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Indonesia To Ban Kratom Exports In 2024 Which Would Cut Off 95% Of The USA's Kratom Supply; Debunking The Misconceptions That Created This Situation

The battle to protect the Kratom industry is far from over. Back in 2016 the regulatory situation was particularly scary, with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposing to make Kratom a Schedule 1 drug in August 2016, after being pressured by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do so. If ratified into law, this would have made Kratom completely illegal and negatively impacted the lives of those who depend on Kratom for pain management and drug addiction management.  The FDA then submitted a formal proposal for the DEA to schedule Kratom in October 2017. The DEA did not comply with this request however, likely due to a large outpouring of Kratom advocacy from the public including 23,000 comments online, as well as science which showed that Kratom is relatively safe and beneficial.

That battle was won, but the war continues, and another battle which will determine the fate of the Kratom industry is now underway. Indonesia supplies 95% of the United States’ Kratom, yet Indonesia plans on banning all Kratom exports in 2024. Indonesia would ban Kratom immediately, but there are tens of thousands of Indonesian farmers who depend on growing Kratom to make a living. Thus, the ban is years away so that farmers will have time to switch to growing something else.

If this ban were to happen it would lead to skyrocketing Kratom prices in the United States, while simultaneously the diversity of high quality Kratom products would plummet. One of the main benefits of Kratom is that it can be quite affordable, with daily users spending around $1 a day, but removing 95% of the supply could make Kratom just as expensive as other street drugs, hurting the lives of Kratom users, and making it so not everyone who needs Kratom can afford it.

Apparently this Indonesian ban was spurred by the Anti-Narcotics Agency (BNN) in the country. The Head Secretary of the BNN,  Adhi Prawoto, made the following series of statements when the ban was first officially announced: “This kratom plant has become a community cultivation. And the substance in the kratom plant itself has been researched and explained by Prof. Dr. Asep Gana Suganda from the Bandung Pharmacy Institute of Technology… The use of small amounts is stimulant or the same as cocaine, but the use of large doses is opioid or the same as morphine heroin… The first effect of consuming kratom, the body feels good and fresh, and a lot of use, can be addictive… This is more dangerous when compared to morphine, kratom plants have been recommended by the committee on changes to the classification of narcotics and psychotropics by the Ministry of Health as group 1 narcotics.”

Essentially, the BNN made several misleading statements about Kratom while presenting these statements as scientific facts, making a ban seem all but inevitable. However, a consortium of 15 Kratom scientists have just published a paper titled ‘Open Letter to Indonesian Health and Policy Leaders Deliberating Kratom From scientists who have expertise in Kratom effects, uses and safety’. This paper uses scientific evidence to debunk all of the false statements from the Indonesia National Anti-Narcotics Agency (BNN), and debunks Kratom misconceptions in general. Perhaps the information in this paper could reverse the Indonesian Kratom ban before it ever happens.

The rest of this article will explore the scientific evidence presented in the paper, and how this evidence debunks each Kratom misconception.

Misconception #1: Kratom Contains Dozens Of Morphine-esque Alkaloids Which Are Highly Addictive And Deadly

One of the main themes of the BNN’s statements is that Kratom is just as dangerous as morphine. However, this particular misconception makes Kratom seem even more dangerous than morphine. Apparently this misconception stems from computer modeling research released by the FDA in February 2018, which found that 22 out of 25 Kratom alkaloids interact with the opioid receptors and are therefore opioids.

If taken out of context, this may seem like Kratom contains 22 potent opioids drugs, and certainly 22 potent opioid drugs all mixed together is lethal. Well, the truth is that almost all of the Kratom alkaloids are in such low concentrations or have such weak interactions with the opioid receptors that they produce negligible opioid effects. The exception is Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, which are responsible for most of Kratom’s opioid activity. Also, Kratom contains a natural opioid antagonist called corynantheidine. Opioid antagonists are the only form of drugs that can truly reverse the effects of opioids, and are used in life saving medications like naloxone. Kratom naturally has an opioid antagonist, which reduces its addiction and overdose potential.

Misconception #2: Kratom’s Alkaloids Are Over 10 Times Stronger Than Morphine

The most commonly quoted potency numbers for 7-hydroxymitragynine and mitragynine is that they are 17 times and 0.5 times as strong as morphine respectively. If this were true, this would mean that 7-hydroxymitragynine is stronger than heroin, methadone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone, and only comparable to fentanyl analogs, which would make Kratom extremely addictive and dangerous.

However, these potency numbers are from a paper where the response of guinea pig intestines to Kratom alkaloids was tested. When it is said that 7-hydroxymitragynine is 17 times stronger than morphine, it means that 1 mg of 7-hydroxymitragynine causes the same opioid response as 17 mg of morphine in guinea pig intestines, and it does not mean that 7-hydroxymitragynine is more addictive and euphoric than morphine. Indeed, a scientific study found that 7-hydroxymitragynine is an atypical opioid because many of its effects are different and weaker than morphine-like alkaloids. Perhaps most importantly, 7-hydroxymitragynine has shown little evidence of being a respiratory depressant at any dose, meaning its overdose potential is much lower than morphine.

Misconceptions #3-4: Kratom Should Be A Schedule 1 Drug Due To Its Abuse And Addiction Potential

There are plenty of anecdotal reports that synthetic opioids and opiates are extremely euphoric, and in combination with simultaneous physiological changes in the brain, this leads to constant re-dosing which can take over someone’s life completely. On the other hand, opioid users that have switched to Kratom often report that they got their life back, were able to function again, and were able to restore their relationships. Basically, people are not likely to abuse Kratom, and instead far more likely to take Kratom responsibly and lead normal lives according to numerous subjective reports.

This anecdotal evidence strongly supports that Kratom’s abuse potential cannot be compared to morphine-like opioids. Scientifically, this goes back to Kratom alkaloids being atypical opioids, and not binding to receptors in the same way as morphine-like opioids. A scientific study found that Kratom alkaloids have limited abuse liability, proving this point.

Also, Kratom has been shown to be a relatively safe alternative for pain management and for treating opioid dependence, so making Kratom illegal would do more harm than good, which is a primary reason why the DEA did not make Kratom Schedule 1.

Misconception #5: Kratom Is Deadly And Poses A Morphine-Like Risk For Overdose Deaths

Some people may jump to the conclusion that since Kratom is an opioid, then it must cause overdose deaths just like synthetic opioids and opiates, which killed 48,000 people in the United States in 2017.

However, the FDA has only attributed 44 deaths to Kratom over the course of 10 years, a death rate nearly 11,000 times lower than synthetic opioids and opiates. That being said, the Kratom death rate is even lower because 43 of the 44 deaths attributed to Kratom were associated with other causes of death, such as mixing drugs, Kratom extracts being laced with dangerous synthetic opioids, and health problems. There is only 1 case where the official cause of death is only Kratom, but even with this case the FDA has yet to determine if Kratom actually caused the death.

Therefore, it is quite possible that Kratom has caused zero deaths worldwide. This is backed up by testing results across several species of animals, which showed that even with a dose of Kratom 100 times stronger than the equivalent regular human dose there were no signs of respiratory depression or overdose death. Yet another study found that mitragynine causes little respiratory depression, and the risk of overdosing on opioids is 1,000 times greater than the risk of overdosing on Kratom.

Misconception #6: The DEA, FDA, and National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) Agree That Kratom Should Be Schedule 1

Some people may think that the government is united in wanting to ban Kratom based on the hysterical Kratom news stories which pop up occasionally in the mainstream media. As explained in this article’s introduction, the DEA does not agree with making Kratom illegal, likely due to the fact that banning Kratom would do more harm than good by leaving synthetic opioids and opiates as the only option for pain management and those suffering from opioid dependence. Also, the DEA can probably foresee that banning Kratom would create a new blackmarket, which would be far worse than just keeping Kratom products legal and regulating them. Indeed, the DEA has not listed Kratom in its Annual Drug Threat Reports since 2017.

As for NIDA, they post balanced statements on their website about Kratom, noting that it is not FDA approved but acknowledging that people use it to treat drug addiction. Notably, NIDA does not urge people to stop taking Kratom, and discusses how the main problems linked to Kratom in the past are due to laced products. Further, NIDA is funding $10 million of research on Kratom, investigating the utility of Kratom for pain management and managing opioid dependence.

Also, some members of the the House of Representatives have officially acknowledged that Kratom has potential to be a relatively safe alternative for pain management, and have called for increased Kratom research, as well as voiced their opposition against a ban since it would hinder research.

It seems the FDA is basically alone in their completely negative view on Kratom, with several other government agencies recognizing the potential benefits of Kratom.

Misconception #7: Kratom Is Like Cocaine Or Heroin Depending On Dose

This misconception is directly from Indonesia’s BNN, and this statement was posted on many news sites. While Kratom is generally more stimulating in low doses and more sedating in high doses, the stimulating and euphoric effects are nothing like cocaine. Rather, Kratom causes a stimulation effect more comparable to coffee or tea.

Subjectively, this stimulant effect is present even in higher doses of Kratom, meaning a user’s breathing will be strong even at a sedative dose, unlike other opioids which cause shallow breathing which can lead to a potential overdose. Scientifically, this seems to be due to Kratom failing to recruit beta-arrestin-2, which is responsible for side effects like respiratory depression in typical opioids.

Also, as already discussed, Kratom is an atypical opioid and does not cause euphoric or addictive effects comparable to morphine-like opioids. Therefore, it is ridiculous to say that Kratom is the same as any morphine-like opioid.

Misconception #8: Kratom Is Primarily Used As A Recreational Drug

There may be a general perception in society that people who take drugs only do it to get high, i.e. recreational use. While it is true that Kratom can be used recreationally, the primary uses of Kratom are for pain management, increasing work efficiency, and for managing opioid dependence or managing addictions to other drugs like alcohol and stimulants. This was confirmed by four internet surveys which polled 20,000 Kratom users.

In conclusion, Indonesia is looking to ban Kratom exports, which would cutoff 95% of the Kratom supply in the United States. It seems this ban has been fueled by multiple misconceptions about Kratom. Fortunately, a team of 15 scientists sent a detailed paper to the Indonesian government which debunks each one of the misconceptions with a multitude of scientific evidence. Hopefully the truth prevails and the Indonesian Kratom ban is reversed before it goes into effect.