Although kratom has existed for centuries, the plant has only recently become popular in the United States. The expansion of global trade now allows hundreds of farmers across countries like Indonesia and Vietnam to export kratom products to the United States and elsewhere where the plant has caught on with buyers nationwide.
However, kratom’s popularity has also drawn the attention of federal agencies like the FDA and DEA, who have expressed concern regarding the plant’s safety and legal status. Despite hundreds of years of safe use across various Southeast Asian cultures, the FDA has continually dissuaded consumers from purchasing and using kratom and has formally labeled the plant a “drug of concern.”
As of this writing, kratom remains legal in most US states despite recurring rumors of imminent kratom ban news. But, given the FDA’s uncompromising stance on kratom so far, one question remains on the minds of many Americans: how long will it be before kratom is banned?
Will Kratom Be Banned?: The FDA Kratom Ban So Far
Although the FDA can’t ban kratom outright — an effort that would require the involvement of the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute on Drug Abuse — the plant does fall under their purview when marketed as a dietary supplement or an unapproved drug.
The FDA aroused public suspicions of kratom ban news in 2012 when the agency detained hundreds of kratom shipments from various parties, citing “the marketing or promotion of unapproved drugs to individuals residing in the United States.”
In 2014, the FDA issued a second import alert regarding the shipment of kratom products that were marketed as dietary ingredients, citing that “there does not appear to be a history of use or other evidence of safety establishing that kratom will reasonably be expected to be safe as a dietary ingredient.” The importation notice then granted districts the authority to detain flagged kratom shipments without physical examination but no outright news of a kratom ban was introduced.
In November 2017, the FDA commissioner at the time, Scott Gottlieb, issued a statement relaying his concerns with the plant, stating “before it can be legally marketed for therapeutic uses in the U.S., kratom’s risks and benefits must be evaluated as part of the regulatory process for drugs that Congress has entrusted the FDA with.” In closing, Gottlieb affirmed his receptiveness to scientific research that could corroborate the plant’s safe use but also stated that the FDA would continue to take action in the interest of protecting public health.
In 2018, fears of would kratom be banned grew stronger among American kratom enthusiasts as the FDA’s stance on kratom became firmer still. On February 21st, the organization released another statement detailing the voluntary destruction and recall of kratom products from a number of manufacturers and distributors while simultaneously encouraging other similar companies to cease selling kratom products for human consumption. In the statement, the FDA reiterated their staunch dedication towards “[taking] aggressive enforcement action against kratom-containing products,” prompting some citizens to wonder if kratom would soon be banned.
Despite new speculation of an impending kratom ban, kratom is still legal for sale and importation in most US states as of this writing, but the FDA has taken swift action against vendors who have explicitly marketed or sold kratom for the purposes of consumption. In response, many American kratom vendors have circumvented FDA intervention by avoiding marketing and labeling their kratom products as dietary supplements or ingredients.
How The FDA’s Stance on Kratom Has Affected State Legislation
Following the FDA Import Alert 66-41 in January 2012, many US states and municipalities began banning kratom, kratom products, and in some cases, kratom’s primary chemical constituents, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.
The first state to announce news of a kratom ban was Indiana in March 2012 with the enactment of Senate Bill 305 which identified the naturally-occurring alkaloids mitragynine and hydroxymitragynine in kratom leaves as “synthetic drugs” and categorized them as Schedule I substances.
In 2013, Vermont followed suit, passing Title 18 V.S.A. § 4205, which classified 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-HMG) as a regulated drug statewide.
In February of 2014, Sarasota County, Florida, introduced their own unfortunate kratom ban news; however, outside of Sarasota County, kratom is legal to possess and use in the state of Florida.
Wisconsin was the next state to illegalize kratom statewide. In April 2014, Wis. Stat. § 961.14 deemed both mitragynine and 7-HMG as Schedule I substances, rendering them illicit across all cities and towns in Wisconsin.
In February 2016, legislators in Arkansas also announced that kratom would be banned and added the plant to their state’s list of controlled substances. The same year, Alabama passed SB226 in May, which classified kratom as a Schedule I substance within all cities and municipalities under the state’s jurisdiction. A month later, the Californian city of San Diego introduced their own news of a kratom ban in June with Ordinance 20657.
In the state of Illinois, kratom remains illegal in the city of Jerseyville as of April 2017; however, Illinois state law is unique in that kratom is legal for possession outside of Jerseyville if an individual is over 18 years old.
The following month in May of 2017, Rhode Island added kratom’s alkaloids mitragynine and 7-HMG to their Uniform Controlled Substances Act, citing “a danger to public health.”
Although the FDA’s numerous statements have stirred fear and uncertainty within the American kratom community, the plant appears to have a bright future ahead.
Despite legislative efforts in some states and municipalities, kratom remains legal in the majority of the US. Scott Gottlieb, the FDA Commissioner who aggressively campaigned against kratom use between 2017 and 2019 and laid the groundwork for news of a tentative kratom ban, announced his resignation from the FDA on March 5, 2019. Although the FDA will likely continue to take action against the illicit sale and marketing of kratom powder products, it’s unclear how the new acting FDA Commissioner, Ned Sharpless, will handle future kratom-related legislation.
In the US, much of the effort to prevent kratom’s illegalization has been spearheaded by the American Kratom Association (AKA), a non-profit organization established in 2014. The AKA has dedicated its resources towards protecting lawful kratom use across the United States by challenging misinformation, legislation, and regulation. Through various rallies and petitions, the AKA has contested news of kratom bans in Georgia, Ohio, and elsewhere. Undoubtedly, the organization’s efforts have helped secure a more optimistic answer to the question of whether or not kratom will be banned.
Outside of legislative efforts, recent developments in kratom research are also inspiring hope in the hearts of many Americans. The FDA has routinely pointed towards the lack of scientific research supporting kratom as a primary driver of their concerns. However, on behalf of Scott Gottlieb, the FDA did state that factually-founded research could help inform their efforts. “The FDA stands ready to evaluate evidence that could demonstrate a medicinal purpose for kratom,” wrote Gottlieb in the agency’s February 6th, 2018 statement.
Fortunately, efforts are underway to supply the FDA with science that could nullify the need for wondering will kratom be banned. In late 2018, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) awarded researchers at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy with a $3.5 million grant to fund their kratom studies over the following two years. The research team, which includes Lance McMahon, Ph.D., Chris McCurdy, Ph.D., and Bonnie Avery, Ph.D., is set to examine 40 of the naturally-occurring alkaloids found in kratom leaves, including mitragynine and 7-HMG.
One of the research team members, Chris McCurdy, is a veteran in the field of kratom research but ceased his kratom studies after the DEA announced their news to ban kratom in 2016. With NIDA’s grant money, McCurdy will be able to continue his studies unabated with greater access to equipment, samples, and other essential lab infrastructure.
Although the numerous regulatory forces at play make it difficult to answer the question “will kratom be banned” convincingly, the efforts of non-profit organizations, community advocates, and dedicated researchers will continue to pave the way towards a better, brighter future for kratom in the United States.
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