Opinion » Note

From Kratom to a Congressional Race

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If you're not hip to kratom, don't feel too tragically uncool. Though the crushed leaves of the kratom tree in Southeast Asia have been used for centuries to treat pain, insomnia and depression, the substance hasn't been top-of-mind for most Americans.

That has started to change, however, with the recent announcement by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that kratom is set to join LSD, marijuana, ecstasy and heroin on the list of Schedule I controlled substances.

The DEA's decision has sparked a wave of opposition from hundreds of thousands of kratom users who have taken the leaves (either in powder, pill, tea or tincture form) to overcome a host of maladies—including opiate addiction.

The latter use is the reason for the ban, and it's freighted with irony.

Kratom's effectiveness comes from a pair of alkaloids in the plant that, when ingested, trigger the same parts of the brain that respond to opioids. That's not entirely unusual. Dark chocolate has also been shown to activate similar receptors in the brain.

The opioid effect has long been recognized—not by Western medical authorities, of course—as useful for heroin addicts to wean themselves off the drug. So much so that Thailand banned it in the late 1940s because too many opiate addicts were kicking the habit and it was cutting into the government's opium tax revenue.

Nonetheless, the feds say kratom presents an "imminent hazard to public safety" and are moving with a quickness to take it out of the hands of users. According to the DEA, the Schedule I listing is set to take effect Friday, Sept. 30.

We spoke to a number of local kratom users and retailers, as well as law enforcement and addiction recovery experts, about the potential outcomes of a kratom ban. Find out what they had to say on Page 6.

Elsewhere in this edition of Boise Weekly, we check in with Magic Sword on Page 17; rank the top films from the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival on Page 19; and, on Page 20, have a chat with Boise lawyer James Piotrowski, who is challenging Raul Labrador for his seat in the U.S. Congress.