Wired Opinion: Banning a Promising Cure For Opioid Addiction is a Bad Idea
Wired Opinion: Banning a Promising Cure For Opioid Addiction is a Bad Idea. FORTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER the drug war was declared by President Richard Nixon, the United States leads the world in both recreational drug usage and incarceration rates. Heroin abuse rates continue to soar. Drug-related violence in our nation’s cities and cartel wars in Latin America exact horrific tolls.
And then there is the ever-present bully on the block, prescription drug abuse. More than two million Americans have become hooked on the pharmaceuticals that doctors prescribe to ease their pain. Opioids—both legal and illicit—killed a mind-boggling 28,647 people in 2014.
But not to worry: The Drug Enforcement Administration is on the case. “To avoid an imminent hazard to public safety,” the agency said in a press release, it will be adding kratom, a medicinal herb that has been used safely in Southeast Asia for centuries, to its list of Schedule 1 substances, placing the popular botanical in a class with killers like heroin and cocaine at the end of September.
Why ban the mild-mannered tree leaf? Well, because the DEA claims it’s an opioid with “no currently accepted medical use.” Wrong on both counts.
Pharmacologists label kratom as an alkaloid, not an opioid. True, kratom stimulates certain opioid receptors in the brain. But then, so does drinking a glass of wine, or running a marathon.
Kratom is less habit-forming than classic opioids like heroin and the pharmaceutical oxycodone, and its impact on the brain is weaker and more selective. Nevertheless, the herb’s ability to bind loosely with certain opioid receptors makes it a godsend for addicts who want to kick their habits. Kratom is currently helping wean thousands of Americans off illegal drugs and prescription pain relievers, without creating any dangerous long term dependency.
The powdered leaves are readily available from scores of herb sellers on the Internet. Since the ban was announced in late August, websites and social media have exploded with accounts from people who credit the plant with saving them from lives of addiction and chronic pain.
Take, for example, Virginia native Susan Ash. She was using Suboxone to help cope with severe joint pain resulting from Lyme disease. “My life was ruled by the clock—all I could think was, ‘when do I take my next dose,'” Ash says. Then someone suggested she try kratom to help kick her addiction to the prescription pain killer. “In two weeks time, I went from being a bed-bound invalid to a productive member of society again.
She founded the American Kratom Society in 2014 to help keep this herbal lifeline legal. Ash says that tens of thousands of people use kratom not just to help with chronic pain, but also to alleviate depression and to provide relief from PTSD. She strongly disputes that users like herself are simply exchanging one addictive drug for another.
“I have never had a craving for kratom,” Ash says. “You can’t compare it to even the mildest opiate. It simply won’t get you high.”
What it might do, users say, is slightly tweak your mood. The leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa tree, a biological relative of coffee, have been chewed for centuries in Southeast Asia by farmers to increase their stamina. Kratom is gently euphoric and also relaxing—think coffee without the jitters and sleeplessness. It is hard to take toxic levels of the herb, since larger doses induce nausea and vomiting.
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