Kratom, an herbal extract that is banned in Wisconsin and five other states, could be legalized in the state after a regulatory board agreed to provide guidance to the Legislature at the urging of a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
The state’s Controlled Substances Board last week said it would study kratom, sometimes used to treat pain or manage opioid withdrawal, and make recommendations. The substance became illegal in a 2014 state law that mostly regulated cannabinoids such as CBD and those found in marijuana.
“We’re taking the approach of providing some guidance around kratom,” Doug Englebert, chair of the Controlled Substances Board, said during the board’s meeting July 15.
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The move came after a bipartisan group of lawmakers last month made a second request to the board for guidance. In May, after the first request, the board said it would be up to legislators to decide whether to change the 2014 law that listed two compounds in kratom as controlled substances.
The compounds are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.
A bill to legalize kratom failed to pass the Legislature in March, after an Assembly committee voted 9-2 to support it. The measure is expected to be taken up again next session.
“We believe the (2014 law) ... inappropriately included the natural alkaloids of the kratom plant,” said the June 24 letter from nine legislators, including six Republicans and three Democrats.
The board in May “chose to ignore our request” for guidance, the letter said. “We consider this response inadequate,” it said.
At the July 15 meeting, Englebert said members will review research on kratom before the board takes up the matter in January.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2016 planned to classify kratom as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which would have made it illegal at the federal level. Officials dropped the plan amid opposition from some members of Congress and expert analysis against prohibition.
Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island and Vermont also have state bans.
Kratom, taken from a tree in the coffee family found in Southeast Asia, can ease symptoms of pain, mental health conditions and opioid addiction, according to proponents including the American Kratom Association.
The Food and Drug Administration warns people not use it, saying the substance “appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.”
More research is needed on kratom to understand its safety, effects on the body and potential therapeutic uses, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Fatal overdoses from kratom alone appear to be “extremely rare,” but the use of kratom in combination with other drugs has been linked to deaths and severe adverse effects such as liver problems, the NIH says.