Here’s how new legislation could impact the kratom community
Kratom is a supplement used to treat everything from opioid addiction to lupus, but what the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) calls a “drug of concern” has planted itself on the radar of state and federal agencies alike.
There has been pushback from the DEA and Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to better regulate the sale of kratom. Kratom legislation has been largely inadequate because groups like the American Kratom Association and Botanical Legal Defense have stood up for the plant’s healing abilities. The supplement, as labeled by its vendors, is illegal in Washington D.C. and six states.
Sites like Kratora and Kraken Kratom have made the purchase of kratom highly accessible. With just a few clicks, the psychoactive powder can find its way to your doorstep.
Adam Marcizewski,19, said that he purchased the substance from Kratora around the same time the DEA announced its intent to label kratom as a Schedule I drug, which would prohibit the sale of the supplement.
“I left them a little note, letting them know that I was in support during their time of almost being banned,” Marcizewski said. “I guess they really liked it, because they sent me about $80 worth of free product.”
Although this statute never became official, there was a huge increase in kratom purchases because customers feared they would not be able to acquire the supplement.
According to Addiction Resource, brewing kratom in tea is the most popular way to consume it because the hot water causes alkaloids — the plant’s psychoactive compounds — to break down faster. It is also available in capsules, pastes, pellets and leaves.
“It definitely had an aggressive flavor profile,” Marcizewski recalled. “It was extremely sour.”
The highly unregulated substance has earned its place on the shelves of smoke shops across the United States. Most legislators have feared that kratom could harm people in the same way vaping has because of its high addiction rates and harmful side effects. Kratom advocates have long criticized this label due to the extent of scientific research done on the substance’s positive uses.
New York State Senator Pamela Helming co-sponsored a bill called S5531 that would raise the minimum age to purchase kratom from 18 to 21 and also kickstart further research into medicinal uses of the supplement. The bill passed the Senate last June, but hasn’t made its way to the Assembly — where it could finally become a law.
“I have heard growing concern over the potential risks of using kratom because of its similarities to heroin and opioids,” Helming said in a July 2019 press release. “It is important that we regulate and control its sale to minors until we know more about its potential dangers.”
Like vaping, legislators don’t want to see this potentially addictive substance in the hands of minors and those close enough in age range. The same press release stated that kratom products are “attractively packaged and available for purchase in clothing stores popular with our tweens and teens.”
Downtown Ithaca establishment Loose Threads, like most head shops across the country, began to stock their shelves with kratom after they were sent samples of it in the mail by various manufacturers. The supplement was then made available at most head shops in the Ithaca Commons after positive feedback from customers. Shops in downtown Ithaca mainly sell kratom in both powder and capsule form.
Billy Pargh, a manager at Loose Threads, mentioned that a lot of his customers used kratom to enhance their physical performance in the gym for organized sports.
“I have a decent amount of Ithaca College students buying this,” Pargh said, “I know a few of them are taking it before they go play frisbee to get in the zone… I have heard that people take kratom for playing sports [and] weightlifting.”
Headdies, another smoke shop in downtown Ithaca, started selling kratom when it opened ten years ago. Headdies manager Calvin Edith said that the company has carried their own brand of the substance for over six years. Edith said that the product has sold exceptionally well.
“It does really well as a product and helps a lot of people,” Edith said. “I’ve seen it do so much good for recovering addicts that I hope they never make it illegal.”
The national opioid crisis has claimed the lives of many Americans. Kratom has been used as an option for many to quit and manage their opioid addiction. Head Shops that sell the supplement have customers who need it to improve their daily lives. The lack of awareness demonstrated by lawmakers and communities alike has damaged kratom’s reputation.
“It has become more popular in the West because of internet access,” explained clinical psychologist Dr. Marc T. Swogger in an interview with WWL Radio.
Dr. Swogger has done extensive research on the effects and legality of kratom. He is also an associate professor of psychiatry with the University of Rochester Medical Center.
“The risk profile is looking pretty good,” Dr. Swogger said in an interview on WWL Radio. “There is a withdrawal syndrome if people use it heavily — five grams or more for two weeks — it’s possible they’ll have some withdrawal symptoms like watering eyes, diarrhea and anxiety.”
A majority of reported kratom deaths are linked with the use of other substances, which have caused kratom statistics to be deceiving. According to data on over 27,000 overdose deaths provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 152 of them have been linked to kratom use. The same report said that kratom caused 91 of the 152 linked-deaths, but went on to say that “additional substances cannot be ruled out.”
Although the substance is legal, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved its use to treat conditions like opioid addiction, chronic pain, blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia and depression.
According to The Recovery Village, the substance targets the same brain receptors as opioids in high doses — creating a sedative effect. Contrary to popular belief, the substance itself is not actually an opiate. The effects of kratom in these significant doses include “pain reduction, euphoria and cough suppression.” Those who use kratom to this extent have experienced adverse effects like constipation, nausea, symptoms of psychosis and thought alienation.
In low doses, the substance mimics the effects of amphetamines like Adderall and Ritalin. Kratom acts as a stimulant by providing increased energy, talkitiveness, alertness and sex drive. The side effects of kratom used in these amounts are similar to the ones caused by coffee, but individuals typically also experience impaired motor function. This can mimic the intoxicating effect of alcohol, which may make it dangerous to get behind the wheel.
Regardless of dose, consumption of the supplement puts individuals who use kratom at risk for seizures and increased liver toxicity.
Kratom is still unregulated and has prompted mostly negative responses from government agencies. What remains faulty however, is the lack of government-sanctioned research into the positives and negatives of the Southeast Asian plant many of those who support the widespread use of kratom have asked for.
Until kratom becomes more popular, it will continue to walk a thin line of legality and face scrutiny from largely uninformed legislators. In New York State, new legislation may be a step in the right direction to benefit commercial, political and scientific communities engaged in the market.
James Baratta and Christian Maitre are both sophomore journalism majors who both get high off half an edible. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].