Those who enjoy a legal high have turned to kratom, which is a Southeast Asian plant in the coffee family. While kratom has been used as medicine for centuries, it is not clear what it does in the body after ingestion or what the long-term effects are after the intial high. Use of kratom has exploded due to the Internet, and Florida lawmakers want the plant classified as a controlled substance.
The classification will not happen any time soon, as the bill has been changed to request the Attorney General, the Department of Law Enforcement and Families’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Program Office to conduct research on kratom and file a report by year’s end on taking further action. As it currently stands, kratom is still legal and available to the public.
Kratom seems to have a low-level opiate effect on some individuals but does not appear to cause side effects with continued use. It is sold legally in many states, and it is often added as an extra ingredient at Kava shops. Most people who try kratom report that it is like taking a mild sedative, and the experience is very relaxing. While there is no direct link between kratom use and addiction, the recent death of a Boynton Beach, Florida man has given lawmakers pause.
On July 16, 2014, 20-year-old Ian Mautner leapt to his death from an overpass on Interstate 95. A blood screen performed post-mortem revealed that Maunter had kratom and prescribed antidepressants in his blood steam at the time that he died. While it is not certain whether kratom alone or in combination with the other medications caused Maunter’s death, his mother believes he was deeply addicted, and that addiction drove him to take his own life.
Since Maunter’s death, lawmakers have considered imposing restrictions on kratom, which is regulated in other parts of the world but sold widely and unrestricted in the United States. Aside from Kava shops, kratom can be purchased by anyone in gas stations and convenience stores.
The bill to classify kratom as a Schedule I substance was filed by Senator Greg Evans from the Republican side and by Representative Kristen Jacobs for the Democrats. Currently, the bill has been reduced from an all-out ban to a request for research, and the new version was quickly passed by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. The change came because of concerns that kratom did not qualify as a Schedule I drug. In order to be a scheduled drug, kratom would have to be proven as addictive with a high chance of being abused. In addition, it would have no practical medical properties and could not be used safely even under a doctor’s supervision.