The two previous kava conversations delve into the Clearwater Beacon's article on a possible kratom ban in Clearwater respond it. This subsequent kava conversation will serve as the final part of our discussion on focusing on the implications this type of article has and what it can mean for the kava industry and kava users.
The Clearwater Beacon’s article on the possible banning of kratom reveals not only alleged dangers of kratom, but far-too-common dangers in society that plague youth, group homes, and mental health. The article also reveals the way institutions deal with—or arguably stigmatize—the “unknown” and highlights the heated debates that can subsequently arise. The article brought issues relating to anxiety in high school students, the treatment of group home residents, the treatment of mental illness and addiction, and the opioid epidemic to the forefront of public discussion. However, instead of directly addressing the issues at hand and their complicated manifestations in society, the blame appeared to be entirely placed on kratom.
The scapegoating of kratom amidst the opioid epidemic in the U.S. parallels the scapegoating of kava amidst alcoholism in the indigenous populations in Australia. Because of this, U.S. institutions’ treatment of kratom can have interesting implications when it comes to the perceptions, regulations, and laws surrounding kava.
When it comes to kratom, support often comes from the perspective of aiding with addiction to more harmful substances or its possible medicinal uses in lieu of more harmful pharmaceuticals. The Pinellas County Young Democrats (PCYD) published an article that addresses kratom, “Opioid Crisis in Florida: Alternative Solutions to Actually Address the Issue.” As such, it serves as interesting foil to the Beacon’s article.
The article begins by addressing the opioid epidemic in the U.S. and the epidemic is especially bad in Florida where there are 16.3 overdose deaths per 100,000 persons while the national rate is 14.6. Florida’s Opioid State Targeted Response Project and a task force put together by the Attorney General are both part of actions taken to combat the epidemic. However speaking on a grander scale, the U.S. consumes 99% of the world’s hydrocodone and 81% of its oxycodone, the U.S. and uses “an estimated 30 times more opioids than is medically necessary for a population our size.”
Bills restricting opioid prescription are being signed into law but do not necessary curb people from becoming addicted, do no address current users, and “make it harder for those that actually need the medication to acquire it.” Moreover, “bills that attempt to stop addiction before they start barely tackles the ‘demand’ side of this supply/demand market for opiates.” The PCYD article asserts that a more effective solution would be to, “promote and provide safer alternatives.” This is where kratom comes into play.
Although there is currently talk of banning kratom—evidenced by the Beacon’s article—and no FDA approved uses of kratom—which technically meaningless since kratom is outside the authority of FDA approval—many kratom users say, “it is a Godsend.” It can be effective for pain relief, opioid addiction, and save lives. Because of this, the PCYD article argues that kratom be protected and regulated rather than banned—especially because “kratom extracts have been on the rise and do not provide the same relief as the traditional dried leaf.” Widespread support of kratom and backlash against its possible classification as a Schedule I drug led the DEA “changing its mind on kratom” and ending a temporary ban. Supporters of kratom argued that, “kratom is safer than prescription opioids and that the relatively low number of deaths attributed to kratom when compared with opiates is due to other drugs being used simultaneously.”
Medical marijuana was previously stigmatized, faced a lot of opposition and suspicion from U.S. institutions, and faced a lot of barriers when it came to researching it. However, research has now shown that marijuana can be prescribed to treat opiate addiction and legalizing marijuana has been scientifically proven to decrease opiate overdoses.
Opioids are not a new talking point which means that they could “fade from the fore” of public discussion even reaching a possible point where “people have opioid fatigue [from] talking about it.” Kratom, on the other hand, is a relatively new “talking point” in the U.S. and a relatively unknown one contributing to fears and accusations surrounding it.
One user emphasized, “kratom is being demonized just like cannabis was. The convenient timing makes kratom a wonderful scapegoat to draw attention away from the real threat of illicit opioids and Rx opiates that are truly killing Americans by the thousands annually.” An author of a series presenting research on and supporting kratom similarly noted, “due to [kratom’s] obscurity, it has been a scapegoat and target for certain politicians looking to play off of its unfamiliarity; often ignoring how kratom has actually helped actually countless people in countries throughout the world.”
Even the mother of an individual who allegedly died of a kratom overdose and who was mentioned in the Beacon’s article on the kratom ban was also quoted as supporting research on kratom’s potential benefits when it comes to treating and coping with addiction saying that she “support[ed] research to find out if the substance can safely help people like her son.”
Antagonism towards kratom can be interpreted in a number of ways and can be paralleled or even go as far as being likened to antagonism towards kava. This is especially the case because of misperceptions surrounding kava due to: people and institutions mistakenly believing kava and kratom are related or even interchangeable; kratom bars possibly “hiding” behind kava bars or associating themselves/branding themselves as kava bars.
Kava’s long history of safe use in the Pacific Islands, the fact that it is not a narcotic, and the fact that it is a safer alternative to alcohol as well as harsher pharmaceuticals sharply contrast Australia’s harsh treatment of kava. The harsh treatment of kava contradicts much of the scientific evidence assuring the safety of kava (so long as it is appropriately used) and can rather be interpreted as possible scapegoating, racism, and political or corporate agendas.
Whatever happens with kratom in the U.S., it is important that it is backed by scientific research and facts and done in the best interest of the majority of the U.S. population. Bans should absolutely not cater to fearmongering and political or corporate agendas. Not should the ban be seen as an “easy” solution to complicated and multifaceted problems. In other words, kratom should absolutely not serve as a scapegoat for bigger societal issues at hand that need to be addressed and dealt with.
It is important to special care with substances that have the potential to improve a huge segment of the U.S. population and take effective steps towards addressing major issues like that of the opioid epidemic. Treating kratom appropriately and basing legislation surrounding it on hard, scientific evidence also sets an important precedent for complementary and alternative herbal medicines. This would greatly impact kava, research and legislation surrounding kava, and kava’s use as an herbal medicinal treatment.
Both kratom and kava should never be used to hide real problems that are hard to solve.
End of Part 3/3
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