Breaking Down the FDA’s History With Kratom

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is one of many examples of government agencies that countless Americans don’t have a positive opinion of. Although most Americans pay taxes like they’re legally required to, few people enjoy forking over taxes to Uncle Sam.

Even though regulatory agencies don’t often interact with individual consumers, most people aren’t fans of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is especially true among people who enjoy kratom. Over the past several years, the FDA has tried to outlaw Mitragyna speciosa across the country.

Thanks to dedicated kratom fans and the American Kratom Association, however, kratom remains legal across most of the United States.

Although there’s no way to know what’s gone on behind the scenes at the FDA, there are plenty of press releases, news reports, and other accounts of the FDA’s long-running fight against kratom. Here, we’ll be chronicling some of the most important events on the kratom-fighting timeline since the FDA kicked off its anti-kratom campaign in the 2010s.

 

The Birth of the FDA’s Anti-Kratom Campaign

Individuals and businesses regularly buy goods from other countries. Before these products eventually end up in consumers’ hands, U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspects imports for any unapproved or illegal contents.

Customs and Border Protection works hand-in-hand with the FDA to control imports. The FDA oversees all imports of foods, drugs, and supplements. Currently, kratom falls under the FDA’s jurisdiction as a botanical supplement.

In 2012, the FDA issued its first formal warning against kratom imports, making them eligible for Detention Without Physical Examination. Although tons of kratom makes it through to vendors and consumers, the FDA still seizes its fair share of Mitragyna speciosa imports.

The FDA issued another import warning against kratom in 2014.

 

Fast Forward to 2016 — DEA Formally Initiates Its Campaign Against Kratom

On Aug. 30, 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sent out a press release that detailed its intent to make kratom illegal across the United States.

With this press release, the DEA warned consumers that it would attempt to have mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, the two primary alkaloids in Mitragyna speciosa, scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act. The DEA planned to classify these alkaloids as a Schedule I drug among the likes of heroin and LSD. According to the Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs have no medical value and typically have greater criminal penalties than drugs in lower schedules.

Shortly after the DEA announced its intentions, the American Kratom Association and the Botanical Educational Alliance encouraged Americans to rally against this anti-kratom campaign. Kratom community members began signing a pro-kratom “We The People” petition on the White House’s website. By Sept. 14, 2016, more than 120,000 people had signed the petition to send a statement to the FDA and DEA.

 

FDA Commissioner Spearheads the Fight Against Kratom

In May 2017, American physician Scott Gottlieb was appointed to lead the FDA. According to public records dug up by ProPublica, Gottlieb received more than $150,000 in consulting fees from GlaxoSmithKline from 2014 to 2017.

GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, holds two patents on mitragynine and other alkaloids produced by Mitragyna speciosa trees. Although it isn’t clear whether GlaxoSmithKline paid Gottlieb for the sole purpose of making kratom illegal, these circumstances are unarguably fishy.

On Nov. 14, 2017, the FDA released a statement from then-Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. The anti-kratom statement warned consumers about kratom’s supposedly fatal risks.

 

Good News Cropped Up — Just Three Years Too Late

In late Jan. 2021, the American Kratom Association found that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had rolled back its recommendation to criminalize kratom in Aug. 2018.

This news would’ve decimated the U.S. government’s anti-kratom campaign. Conveniently enough, however, this news stayed hidden until just last week.

To this day, the AKA, BEA, and the kratom community continues to fight to keep kratom legal across the U.S. Without these efforts, the FDA and DEA would’ve likely succeeded in criminalizing this sacred botanical supplement.

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