Citing “insufficient evidence,” an 11-member World Health Organization (WHO) panel has decided to forego a “critical review” of kratom and two of its constituent compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. This decision has momentarily allayed the fears of kratom proponents, paving the way for its continued legal use for the time being; however, while potential scheduling and an outright WHO kratom ban have been avoided in the short-term, the panel has recommended “that kratom, mitragynine, and 7-hydroxymitragynine be kept under surveillance by the WHO Secretariat” over the next several years. This recommendation, coupled with state bans, import alerts, and other actions in the U.S. and other countries, points to a complex environment surrounding kratom regulation that will hamper efforts to keep the substance readily available to consumers, and more importantly, to ensure its quality and safety.
The WHO Kratom Ban Decision — A Victory for Science & Consumers
This decision has been met with great relief by the many individuals around the world who utilize kratom for a wide variety of personal and household purposes. It is estimated that 10-16 million Americans use kratom products. Nearly 80,000 people provided personal commentary about their experience with kratom during the course of the preliminary review, providing evidence of its compelling and legitimate applications, a fact noted during the discussion of the WHO kratom ban.
In her opinion piece published by Scientific American in August 2021, writer Maia Szalavitz echoed the opinions of advocacy organizations and kratom users when she called upon the U.S. FDA to withhold support for an international ban on kratom and its constituent compounds. The case of kratom, in the mind of Szalavitz represents “an excellent litmus test” on whether or not the present administration will move toward “harm reduction” rather than “prohibition” as its guiding principle on the regulation of controlled substances. If policymakers are genuinely invested in policies that reduce human suffering and enhance well-being, then a forward-thinking approach to kratom regulation that fully contextualizes its use and harnesses its potential benefits makes sense.
Perverse Effects — A Brief History of State & International Intervention
How kratom regulation came to be in the WHO’s legislative crosshairs in the first place has been described by the Transnational Institute (TNI) as a cautionary tale of governmental misconduct and the “creation of a threat.” Historically, kratom was widely used by laborers for a wide variety of everyday purposes in Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines going back at least 150 years. Then, in 1943, the government of Thailand banned kratom for purely commercial reasons to support the state’s monopoly on opium production and distribution.
Despite this formal prohibition, the Thai government took a laissez-faire approach to enforcement. This situation changed in 2004 when Thailand’s “illegal” kratom market was caught up in Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s infamous and brutal “war on drugs” which resulted in over 2,500 extrajudicial killings. The governmental crackdown served as a pretense for the suppression of political opposition groups and the oppression of Muslim communities rather than a good-faith attempt to reduce the harmful effects of substance abuse. Other Southeast Asian countries became caught up in Thailand’s strong-arm tactics and their negative consequences.
Eventually, Shinawatra was forced to flee Thailand. After many years of incremental reform, by 2019, the country had reversed its policies toward kratom, which it deemed worthy of use. Unfortunately, the proverbial genie had already left the bottle. A few years prior, Indonesia had placed kratom on its list of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), the “signal event” that would ultimately oblige the WHO to conduct its preliminary review of kratom in 2021. Fortunately, the panel has now judiciously decided against a WHO kratom ban.
In the meantime, in Western countries, markets for inexpensive kratom products were gaining a foothold and growing exponentially. In the U.S., the FDA has struggled to formulate a common-sense approach to kratom regulation, falling into the false dilemma of either complete inaction or absolute prohibition. Neither of these approaches will work in terms of making kratom safe and accessible to consumers.
Consumer Advocacy & Consumer Protection — Stay Informed. Stay Engaged. Stay Safe.
While the kratom industry is, of course, relieved with the positive news of the WHO kratom ban, there is still plenty of discussion to be had. The problem with the FDA’s current inaction is that while kratom products are legal and readily available, insufficient kratom regulation enables “bad actors” to sell adulterated, impure, and sometimes dangerous kratom products. In this environment, it’s crucial for consumers to protect their own best interests. How?
- Advocate for sensible oversight by the FDA. Contact your elected officials requesting their support for consumer access to kratom, proper regulation, legislation, and advocacy with the FDA.
- Keep an eye on our kratom blog space for updates about government initiatives, legislation, and efforts that you can support to make certain that kratom is both safe and accessible to consumers. Plus, sign up for our mailing list to get the latest deals on our premium quality products.
- Caveat emptor. Be a smart consumer. Make certain that you purchase only the highest-quality kratom products from trustworthy, reliable vendors. Check our guide for tips on how to find good kratom vendors.
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