(TMU Opinion) — Despite the fact that it’s been used by indigenous people for generations, kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) was relatively unknown to a critical mass of Americans until 2016, when suddenly the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took an aggressive interest in making the Southeast Asian plant a scheduled drug.
Led by then-Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the FDA took up the mantle and attempted to restrict kratom via aggressive regulations. While the federal government continues to misrepresent the science behind kratom research, the DEA is not likely to recommend criminal scheduling on kratom until newly commissioned studies are completed, which will likely be several years from now.
The federal push to make kratom a Schedule 1 Drug (which would have put it in the same category as heroin and cocaine) was predicated on a series of reports dating back to 2009 and later that called into question whether kratom was a public health threat.
The FDA claimed that kratom was associated with 44 deaths. However, independent, peer-reviewed analysis—later corroborated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—showed that virtually all of these cases involved either adulterated kratom (meaning it was mixed with something else), or poly-drug use, with some of the decedents having O-desmethyltramadol in their systems.
Over a phone call, Legislative Director of the American Kratom Association (AKA), Mac Haddow, said that despite the fact that the government’s claims were roundly debunked, the FDA continues to deliberately mislead the public and the DEA by referencing these deaths.
The AKA, which has fought the DEA and FDA every step of the way, commissioned their own 8-factor analysis, which concluded that NIDA’s report was correct and that any harm reduction that may result from taking kratom off the market (which is negligible) would be completely offset by kratom users turning to the black market or opioids.
Haddow explained the three main criteria for a scheduling decision: 1) the safety hazard to the public, 2) the addiction level and 3) absence of approved medical uses.
He believes the FDA used the false claim that kratom is associated with 44 deaths in order to justify the safety hazard. With regard to the second piece of criteria, Haddow says that kratom is not an opioid. Its alkaloids affect the brain’s mu-opioid receptors in a similar way but they do not have the same pharmacologic effects and, more importantly, do not slow down the respiratory system, which is what causes so many people to die after overdosing on opioids. The FDA’s claims that kratom is an opioid is another example of their misleading and outright lying to the public.
Kratom’s addiction potential was also addressed by two NIDA studies, which concluded that while kratom can cause psychological dependence just like caffeine, there is no liability for dangerous physical addiction.
As far as criteria #3, while many people all across the world take kratom for relief from pain, anxiety and depression, “kratom is a dietary ingredient from a natural plant and is not, in its natural form, a candidate for the filing of a new drug application.” In other words, the “Controlled Substances Act does not apply to kratom in its common use as a dietary ingredient.”
Haddow says he personally knows of substantive reports attributed to Congressional staffers with close connections to the DEA which suggest that the agency will not recommend scheduling until they see the results of new comprehensive studies funded by the NIDA. The results of these studies will not be available for 2-5 years.
Haddow is confident kratom will not be criminalized before then. He told the Mind Unleashed:
“While it is possible the DEA could issue a Federal Register Notice to schedule at any time. It is my understanding they want to get the decision right and that will be informed by the results of the NIDA studies that are now funded and underway.”
Meanwhile, conspiracies abound about Big Pharma colluding with the government to have kratom banned. While there is no direct evidence for this, aside from the fact that there has been interest in patenting mitragynine alkaloids, a representative for at least one major pharmaceutical company denied lobbying against kratom.
Yet, the perception that Big Pharma is pressuring the government to eliminate an unregulated competitor that is eating into their opioid cash cows remains. Haddow believes the FDA has a “natural inclination to protect their monopoly on the drug approval process.”
The perception of corruption is continually reinforced by the revolving door between government agencies and corporate boardrooms. Just recently, former FDA head Scott Gottlieb was appointed to the Pfizer board, a move that presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren condemned as “smack[ing] of corruption.”
In the last few years, Kratom advocates have accomplished the rare feat of forcing the DEA to reexamine, suspend, and potentially abandon a highly aggressive and propagandized campaign. Haddow says this is unprecedented.
However, while he and the AKA are confident that kratom is safe from near-term federal criminalization, the war is far from over. The newest specter in the war on kratom is the possibility of the federal government attacking kratom at its source in order to cut off supply. The country of Indonesia, which supplies the majority of U.S. kratom, may soon crack down on kratom production. It’s a sudden move for a country where kratom is one of the most profitable exports, causing many to suspect the FDA is applying pressure on them to intercede.
Mac Haddow told Inverse that the Indonesian Health Ministry had admitted that the “top FDA official” was “encourag[ing] the Minister of Health to help the United States by banning the exportation of kratom.”
The FDA has denied any involvement.
Haddow told the Mind Unleashed that the Indonesian ban represents an existential threat to U.S. kratom use, since the country produces 95% of the world’s supply, saying:
“If the regulation issued by the Ministry of Health remains in place, it will have the same effect as scheduling would have here in the U.S.” and that “it will lead to more deaths in our current opioid crisis.”
Out of the frying pan and into the fire. For kratom users, the success of advocacy against the DEA and FDA may subsequently cause the federal government to try new devious methods to cut off their supply.
Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.
Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.
Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.
Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.
Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.
“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”
However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.
In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say
With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.
According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.
The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.
While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.
Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.
“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.
“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.
Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced
However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.
Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact
Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.
And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.
Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.
Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.
Death Toll, by Percent of Population
In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.
Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.
The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.
Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.
History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning
While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.
In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.
What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?
Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics
Republished from ZH with permission.