While cannabis could help a lot of people reduce or end their prescription painkiller use altogether, there’s another plant that could aid in our nation’s fight against the rampant opioid epidemic. That plant is kratom, and its sales may soon be regulated in Colorado, just as it already is in a handful of US states.
Currently, the kratom market is largely unregulated in most of the US. Although the drug isn’t classified as a controlled substance at the federal level, six US states and Washington DC have already banned the herbal product. These bans prompted an industry group, the American Kratom Association, to craft so-called kratom consumer protection bills, which regulate licensed, lab-tested kratom for adult customers. Kratom consumer protection bills have passed in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Utah, and a new one may be introduced to the Colorado legislature during the 2020 legislative session.
“We are currently working with a couple of Colorado legislators,” Mac Haddow, the American Kratom Association’s senior fellow on public policy, told Westword. “We don’t have a commitment from them yet, but we’re hoping we will in the next few weeks. And we recently met with the governor’s office about the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, too.”
By the way, one of those legislators is none other than Governor Jared Polis, according to Westword. Polis has been incredibly friendly to the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry, but he’s also supported recent legislation that reduced practically all illicit drug possession, in small amounts, to mere misdemeanors. So, there’s good reason to believe Polis may back legal, regulated kratom sales, too.
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Kratom usually comes as a green powder made by grinding up the leaves from Mitragyna speciosa, a tropical tree native to Thailand, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea. The powder can be consumed in gel capsules or mixed into food or a beverage. Its effects have been described as opioid-like, with sedation, anxiety relief, and pain relief. It can also produce a euphoria similar to an opioid high.
Scientists and doctors, however, aren’t convinced that kratom is an effective or safer opioid replacement. Studies have produced mixed results regarding kratom’s ability to fight pain, and there’s some evidence that it can be just as addictive as the opioids it’s supposed to replace. There have also been cases of some kratom users developing liver damage as a result of chronic kratom use. The Mayo Clinic claims that kratom isn’t effective for curbing opioid addiction at all.
Regardless, state and federal agencies are desperately trying to get a hold on the nation’s opioid epidemic. Opioids kill roughly 130 Americans every day; there were 72,000 opioid-related deaths in 2017 alone. Since 1999, over 9,000 American children and teens died from opioid overdoses. Given these numbers, if kratom could help even just a handful of people overcome their opioid addictions, it could be worth the risks that come with permitting its sales.
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