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A global fight looms over Kratom, a possible opioid alternative

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A World Health Organization meeting next week could determine the future of kratom, a widely available herbal supplement some tout as an alternative to opioid painkillers, in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Kratom, a plant indigenous to Southeast Asia, produces narcotic-like effects when smoked or taken in liquid or capsule form. Its advocates say the substance is a promising replacement for opioids that could help wean people addicted to those drugs, which killed nearly 70,000 people in the U.S. in 2020.

Those claims have yet to be fully vetted by scientists. The U.S. government has twice tried to restrict kratom's use by classifying it as a controlled substance, arguing it has high potential for abuse and no known medical benefit. But public outcry and pushback from Congress thwarted those efforts.

Now, kratom advocates suggest Washington is behind the WHO’s interest — an attempt to end run the federal regulatory process by taking the international route to finish what it could not accomplish domestically.

The WHO's drug dependence committee will conduct a "pre-review" of kratom. The analysis could set the stage for the drug to undergo further scrutiny by global health regulators, potentially putting it on the path to being scheduled as a controlled substance.

The U.S. or WHO scheduling the drug, its proponents say, would create even more obstacles to studying it — akin to complaints from domestic cannabis researchers who for more than 50 years were only allowed to study "research-grade" marijuana grown........

© Politico

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