The drug kratom is still legal to buy in the United States, but federal authorities appear intent on possibly changing that soon.
In a recent statement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that their agency oversaw the voluntary destruction and recall of a “large volume” of kratom by Divinity Products Distribution.
The kratom products were sold under several brand names, including Botany Bay, Enhance Your Life, and Divinity.
“Based on the scientific evidence of the serious risks associated with the use of kratom, in the interest of public health, the FDA encourages all companies currently involved in the sale of products containing kratom intended for human consumption to take similar steps to take their products off the market,” FDA officials wrote.
That announcement comes at the same time that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have made a separate public health warning about a multistate salmonella outbreak linked to kratom.
So far, 28 cases have been reported and 11 people have been hospitalized. There have been no deaths related to this outbreak.
CDC officials said that no single brand or distributor has been named as a source for the outbreak. Currently, the CDC is recommending that individuals “not consume kratom in any form.”
“This kratom outbreak is taking a number of forms. We’re talking about pills, powders, and teas, so there is a variety of kratom products associated with [it],” an FDA spokesperson told Healthline.
The FDA spokesperson also confirmed that there is no connection between the destroyed kratom and the salmonella outbreak. Nonetheless, the spokesperson said this outbreak underscores the risks to consumers when products are subjected to insufficient manufacturing safety and oversight.
In response, the American Kratom Association, a nonprofit group that fights for the rights of individuals to possess and consume kratom, issued their own statement to Healthline.
“Why is a mere 23 cases linked to some kratom supplements — a number which accounts for less than 0.00002 percent of the total food-related salmonella cases in the U.S. each year — enough for the CDC to recommend millions of Americans stop using this healthy and naturally occurring substance?” the association statement reads. “Why should American kratom vendors voluntarily recall and ‘destroy’ all kratom supplements as the FDA suggests because of this fractional number of cases involving potential salmonella contamination?”
The organization further reiterated that they support kratom product testing and oversight, rather than banning its use.
The FDA crackdown
Kratom has become a high-profile issue for the FDA and other government organizations recently due to the drug’s increasing popularity, which some say is fueled by or in response to the nation’s opioid epidemic.
Derived from the leaves of mitragyna speciosa, a tree native to Southeast Asia, kratom has been used for centuries as an analgesic and recreational drug.
Proponents in the United States say the drug is a useful treatment for opioid withdrawal.
The drug has garnered a large following in the United States, where grassroots organizers successfully convinced the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in November 2016 to abandon its attempts to add the drug to their list of controlled substances.
The DEA attempted an emergency scheduling of kratom, which would have put the product in the same category of illegal drugs as heroin and LSD.
Since then, the DEA has continued their own evaluation of kratom to decide how it should be scheduled.
Researchers have argued that kratom has a real potential medical value, but there has yet to be a human clinical trial involving the drug.
Moving kratom to a schedule I drug would effectively end “all research in the field,” Andrew Kruegel, PhD, an associate research scientist in the department of chemistry at Columbia University in New York, told Healthline.
The FDA maintains that despite its reputation, kratom is a harmful, addictive opioid that is dangerous to consume.
Their most recent announcement on kratom comes just weeks after the organization declared the drug an opioid.
Some, including an expert interviewed by Healthline, said the declaration was a politically motivated decision that could influence the DEA’s eventual scheduling decision.
With yet another FDA press release statement on kratom issued just this week, the agency has made their stance against kratom use increasingly visible.
But, it is the DEA that will have the final word when it comes to the legality of kratom in the United States.
Asked whether the FDA had begun more aggressively targeting kratom importers and distributors in recent months, a representative told Healthline the following:
“This is us taking enforcement actions that are appropriate based on the risks that we believe kratom poses. This is also not the first voluntary destruction that has been done for kratom products.”