-taxed Kratom, they promptly outlawed Kratom, as it was directly competing with one of their biggest sources of revenue. 70 years later, it’s still illegal, though the current administration is reviewing the law and there is a chance this will be overturned.
Kratom is legal in most parts of the world. There are about a dozen countries that have banned Kratom so far. Most of these bans have not been based on any scientific studies and are typically implemented for political purposes, often prompted by the media. The largest source of Kratom globally is Indonesia, most of which comes from a small region known as Pontianak.
Economic growth in Indonesia has staggered due to the drop in prices of commodities, particularly palm oil. One industry that has been outshining the other stagnant commodities is Kratom exports. It employs an estimated 60,000 workers in the region and exports ~400 tons of Kratom powder, every month. This booming industry has been a lifesaver for many who have been hurt by the drop in growth in other commodities.
The overwhelming majority of their exports head to the United States, where as many as 10,000 vendors get their supplies
The legal situation in the US: (and why it matters to the rest of the world)
US drug policy is mostly dictated by the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA). They advise other agencies like the DEA about which drugs should be scheduled and how to enforce them. They’re supposed to use a science based approach to their policies, which should be free of both political and industry influence.
In the case of Kratom, the FDA has been making many outlandish claims about Kratom, leading many to believe it must be dangerous. On the surface these claims are concerning… You’ll see most any report about Kratom mentions the FDA’s favorite statistic, that there have been 44 Kratom (related) deaths. What often isn’t revealed is that those 44 deaths, were over a 9 year period. The number of Kratom users in the US is estimated at 3-5 million (American Kratom Association). That’s a fatality rate of about 0.0001% per year.
Also, they often fail to mention:
- Those deaths were not caused by Kratom, it was merely in their system when they died. Often they had other much stronger and more lethal substances in their blood such as Fentanyl and other harder opiates. (Remember a lot of people take Kratom to help wean themselves off more damaging drugs)
- Some of the deaths were suicide and in no way related to overdose at all.
- Some of the deaths were car accidents.
- Only one was a purely Kratom related death and the person had ingested nearly 100g, which is 20x the usual dosage.
Currently a handful of states in the US have banned Kratom or have pending legislation.
Why would the FDA care?
So why would the US FDA be putting out countless warnings about the dangers of a drug that is magnitudes less dangerous than caffeine? Why does Scott Gottlieb (FDA Commissioner) often go to twitter to warn the public about the dangers of a drug that has almost no direct fatalities? Though the FDA is almost silent regarding the current opiate crisis in the US that is killing an estimated 200 people every DAY.
Here is a fantastic analysis of the FDA’s ‘research’ of Kratom by Jane Babin at Purdue University, who is both Juris Doctorate in Law and a PhD in Molecular Biology. https://deakratom.com/content/uploads/2018/09/fda_fails.pdf
If you want to understand the behavior of a public entity, you can almost always follow the money and it will lead you to the answer. Pharmaceutical companies have been studying the effects of the unique alkaloids within the Kratom plant for the last 10-15 years. They are fully aware (as are Kratom users) of its unique ability to both mitigate pain and offer low mortality risk due to its lack of respiratory suppression (which is what causes OD death with traditional opiates). With the opiate crisis in full swing in the US, people want alternatives to the currently available drugs and the Kratom analogs are one of the best options. However, with the powder currently available to anyone worldwide and the ability to grow it in any tropical climate, it threatens their ability to seek a monopoly on it.
Here are a list of studies they’re already conducting. You’ll also notice the positive outcomes of all of them, citing better analgesic capabilities and reduced side effects that current opiates.
Kratom Study 1
Kratom Study 2
Kratom Study 3
Kratom Study 4
Ideally what it appears they are vying for, is to incourage the government to outlaw Kratom powder, but exempt the alkaloids, so they can both continue to study and then patent them. The result is that the only way for people to have access would be through purchasing the pharmaceutical synthetic Kratom.
They’ve successfully waged this war with Marijuana ensuring the plant stays illegal but finding a way to legalize the compounds within it.
A US Ban:
US Scheduling of Kratom would be crushing for all the people involved in the current Kratom industry.
First and foremost are the users of Kratom who need the plant to be able to deal with their ongoing pain management issues. This would essentially be taking away their lifeline and force them to go back to traditional opiates, or even worse black market solutions like Heroin. The FDA will ruin these peoples lives under the guise of somehow trying to protect them.
As for the Indonesian market, it would destroy their current Kratom industry, putting at least 60,000 people out of work, in one region alone.
The world is only now slowly discovering how valuable the Kratom plant is as an effective and reasonably safe pain medicine. The next generation of pain medicines are undoubtedly coming from the alkaloids contained with Kratom. The plant grows naturally all over South East Asia and could be a boon to many of the economies in the region. When
The pharmaceutical companies are hoping to destroy the industry before it grows a foothold within mainstream consumer markets. You can see their efforts are working, as countries slowly begin to ban it using the failed science from the FDA.
Taiwan recently scheduled Kratom, prompted by the local media making completely unfounded claims that the plant was 20x more lethal than morphine. The press also cited the FDA report in their article.
Pharmaceutical companies are waging are war behind the scenes to crush the Kratom industry. Hurting those in pain, taking jobs away from belegered enconomies, so that pharmaceutical executives can get bigger bonuses and stock holders can enjoy higher returns.
The world needs to take a stand against greedy US corporations who are trying to leverage the US government to exercise authority over sovereign nations and sovereign peoples.