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What to Know About Kratom and the FDA in 2019

Mar 12th 2019

There has been an outpouring of support for kratom in the last few years. Some of its biggest supporters are people who use it to enhance their lives, while still more support comes from scientists and medical researchers. One organization that seems to have trouble understanding the benefits of kratom is the FDA.

There has been a big push, especially from the American Kratom Association and its supporters, to get the FDA to follow the science. For now, the FDA seems to be horribly out of touch with the most recent research on the subject of kratom. Supporters and consumers of kratom are counting on the FDA to get in touch with the facts before they do something harmful.

Reasonable supporters of kratom look at the research and deduce that this plant can help a lot of people. The FDA seems to be mischaracterizing the plant at every step, and is even pressuring the DEA to make kratom illegal in the United States. There’s still time for the FDA to get in touch with reality, but time is definitely of the essence. Here’s a look at the FDA’s past with kratom.

2018 Statement From FDA Commissioner on Kratom 

Scott Gottlieb is a medical doctor and the commissioner of the FDA. It’s a shame that a man who so many are counting on doesn’t have enough intellectual curiosity to pursue the truth. In his 2018 statement, he falsely stated that kratom contains opioids. This claim is somewhere between ignorant and intentionally misleading.

It is true that kratom can interact with opioid receptors in the brain, which is part of the reason this natural plant has so much promise. That doesn’t make it an opioid. Chocolate, meat, and dairy also trigger an opioid-like response in the body– imagine the FDA trying to get chocolate outlawed!

In fact, some people are helping the plant can help the United States address its opioid crisis because of the way it acts on the brain without being related to opium. Kratom comes from a tropical plant that’s more closely related to coffee than anything else. Dr. Gottlieb could probably avoid including such blatant mistruths in future statements if he’d accept the American Kratom Association’s request for a meeting.

The AKA reached out to him requesting a sit-down to openly and honestly discuss the science surrounding kratom. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) director Nora Volkow met with the AKA and had a fruitful discussion. Dr. Gottlieb and the FDA have been ignoring them since August 15, 2018.

What the FDA Got Right

There’s little denying that the FDA has botched most of their communications involving kratom. Their communication involving this plant has created a backlash from citizens and scientific professionals alike, including a petition with well over 100,000 signatures. That said, the FDA and their constituents have, at times, been closer to truth and reason.

For example, they have said it’s important to fight for progress against the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States. In that way, they are very closely aligned with kratom supporters including the American Kratom Association. Further, the FDA has stated that there have not been enough adequate and well-controlled scientific studies involving the use of kratom to say exactly how it can treat opioid use withdrawal or other diseases.

Most kratom proponents would completely agree with this. However, while the FDA seems keen on creating a kratom prohibition before these studies can take place, many members of the scientific community would rather wait to see what the facts are before making a brash decision that would be hard to undo.

One more thing the FDA seems to get right is that some people are overzealous when it comes to talking about the benefits of kratom. While this natural plant has a lot of promise, and some consumers make claims about the great results they’ve received, we need more evidence before we can really make scientific claims about the effects of kratom.

The American Kratom Association seems aligned with the FDA on that one specific point. The AKA website, when discussing appropriate advocacy for kratom, advises people not to make any medical claims about kratom. The organization itself works with dietary experts and legal professionals to help ensure it doesn’t make any inappropriate claims about kratom’s abilities.

The FDA is right to say that unsubstantiated health claims create risks for the American public. It is an unfortunate, though, that they seem more interested in squashing all public discourse and studies about kratom instead of working to uncover the truth. This close-mindedness and unwillingness to look into the science behind kratom is a serious disservice of the American people, and the biggest reason they’ve put themselves on the wrong side of kratom history.

What the FDA Has Done Wrong With Kratom

More often than not, the FDA is on the wrong side of the scientific community when it comes to their communication about kratom. There are a lot of reasons people think the FDA is spreading false information:

  • Some think the FDA is just being cautious and wants people to avoid kratom until it can be vetted more carefully.
  • An alternative theory is that the FDA is so scared of new supplements, even natural ones, that it would rather avoid them. This is dangerous since it’s so hard for the American government to end a prohibition once it begins.
  • A common theory is that the FDA wants to make kratom illegal because the plant presents a threat to the big pharmaceutical industry in the United States. The U.S. pharma industry makes billions of dollars a year in opioid sales and opioid-withdrawal drugs– they want the FDA to help keep it this way.

While there are still a few different theories about why the FDA is spreading so much misleading information against kratom, it’s almost undeniable that some of their data is deliberately distorted. Here are just four examples of the FDA using flawed information to push an ant-kratom agenda onto the DEA:

  1. Pseudoscience in Their Kratom Powder Study - The FDA released a statement in February 2018 about kratom powder. Instead of studying actual interactions between the public and kratom, the FDA used a computer program to model how kratom might act. There was no oversight from outside the agency, which makes it easy for results to be manipulated. For a full explanation of why this isn’t sound science, look to an explanation from an industrial medicinal chemist.
  2. Intentionally Ignoring Evidence - One of the most important things any research group can do if they really want to truth is to consider all evidence. By taking a biased approach and only accepting evidence that supports their position, the FDA is showing that they have little interest in the real truth. The FDA refuses to talk to the American Kratom Association and other organizations about the results of valid scientific studies.
  3. Pushing Pills - The FDA wants the pharmaceutical industry to develop even more drugs in response to the opioid crisis. As they support the pharmaceutical industry, they urge people not to take kratom, even in the face of stories from real consumers who kratom has helped.

The Future of Kratom

The FDA is pushing to make kratom illegal, but so far reason is winning out. To learn more about the science behind kratom, or how to use kratom safely, contact us online. We support responsible use that will help give kratom a good name.