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Kratom is a plant with a long history of traditional use and over the past decade, powdered kratom leaves have entered European markets on a large scale, used by many to self-medicate, as a substitute for pharmaceutical opioids or for its mild stimulant, mood-enhancing or relaxing properties. Its popularity has unfortunately triggered regulatory attention from various authorities in Europe, leading to widespread control and even a ban in some European countries.
Kratom users, who often use the herb to self-medicate, are however not being considered, even though control measures can have serious implications for them (especially where criminal penalties are imposed) and will lead to further "criminalization" of this herb and its users.
The past decade a lot of research has become available, providing evidence on limited risks as well as the therapeutic benefits of kratom, this should result in further exploration but it doesn't merit the need for more control. We therefore ask the EU authorities to keep kratom legal within the EU and, in line with the WHO recommendations, monitor and evaluate, instead of taking steps to outright control this herb within the European markets.
In the last few years, Kratom usefulness is being recognized officially, leading for example to legalization of kratom by Thailand as a traditional medicine, several US States implementing the "Kratom Consumer Protection Acts" and an recent assessment by the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, underwrites its therapeutic uses for self-medicating as well as a traditional medicine. The WHO concluded even that there "is insufficient evidence to recommend a critical review of kratom".1
Regardless of these international conclusions, legislation for kratom in European countries has gone in all thinkable directions. From outright bans as scheduled substance (For example Denmark 2009, Poland 2009, Estonia 2015, Luxembourg 2015), to labeling the herb as an illegal New Psychoactive Substance (NPS) (For example in Portugal 2013, France 2020), other countries try to control kratom by labeling it as a medication (Iceland, Finland) or simply as "not suitable for human consumption" (Germany). We have recently learned that both Belgium (FOD) and the Netherlands (NVWA) are trying to regulate it by using the European "Novel Food" directive, in an effort to prohibit imports and sales.
Most nations label kratom a public health danger, often based on unsubstantiated reports and assumptions. Long term traditional usage has clearly shown the safety of kratom, and even the kratom incident reports collected till now, show that there have been only two deaths (one in North America, one in Europe) where kratom was the only substance involved.2
Banning kratom has serious implications for its users and the market and it would undermine the chance to regulate kratom from a public health perspective. We have seen enough errors with psychiative plant scheduling in the past and there is no reason to repeat this for kratom.
Kratom has shown promising therapeutic uses, which outweigh the health risks completely, but without a working legal framework, without decent evaluations and without proper regulation for the consumers, this natural gift to mankind will be wasted in Europe. We therefore ask the European authorities involved to stop further criminalization, and follow the recommendations that were issued by the WHO.
WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, Pre-Review Report: Kratom (Mytragyna speciosa), mitragynine, and 7-hydroxymitragynine, op. cit., Annex 1, pp. 59-60.
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