US DEA backs off banning popular herb, Kratom

- The US Drug Enforcement Agency backed off banning a popular herb after major pushback from users and federal legislators. The Southeast Asian tree leaf Kratom was supposed to be named an illegal schedule 1 substance, the same classification as heroin, on September 30.

The DEA delayed the ban after Congressional lawmakers urged a public comment period. Kratom sellers and users, however, fear the ban is still coming from DEA.

Berkeley's Twisted Thistle Apothicaire said it started selling Kratom a year after opening 6 years ago.

"We didn't get into this business for Kratom. Kratom found us," said owner Ethan Franc.

Franc said customers swear the powdered leaves, used for hundreds of years in Asia, are the answer to their physical and emotional ailments.

"Pain relief or getting off opioid addiction," said Franc.

"We've had customers use it to get off anti depressants."

The Haight's Head Rush smoke shop said people frequently ask for Kratom.

"A lot of people use it to stay off of the methadone and opiates," said Head Rush's Allan Sprage.
"My description is like a cloud suit. It's comforting for sure."

The DEA called for an emergency ban on Kratom on August 30, claiming Kratom has hallucinogenic properties and is addictive. Descriptions Kratom advocates dispute. 

"As far as addictive, it's on par with coffee and caffeine," said Franc.

The DEA also says Kratom is associated with 15 US deaths, but advocates say those cases may have been in combination with opioid use.

Multiple herbal shops and smoke shops pulled Kratom and prepared to destroy supplies in anticipation of the September 30 ban, but the DEA delayed the ban for an undetermined amount of time.

"My greatest hope is that people have access to it," said Franc, who believes Kratom will end up on the Black Market if outlawed.

The legal consequences have not been laid out for possession or sale of Kratom if a ban goes through.

Advocates worry a level one classification will also mean research on Kratom and why people experience pain relief and addiction management will stop.


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