Lawmakers hope to restrict use of kratom

By Kevin Brown
Capital News Service

Kratom, a substance that users told lawmakers they take as a pain and addiction treatment, would see more stringent regulation in Maryland under legislation making its way through the General Assembly. Some government agencies advise against using the substance, calling it dangerous — while opponents of the bill are advocating for safety standards instead.

Originating in southeast Asian countries, including Thailand and Indonesia, kratom is an herbal substance that comes from evergreen trees and has similar effects as opioids.

House bill 283 would categorize kratom as among the most dangerous controlled substances in Maryland, a list that includes heroin, LSD, ecstasy and a hallucinogen called peyote.

Proponents of the bill argue kratom’s similarity to opioids can lead to further abuse and addiction, while opponents say the substance, when regulated properly, can help people alleviate pain, and help those with opioid addictions overcome withdrawal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in April naming kratom as a possible cause of death in 91 drug overdoses across 11 states between July 2016 and December 2017. Kratom, oftentimes spiked or used with opioids, was the only substance found in seven of those 91, according to the CDC report.

The FDA in a 2019 advisory has said that kratom, which “affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine, appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.”

But advocates for the substance told state lawmakers that it is safe, effective for treating pain and not addictive unless it has been mixed with another drug or processed improperly.

“Some enterprising vendor is spiking kratom to enhance sales, because kratom doesn’t give you a high,” Mac Haddow, senior fellow on public policy for the American Kratom Association, told lawmakers. “Kratom doesn’t give you a high. If it gives you a high, it’s an adulterated product, and if it’s adulterated you put your life at risk.”

Opioid-related deaths have been a nationwide issue, particularly in Maryland. The first nine months of 2019 show a decline in opioid-related deaths in the state. If this trend holds, last year would be the first in a decade to see a decrease in opioid-related deaths, according to the Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center.

Kratom is banned in six states and four cities in the United States.

The American Kratom Association advocates for the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which requires proper labeling from kratom vendors to certify product pureness. It has been passed in four states – Utah, Georgia, Arizona and Oregon – without much opposition, and is being considered in 21 other states this year. Haddow is pushing for Maryland to join them.

“There’s no guarantee people don’t get bad kratom because of the internet,” said Haddow, who said he uses kratom for his arthritis. “(The Kratom Consumer Protection Act) puts a stop to the bad actors in this industry.”

Maryland Poison Center Medical Director Josh King told Capital News Service that it would be tough to regulate kratom without it going through clinical trials. King said he doesn’t recommend clinical trials due to concerns of abuse and the reported opium-like effects from kratom.

“Something that is natural isn’t always safe,” King said. “This is a good example of that.”

Delegate Ken Kerr, D-Frederick, said he wanted to introduce the bill after hearing how a Frederick County citizen’s family was torn apart from abuse of the drug.

“It has the dependency potential, the overdose potential and it’s a dangerous subject that deserves some attention,” Kerr told Capital News Service.

The Judicial Proceeding Committee held a hearing Jan. 22 for the identical Senate version of the legislation, Senate bill 147. Introduced by Sen. Ronald Young, D-Frederick, the bill drew testimony from dozens of people.

Many of the speakers are part of a Facebook support group, where they exchange safe practices for consumption and ways to spread awareness.

John Shorter, an Annapolis native and information technology employee at the Naval Academy, testified at the hearing that he started using kratom in 2016 to wean off his opioid addiction after suffering from severe anxiety and depression.

“I wouldn’t be here right now without the use of kratom,” Shorter said. He said kratom is a better alternative than waiting a week for mental health counseling.

Frederick Phelan III, a 34-year-old Middletown resident and student at an online career school called Penn Foster, said kratom helped him stop drinking.

“My family told me I was gonna die (from alcoholism),” Phelan, who usually takes three daily doses, told Capital News Service. “Now, I feel like I’m on the right path.”

After hearing the “educational, informative and excellent” testimonies from last week, a staff member for Young said he worked with the American Kratom Association and the Judicial Proceedings Committee to add amendments to the bill on Friday.

The amendments used language from Haddow and the American Kratom Association that would require users to be 21 and older, and added guidelines to make sure the product was unadulterated, according to Young’s office.

The full Senate is expected to take up the measure on Monday.

Illinois and Louisiana have both passed similar laws banning the sale to minors younger than 18.

Kerr told the Capital News Service he wants to move forward with his version of the bill as drafted — which would add kratom to the list of Schedule I substances — for Tuesday’s scheduled hearing, and has six co-sponsors — four Democrats and two Republicans.

Sean Nicholson, the director of development for a recovery group based in Frederick called the Phoenix Foundation, counseled Kerr on introducing the bill. A former opioid addict himself, Nicholson said there is not enough information on the benefits of kratom to regulate it.

Nicholson is working with Kerr on a project that would build a recovery high school in Frederick called the Phoenix Academy, and leads structured living houses for addicts to provide sober living environments. He said it’s here where he sees the similar effects kratom has to opioids.

“From my perspective, using kratom as a detox for getting off opioids really has no positive results,” said Nicholson. “It’s absolutely not the missing link.”

As a manager of a residential center for addicts, Nicholson said having someone who is experiencing similar side effects like opioids can produce unwanted distractions. He said effects of kratom that he has seen include constantly nodding off and fading out of conversations, itching and scratching, and becoming more talkative and energized.

“I do have a question whether they’re truly in recovery as they continue to be dependent on an addictive substance,” Kerr told Capital News Service.

While Kerr is going forward with his bill, he said more research is necessary.

“We need to do something about it,” Kerr  said. “We can’t let it continue to be an unregulated substance.”

About The Author

Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a student-powered news organization run by the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. With bureaus in Annapolis and Washington run by professional journalists with decades of experience, they deliver news in multiple formats via partner news organizations and a destination Website.


  1. Matt Griffiths

    They’re not going to do anything about it because it’s a non issue. Kratom doesn’t do anybody harm whatsoever. Just a bunch of nagging wives wanting to control their husbands always looking to find fault with something. Why don’t you take a look in the mirror and work on yourself instead of always trying to fix someone else. You know what will happen if they don’t ban Kratom??? Absolutely nothing. It’s a non issue. Don’t you people have juul pods to ban. Bunch of idiots man.

  2. Lance D.

    There is a good chance Maryland may pass the regulatory bill this year, that is unless the American Kratom Association and their Cartel begins throwing money at Senators as they have done in the past in other states. Voters stay watchful of who supports banning and regulation and see if they flip in their stance overnight. The Kratom Consumer Protection Act is a Paper Tiger, it has very little enforcement, what it says is new protection is a lie, in most states you have to be 18-21 to even enter the head shops and smokes shops that sell these poisons , the 3rd party testing is a joke, they can test one batch and use that lab result for any amount of Kratom they want to sell, from any kratom tree picker in Indonesia, where there is ZERO quality control. Heavy Metals, Animal and Human Feces, Mold and Mildew, salmonella, and adulterants have all been detected in Kratom, What you will not see the American Kratom Association do is call out the Extracts and Concentrates or the Liquid Forms the forms that can be enhanced to be anywhere from 25 to 500% stronger or so it is advertised.

  3. Erin Arthur

    I am 62 a mother of a Navy sailor and a grandmother. I have battled addiction for 40 years ..I have been on and off methadone since 1988, my friend introduced me to Kratom and I am very pleased to say I am no longer a slave to opioids/opiates. I actually have a vision of how many more lives could be saved if Kratom was made available in such places as treatment centers. We all agree Kratom should be regulated and kept out of the hands of minors. We also all agree there need to be more studies with more science . most of us agree it should not become illegal .how could any governing body take something away that is saving people’s lives every day. Our cities are flooded with fentanyl cut heroin and people are dying every day.. sons. daughters, mothers fathers, Please, I am asking you to study science and embrace the truth and the facts. Please consider the Kratom Consumer Protection Act. It provides common-sense language to regulate Kratom in a way that will allow the existing and future consumers to consume it responsibly and safely.

  4. ANPLiveFreeOrDie

    I used Kratom safely for 10 YEARS! More proof democrats are tyrant wannabe’s dictating to Americans… #LeftWing4Trump #NativeAmericans4Trump #Trump2020Landslide

  5. Samantha McGuirk

    Kratom helps treat my chronic pain and fatigue from fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases. It is not dangerous and it is NOT a drug! Before I found kratom I was bedridden and hopeless. It has given me my life back. I have a quality of life now that I did not have before. If you banned kratom you would be taking away a life line for thousands of people! This is all about money and lining their pockets. They aren’t making money off of us because we aren’t hooked on big pharma so now they are trying to make sure we don’t have any other options. Don’t fall for it!!

  6. Jennifer VanBlunk

    Kratom helped me save my own life from a 10 year opiate addiction after a medical discharge from the USN.
    It eases my pain, relaxes my anxiety, and it eases the level of depression i feel on a daily basis. Kratom, along with other beneficial plants like medical cannabis and kava kava have replaced all the pulls i was on. I have my life back, and im happy. If you protect this tea leaf, tou are acrively engage in ending the opioid epidemic. If you dont support this bill, we all just assume youre bought and paid for by the lobbyists from the Pharmaceutical companies who caused these problems.

  7. Mittens

    I’d much rather buy it legally. I don’t want to break the law but getting arrested or going to jail are better options for me than risking a heroin relapse and possible overdose. A ban would rip families apart. It would be really hard to tell my family that the one thing that’s helped me (and by extension, them ) get back to a somewhat normal life, might be taken away.

  8. Renee Canfield

    Please don’t ban kratom and instead pass a kratom consumer protection act. Please don’t make the black market worse than it already is. I have been safely and responsibly been consuming kratom tea for over 5 and a half years and I only use vendors that have their kratom tested by third party testing lab so I know that I’m buying pure UNadaltered kratom. I have stage 3 chronic kidney disease from Dr prescribed antiinflammatories Barrett’s esophagus pinched nerves sciatica pain anxiety depression PTSD and arthritis all through my body and I also suffer from kidney stones. I have had so many procedures and surgeries that I’m a living raggedy Ann. I have tried all kinds of therapies and medications and nothing really worked or if it did I couldn’t think straight and didn’t like the way it made me feel. With the help of kratom I have clarity of thought and have no buzz. I was using a walker and pretty much bedfast and with the help of kratom I have become a contributing citizen of my community again I teach Intercity kids how to grow veggies herbs and flowers in the community garden. I have a quality to life with kratom that I couldn’t even dream possible when I was taking Dr prescribed medications. Please keep kratom legal and think about others like myself that have benefited from kratom. Please pass a kratom consumer protection act.

  9. Mittens

    I had a surgery a few years back and I became addicted to the pills I was prescribed for pain. After I had no refills left I started buying them off of people I know. Fortunately, I learned about kratom online and tried it and it’s really helped me put my life back together. I haven’t touched heroin (or any opiate). I went back to school and I started working again. In the past, it was always the opiate cravings that derailed me. Kratom tea makes the cravings far more manageable. In the last year there have been a handful of times when I know I would have relapsed without the kratom tea. It’s the only thing with which I’ve had long term success.I don’t think I would be alive if I never learned about kratom. I ended up in the ER multiple times from overdosing and I don’t think I had any more 2nd chances left. I know there are a lot of people in similar situations. I don’t even want to think about how many lives would be ruined with a ban. After years of opiate addiction, It’s crazy that I finally found something that’s helped me put my life back together and happy for the first time in years so it’s really scary that some people want to take that away from me.

  10. Monnie Fuq LaVenus

    The Kratom Consumer Protection Act will take adulterated kratom out of the hands of children who just can’t seem to stop taking things they shouldn’t. Kratom has saved countless lives and will continue to do so. Creating a black market is all this will accomplish. The issue isn’t this or any other substance. The issue is education and awareness. Kratom works very well in treating chronic pain and other ailments, it is not something to “get high” with, until someone takes it and mixes it with another substance, i.e. adulteration. By scheduling this plant, you effectively sign the death certificate of millions of patients who have been shunned by doctors and therapists across the nation and the world. It got me out of being bedridden for more than a year and back to a full time job. That is a fact.

  11. Robin Watson Blackwood

    People have been safely using kratom for centuries. Criminalizing people who benefit from kratom makes Maryland less safe. A responsible approach to kratom would be for Maryland to adopt the Kratom Consumer Protection Act.

  12. Kami Davis

    Please do not believe the lies, surrounding this healing plant. Due to greed, so many misconceptions are being stated. I am a nurse who suffered a bad accident that nearly killed me. It left me with several injuries and permanent debilitation. Although, when I found Kratom, I got my life back. It gave me quality in my family’s life as well. I was at the mercy of Western Medicine and taking their medications for over 20 years. I wasn’t able to enjoy life as a mother or caregiver for all that time, due to negative side effects, such as increased brain fog, lethargy, and drowsiness (caused by these fda approved drugs). I had to stay home most of the time and could not participate in many functions. However, that all changed ….after I found Kratom. Now, I can sleep better. I am not weighed down with fatigue anymore. My pain is well controlled. I have mental clarity, with zero change to my personality. I have my life back now. I am a better mother, daughter, friend, and caregiver..and productive member of society, all because of this wondrous plant, named Kratom. We MUST keep this plant safe and protected. Therefore, the absolute truth and real science MUST be exposed. NOT LIES, in which I am seeing. We NEED to keep this beloved PLANT, PROTECTED and ACCESSIBLE to all those in need.

    This plant is not killing people. It is SAVING people’s lives. In no way shape or form should this plant be banned from people, ANYWHERE. It is helping with numerous ailments such as chronic pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, diabetes, weight management and imo it is the closest thing to curing addiction.

  13. Kami Davis

    Pure Leaf Kratom is safe and is Low risk for addiction.

    In the words of Dr. Jack Henningfield, Ph. D. ,, one of the world’s leading addiction specialists (Chief of Biology/Dependence and Abuse Potential Assessment) for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a member of the John Hopkins University School of Medicine faculty, since 1978 and is presently Adjunct Professor of Behavioral Biology at the Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences ~ concludes that it is not an opioid by definition.

    Mitragynine is the alkaloid in Kratom. Kratom leaves contain 25 identifiable alkaloids. Mitragynine (MG) and 7-Hydroxymitragynine (7-HMG) are the main psychoactive alkaloids in Kratom. MG and 7-HMG are PARTIAL agonists.

    The big difference between Kratom and Morphine/opiates/opioids is this: NATURE GOT IT RIGHT. It has such low traces of 7-HMG and MG, that it cannot hurt you; but just enough to help you. Dependence is so low, to be harmful.

    Opioids such as morphine, have negative side-effects on the central nervous system, including impairment/ drowsiness, brain fog, respiratory depression, and severe addiction with deadly withdrawals. Kratom does none of those things. Instead, Kratom’s alkaloids produce effects such as alertness and focus ~ the opposite of what morphine and high risk opioids do.

    Lastly, Kratom doesn’t encourage a person to want to drink, along with it. It is the opposite. It makes you want to establish healthy habits, unlike opioids.

  14. Melody Woolf

    For me Kratom relieves Around 75% of my pain from fibromyalgia, arthritis, spinal stenosis, frayed meniscus,shoulder tendinitis and sciatica

    Life for 8 years before taking Kratom
    *taking 11 medications including prescribed dilaudid and fentanyl
    *Using a wheelchair and walker
    *rarely left the house
    *couldnt go see my mom after she went to the nursing home for 3 years
    *missed out on ALL activities my kids had at school
    *i had no relationships with my kids

    I have been taking KRATOM now for 5 years and this is my life now
    * taking ZERO medications and my dr approves of Kratom
    * I bike several miles a day through a nature preserve near our home or walk 2 miles a day.
    *go out to places several times a week for dinner, coffee etc
    *I saw my mom often which is so important as she died March 23
    * I went on a family camping and road trip from Michigan to Wyoming for the solar eclipse where I even did some rock climbing
    * I have been able to get to know my kids and establish a relationship. I am so lucky they all go to local colleges or I never would have gotten to know them.

    My daughter got married Nov 1. I danced till 11.