In the coming weeks the United States Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to ban an herb known as kratom.

The DEA has described kratom, a tropical tree leaf found in Southeast Asia, as an imminent hazard to public safety. That's why the agency is moving to temporarily list it as a Schedule 1 drug, like heroin, LSD, ecstasy and marijuana.

Advocates describe the product, usually brewed as a tea or taken in pill form, as a highly effective treatment for pain and depression, but the critics say kratom can produce psychosis, hallucinations, delusions, and in some cases respiratory depression and in rare instances, death.

The American Kratom Association disagrees. A statement on its website says it is used “for improved health and well-being. Kratom is a natural analgesic which has been used for hundreds of years to safely alleviate pain, combat fatigue and help with the effects of anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, the spread of misinformation, both scientific and anecdotal, about Kratom has created a challenging regulatory environment.”

Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey believes careful, controlled study of Kratom is needed.

“We would be very cautious and urge people not to experiment with these types of drugs, especially since I think there’s no specific data about what the short-term and long-term consequences of these drugs could be,” he said.

Valente said kratom “interacts with the opiate receptors in the brain, and it produces sedation, pleasure and decreased pain, so it has very similar effects as an opiate would. And what we do know is in some cases the drug is laced with other compounds that can really become dangerous.”

He added another danger is that kratom can become addictive.

“Right now it’s really anyone’s guess as to what the long- and short-term consequences of these drugs are, and for that reason alone we would urge people to be cautious and not utilize these drugs,” he said. “Like any other drug, it should go through the proper channels and be tested."

Valente also said there are no specific recommendations about home much Kratom to use, and what constitutes a safe dosage, so people may be using a lot more than might be considered normal, and it could pose a serious danger.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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