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WHO Foregoes Critical Review to Keep Kratom Legal

Billy Carlyle December 9, 2021 0 comments

The last few months, there has been a feeling of unease surrounding the kratom industry. This is because advocates and people who use kratom as a medicine to get through their daily lives and stay productive were fearful that the World Health Organization (WHO) would urge an international ban on kratom or at least pursue a lengthy critical review of the plant. 

However, kratom aficionados everywhere can breathe a grateful sigh of relief because the WHO Executive Committee on Drug Dependency (ECDD) declared that they would not recommend a review and will keep the same level of surveillance on kratom that already existed. 

What Were the Findings of the Review?

The ECDD, acting under WHO and the UN, did an initial review of kratom and the two primary alkaloids responsible for the beneficial effects, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. They investigated a variety of aspects of the plant and its use.

They stated that kratom has been under ECDD surveillance since 2020 because of a country reporting that there is a potential for abuse, dependence, and harm to public health caused by kratom and the major alkaloids. Most kratom advocates assume that the country raising the alarm was the United States because of their prior attempts to illegalize the medicinal herb. Because of the influence of the FDA on international law and drug policy, many kratom advocates were understandably concerned about the initial review coming under guidance by the U.S. 

The pre-review looked at primary effects, adverse effects, and dependence potential. While they noted some potential downsides to kratom use, the committee found that there is limited cause for concern and that the risk of toxicity is incredibly low compared with the number of people who regularly consume kratom. They also highlighted the fact that even though kratom has been linked as a component in several fatalities, the degree to which it played a role is uncertain and that almost every case involved other illicit substances or prior medical conditions. 

As far as therapeutic effects, they noted many of the beneficial uses of the plant as well as its use as a form of traditional medicine in some Asian countries. The committee’s final recommendation claimed that the evidence for abuse liability and self-medication is uneven and limited to come to the conclusion that there is not enough evidence to warrant a critical review. 

In fact, only one committee member recommended further review with 11 committee members agreeing that they should not pursue a ban or lengthy investigation of the substance. Finally, while the recommendation and examination is based on scientific data and review, around 80,000 kratom advocates submitted comments about their positive experiences with the kratom and the way it helped them that may also have played a role in the final decision. 

What This Means for Kratom

A lot of people around the country and the world depend on kratom to survive. It can help with a variety of ailments and there are no legal and readily available alternatives. Therefore, a downright ban would lead many to seek out illegal substances or live through inevitable suffering. Because of this, there is reason to celebrate the decision based on the initial review and kratom is likely to remain legal for a few more years at the very least. 

The American Kratom Association and advocates everywhere are happy and relieved that the plant will not undergo a thorough examination and that research on the plant and the benefits it can offer can continue without regulation that makes it harder to study. 

Still, many kratom supporters want to remind everyone that the fight is not over. Many of them have pointed to the end of the initial review where the committee stated, “The Committee recommended that kratom, mitragynine, and 7-hydromitragynine be kept under surveillance by the WHO Secretariat.” While this is the same level of concern that WHO had before the pre-review, it is still relevant and shows that there are still people who want to keep an eye on the industry,

Additionally, many kratom users are still worried about potential state and local laws that could be developed. While most advocates welcome regulations to ensure safe products and contaminate-free kratom powder and leaves, some localities and state governments may want to take it further and make kratom illegal and others want to ban extracts and other related kratom products. In fact, kratom is already illegal in several states and counties across the nation including Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Alabama.

If you believe in the benefits of kratom, then fight for the freedom to possess and consume the plant. The more research on the plant and the more people become proponents, the better the outcome will be for the entire industry. 

Author avatar

Billy Carlyle

Billy Carlyle is an alumnus of UNCW, obtaining an MFA in creative writing. In his nook and cranny of the writing community, he explores the intricacies of plant pharmacology and its botanical research, writing predominantly for the cannabis, medical marijuana, CBD, and kratom industries.

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