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Can I get busted for possession of kratom?

Last month, the commissioner for the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about kratom, an herbal supplement derived from an indigenous Malaysian plant. In part, his statement reads, "There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use." He also compared its chemical compounds to opioids.

The federal government has been grappling with the legality of kratom for some time now. Proponents claim that kratom relieves chronic pain safely, while also reducing dependence on and addiction to opioid drugs like heroin.

Traditionally, kratom leaves are crushed and made into tea to relieve pain and manage drug withdrawal symptoms. In some areas of the country, kratom is sold in gas stations and other shops in the forms of capsules, pills, powders and energy drinks.

In Arkansas, however, kratom has been banned as a controlled substance for the past two years. That means if you are caught with kratom in your possession, you may face drug possession charges.

Why the controversy?

It is tempting to think of kratom like marijuana — just another harmless plant subject to governmental overreach. But there are clear differences and potential harm with kratom.

Back in 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced it intended to temporarily add kratom to the list of Schedule I controlled substances like LSD and heroin.

The kratom community vigorously responded, denouncing the government's proposal. They even had the support of some members of Congress. That pushback led to the DEA taking a step back and requesting public commentary on, as well as an FDA scientific review of, the merits and dangers of kratom. As of right now, kratom is listed by the DEA only as a "drug of concern."

The potential dangers

In their Adverse Event Reporting System, the FDA lists 44 deaths due to the use of kratom. Furthermore, the agency's computer models indicated that the chemical compounds in kratom are very similar to those in opioid drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone, as they bind to the same receptors.

The FDA commissioner's statement concluded that, "[b]ased on the scientific information . . . and further supported by our computational modeling and the reports of its adverse effects in humans, we feel confident in calling compounds found in kratom, opioids."

Given that, it appears that kratom may soon be banned all over the United States, just as it presently is in Arkansas. Anyone facing charges related to its use or possession here in Little Rock should inform themselves of their rights in order to build a strong defense strategy.

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