A deep dive into kratom, the herb that helps with opioid withdrawal

Kratom (previously) is a widely used herb that has been very effective in treating opioid withdrawal and other chronic, hard-to-treat conditions — it also became very controversial this year because the DEA decided, without evidence, to class it as a dangerous drug, and then changed its mind (unprecedented!) after a mass-scale petition that included interventions from members of Congress.

Wired has done an excellent, deep dive into kratom, and its past and future — which may include a degree of regulation, but also guarantees of quality. The DEA reprieve is only temporary, and kratom could end up back on Schedule 1 as a dangerous drug, depending on who Trump appoints and what they do.

All that research costs money. Which is kratom's catch-22: The DEA wants to schedule the drug because they think it might pose a danger to public health, but the only way to confirm (or refute) the DEA's worries is with more research—which will be next to impossible should the DEA follow through on its promise to schedule.

One of the few scientists studying kratom is the University of Florida's Oliver Grundmann, who is finishing up an online survey of nearly 10,000 users. And the data (preliminary, though Grundmann plans to publish a paper in the coming months) reveals a different profile of kratom users than you'd expect from an "illicit" recreational drug.

"The age range is more geared toward an older population," says Grundmann, "which is more likely to experience work related injuries or acute or chronic pain from another medical condition." Over half of users are between the ages of 31 and 50. Eighty-two percent completed at least some college. Nearly 30 percent of respondents pull in a household income of over $75,000 a year. Not quite the party drug demographic. And the public comments on the DEA's scheduling notice reflect that population. Many of those folks are using kratom to either wean themselves off prescription opioids or use the drug alone to treat pain.

Kratom: The Bitter Plant That Could Help Opioid Addicts—if the DEA Doesn't Ban It [Matt Simon and Nick Stockton/Wired]

(Image: Kratom tree, ThorPorre, CC-BY)