The Kratom Conundrum: Congress Weighs in on Regulation and Research

In a move that has stirred both applause and apprehension, federal lawmakers are pushing for legislation aimed at regulating kratom, a herbal substance that has long been the subject of debate. The Kratom Consumer Protection Act, filed last week in both the House and Senate, aims to strike a balance between consumer safety and access to this controversial plant. The bill has bipartisan support and could significantly impact how kratom is regulated and understood in the United States.

The Bill’s Provisions

The Kratom Consumer Protection Act seeks to prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from holding kratom to higher standards than other over-the-counter substances. It also aims to prevent the HHS from treating kratom as an “adulterated dietary supplement.” The bill calls for the creation of a kratom task force, which would be responsible for investigating the plant’s health claims and risks. This task force would hold public hearings and deliver quarterly updates to Congress for two years before being dissolved (source).

What is Kratom?

For those unfamiliar with kratom, it is a plant consumed orally, either in the form of a powder, extract, or by eating the leaves. It has a dual nature: in low doses, it causes stimulation and heightened alertness, while in high doses, it produces opioid-like sedation. The plant is often touted as a natural pain reliever and performance enhancer. It is available in various outlets, including gas stations, tea rooms, and head shops (source).

The Debate: Efficacy and Safety

Opinions on kratom are polarized. Advocates, such as the American Kratom Association, argue that it is an effective tool for treating opioid use disorder. Mac Haddow of the consumer advocacy group stated that kratom is “changing the quality of life and actually saving lives of people” who use it for legitimate purposes (source).

However, skeptics point to the risks associated with kratom use. Injuries and deaths have led to outright bans in cities and counties across seven states. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that kratom caused 91 overdose deaths between July 2016 and December 2017 (source).

Legal Landscape

Kratom’s legal status varies across states. While it is unregulated in New Mexico, it has been protected by legislation in at least 10 states (source). The authors of the congressional kratom bills have clarified that their legislation would not interfere with any state-level kratom laws.

The Road Ahead

The Kratom Consumer Protection Act could be a game-changer in the ongoing debate over kratom’s safety and efficacy. By mandating research and regulation, it aims to provide a more nuanced understanding of the plant, thereby informing future policy decisions. Whether you view kratom as a life-saving alternative to opioids or a potentially dangerous substance, the proposed legislation promises to bring much-needed clarity to this contentious issue.