Pubdate: Sat, 16 Dec 2017
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2017 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Phil Davis


When Anne Arundel police seized 158 grams of kratom, a plant from
Southeast Asia used medicinally for centuries, it was the first time
it was seized in a county investigation, according to police.

Officers arrested Michaela Elizabeth Gran, 21, and Chase Seven Gran,
23, both of Glen Burnie, on Tuesday after they said the two were found
with small amounts of narcotics as well as the 158 grams of kratom.
Its seizure caused some confusion, as the drug is legal in Maryland
and can be bought for $1 for a pill-sized capsule in local smoke
shops. That, and how many people have ever heard of kratom?

Police quickly sent out an additional statement stating the two
suspects had not been charged with anything related to Kratom. Rather,
the substance was taken to be tested to see if it was mixed with
illicit substances.

While the drug has been used for centuries overseas, it has only
recently gained popularity in the U.S. as the opioid crisis has caused
many to look to other alternatives for painkillers. As a substance
that binds to the opioid receptors, some say kratom lacks the
addictive or mind-altering effects of opioid-based painkillers. Some
propose it could help wean those addicted to heroin and prescription
pain killers off the drugs.

But last year the Drug Enforcement Agency proposed banning the
substance and placing it among the ranks of Schedule I drugs like
heroin MDMA. At the time, the agency said it was necessary "to avoid
an imminent hazard to public safety."

The agency cancelled those plans after a significant public outcry and
passed the issue to the Food and Drug Administration.

Over the past year, the ancient substance has been caught in a battle
over its legitimacy as an opioid alternative.

In November, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a public health
warning, saying in a statement that kratom "has similar effects to
narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction
and in some cases, death."

Others have questioned how the federal agency has reached its
conclusion, calling into question its methodology for concluding its
relation to people's deaths.

A new study from researchers at the University of Rochester Medical
Center and the University of British Columbia compiling 57 years of
research into the drug and its effects on mental health found the
substance "has harm reduction potential for substance users who want
to quit opioids."

The study also found that it can be used to treat anxiety.

"Kratom is on par with coffee," said Rob Tahn, a 39-year-old who began
using the drug to treat his depression about eight months ago. "It's
very mild, very relaxing."

A stay-at-home dad who runs a tech repair business, Tahn said he
turned to the drug in April after having trouble finding a reliable

"I was interested because my doctor had actually prescribed me
medication for depression," he said, adding he "didn't like it at all"
and began looking for alternative treatments.

Chris Redding, a 41-year-old Army veteran from Columbia, said he chose
the drug as an alternative painkiller to over-the-counter drugs. He
said he regularly runs marathons and turned to the substance after his
wife raised concern about the possibility of him damaging his kidneys
by taking too much Advil.

"I did a half Ironman (marathon) this summer and I ... took kratom in
transition from swim to the bike," Redding said. "It's like taking a
little bit of coffee and a painkiller."

Federal agencies believe there has not been enough research into its
side effects and potential downfalls.

Gottlieb said in his statement there is "no reliable evidence" it can
be used effectively as a way to treat opioid addiction.

"The use of kratom is also associated with serious side effects like
seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms," he wrote. "Given all
these considerations, we must ask ourselves whether the use of kratom
- -- for recreation, pain or other reasons -- could expand the opioid

For now, the drug is still legal to buy in stores and online, with
some touting its medicinal qualities as something that could
significantly change treating pain in the U.S.

"If this gets taken away, it's going to hurt a lot of people," Redding

But with a lack of controlled studies on the subject, Gottlieb and the
FDA have continued to push back against people advertising its use for
treatment options.
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