As I wrote earlier this year, kratom—a leaf from SE Asia with very mild sedative effects that is currently legal in the US—will be an interesting case study in the anatomy of how a drug gets publicly demonized and put onto the schedule-one blacklist without much scientific reasoning.
Once a drug makes it onto the blacklist, of course, it's much more difficult to get scientific funding to study it and see if it belongs there in the first place. This vicious cycle based on fear instead of research is indicative of the illogic that fuels our whole, hemisphere-destabilizing War on Drugs.
At this point, we don't know much about kratom except that it's been used for many generations in Asia and has been successfully used by American opiate addicts (sometimes under the watchful eyes of physicians and researchers) to wean themselves off of harder drugs. (The Thai press has linked kratom—supposed profits from it, the way it supposedly makes child soldiers easier to control—to its political insurgency in the south. But the Thai press doesn't have a good reputation for transparency and freethinking on issues of drugs or political dissent.)
We know that the DEA has published bulletins listing kratom as a "drug of concern" and accused it of causing hallucinations, delusions, and "kratom psychosis." (These symptoms do not appear in any contemporary scientific literature that I'm aware of.) The DEA doesn't list its sources, but its wild claims seem to come almost verbatim from a thin gloss on long-time kratom users written in 1975, which was based on a few anecdotal reports from one doctor whose methods seem dubious.
We also know that legislators in some states have rushed to prohibit kratom based on these DEA reports that are based on that one flimsy, 37 year-old gloss. (For more details—and some comical conversations with blustery, ill-informed state legislators—see here.)
There's a new, emerging incentive to prohibit kratom—pressure from businesses such as Millenium Laboratories, who have invented a pee-test for kratom and are marketing it based on the aforementioned hysteria. And they're publishing their own press releases on kratom as if they're reported stories.
Why does Millenium Laboratories want to sell a pee-test for a perfectly legal herbal substance? Because "the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers Kratom a drug of concern."
And the cycle continues.
This is all still very small-time of course—one lab, a few blustery legislators, a few ill-informed newspaper stories. But if the momentum builds, we'll be in a prime spot to watch what happens next.