Kratom users fight back

It's been called "the legal form of heroin." You can find it on gas station shelves or online, but now the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics is trying to ban it. After our first story on kratom, many viewers contacted us, saying it's helpful... not harmful.

Kratom comes from a plant in Southeast Asia. It can be made into many forms-- an herbal tea, pills, or a liquid extract. Regardless of what form it's in, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics wants it banned. A pile of viewer emails shows many of you strongly disagree.

"It's just not fair to responsible adults that can use it for good purposes," says Rachel Hicks, a kratom-user. Hicks says she uses kratom in its natural form. She makes it into a tea once each month for severe menstrual symptoms. She says she's seen chronic pain, arthritis, and anxiety become manageable thanks to kratom. "I think it's a very good natural remedy for menstrual symptoms-- bloating, cramping, irritability. I think prescription drugs are a lot stronger than just this mild, herbal tea," she says.

Mark Woodward with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics disagrees. "One of the largest exporters of kratom around the world is the country of Thailand, and even Thailand has banned the use and sale of it because of the problems they've seen," says Woodward. Kratom is not federally regulated. The bottom of the back of a "Black Flame Kratom" bottle bought at a local smoke shop reads-- "These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to cure, treat, or prevent any disease." Woodward says, until it's Federally proven that kratom has any medical benefit, he plans to ban it. "In places where it is available, kids are ending up in the hospital after using it," he says. Though kratom has been around for years, only recently did people become hospitalized, including one Oklahoman, after learning that large doses create a high.

"In my experience, if I take too much of the tea, it causes nausea, so I think it doesn't have much of an abusive potential," says Hicks. "To me, it's very mild and relaxing. I've taken hydrocodone after surgery before and it's even more mild than that," she says. Though she doesn't believe it can be abused, a quick search of YouTube shows people are.

"It honestly feels like I took about 40 to 60 grams of oxycontin," says a guy during his YouTube video, after claiming to have taken several kratom pills.

"I definitely rate OPM's Kratom a 10 out of 10. I'm John. Peace out, stay high," says another YouTube user.

Despite the YouTube videos, Hicks doesn't think the bad choices of others should affect the group as a whole. She wants to see parents educate their kids on kratom instead of banning it for everyone. "I come from two very abusive, alcoholic parents, and I'm not saying that nobody should be able to drink alcohol because of that," says Hicks.

But, Woodward says, even though it isn't a widespread problem right now in Oklahoma, he plans to stop it before it becomes one. "We want to be on the front end of this and attack it before it starts becoming widely available in every gas station," he says.

"Banning it is too much in haste before we do more research on it. I definitely agree that it should be regulated when it comes to children. I think parents should take the responsibility to educate their children about this plant. But, a straight-out ban would prevent further scientific research. We think it's just not fair to punish responsible adults for using it because some kids might be abusing it," says Hicks.

Woodward says it could take years for a pharmaceutical company to do the necessary testing, and he doesn't want to see more Oklahomans hospitalized while they figure out whether it's safe or not. "You've got a balancing act here, between balancing possible benefits for some people versus the potential public safety risk of people abusing this. We recognize a danger now. We recognize a product with no accepted medical value, but a high potential for abuse. We need to address it now. How many potential hundreds, if not thousands of people, especially kids may end up in the hospital or potentially dead because of this product while we wait to see what it might do. Until it goes through the same rigors of other medicine and they weigh the benefits and side-effects, and are able to measure it, dose it, and treat it like traditional medicine, then we cannot call it medicine," says Woodward.

"There have been no reported deaths or overdoses on marijuana or kratom," counters Hicks.

"That's not a testimony to the safeness of this product. It's a testimony to the fact that it's not widely available right now," says Woodward. And, he says he plans to ban it before it's widely distributed in all gas stations in Oklahoma. He says, if in the future it is federally regulated, they will properly reschedule kratom, but until then, they're working with legislators to ban it.

Kratom users have started a petition to keep kratom legal. Click here to check it out.

To learn more about kratom, click here.

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