The Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) announced August 30, 2016 that it intends to add the opioids Mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine, also known as Kratom, to the list of Schedule I drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act because Kratom poses an imminent hazard to public safety.

Kratom is a tropical tree indigenous to Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and other areas of Southeast Asia. Its leaves are used to derive psychoactive pain-relieving ingredients, Mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine, which are believed to affect the brain similarly to heroin. Kratom is available in dried/crushed leaves, powder, liquid, capsules, tablets and gum/resin. Its effects have been reported as feelings of stimulation, euphoria, sedation, and pain relief. However, nausea, weight loss, dizziness and vomiting have also been associated with the drug. Kratom’s recreational use has increased dramatically in the past few years and it is often marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances.

According to the DEA, Kratom has a long history of abuse in Southeast Asia and more recently in the U.S. In fact, studies have shown that Kratom is often misused to self-treat chronic pain and heroin withdrawal symptoms. In addition, because users obtain Kratom through unknown and unregulated sources, the identity and purity of the substances is uncertain and therefore poses a significant health risk to users. The Center for Disease Control found that Kratom abuse leads to agitation, irritability, tachycardia, nausea, drowsiness, and hypertension. Health risks found in Kratom abusers include hepatotoxicity, psychosis, seizure, weight loss, insomnia, tachycardia, vomiting, poor concentration, hallucinations, and death. The DEA is aware of 15 Kratom-related deaths between 2014 and 2016.

Kratom does not have an approved medical use in the U.S. and has not been studied for treatment purposes, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Furthermore, there are no approved new drug applications or investigational drug applications for Kratom. Therefore, the DEA determined that Kratom poses an imminent hazard to public safety.

Because the DEA has received evidence to support a finding that Kratom has a high potential for abuse, lacks any accepted medical use and accepted safety for use under medical supervision, it will proceed with scheduling Kratom as a Schedule I substance. As a result, Kratom will become subject to regulatory controls and administrative, civil and criminal sanctions applicable to the manufacture, distribution, importation, research and possession of a Schedule I controlled substance.