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Marijuana may be one of the world’s most popular plants, but it’s hardly the only one that gets people high. From ancient cultures that tripped on shrooms to modern-day salvia smokers, herbal recreation covers wide territory.

KartomAs should be expected, the government makes a point of prohibiting these plants almost as soon as they become popular. The most recent case in point: kratom, a Southeast Asian leaf in the same plant family as the coffee tree.

Kratom is popular in Malaysia, Thailand, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Its popularity is also growing rapidly in the United States, and therein lies the problem.

The drug has been used as herbal medicine for a very long time but has only recently come to the attention of the West. Kratom delivers pain relief and psychoactive effects, making it a promising treatment for some people.

A sensation similar to opiates

It also gets users high, creating a sensation similar to opium or morphine. Kratom acts on the same brain receptors that process opiate drugs, though it doesn’t have the same physical side effects.

In fact, Kratom is thought to be quite safe – maybe not as safe as weed, but definitely safer than heroin and other hard drugs. It’s likely safer than alcohol, too. Reports of fatalities linked to kratom are rare, and none of those cases were attributed specifically to the drug.

That safety record hasn’t been enough to appease hardcore drug warriors in the United States, however. One state has already tried to ban kratom while others could soon follow suit. It’s a move lawmakers will probably come to regret, but it fits into their typical tough-on-crime point of view.

Indiana lawmakers adopted the nation’s first attempt at a kratom ban in 2012. The law prohibited the plant’s two active chemicals, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, by adding them to the state’s controlled substances statute.

Kratom slips through the law in Indiana

DEA BadgeBut because the legislation didn’t ban kratom itself and the plant contains natural rather than synthetic chemicals, it’s still essentially legal in Indiana. It’s unclear whether that will change at any point.

But if Florida is any guide, political concerns about the drug are only likely to grow in coming years. In March, a key committee of the state Senate voted to add kratom to schedule 1 of the Florida controlled substances law. That would effectively ban the plant in the Sunshine State.

The drug is already on the list of substances the DEA feels are concerning – in other words, the drugs the agency wants Congress to ban. In the meantime, very few people are paying much attention to the realities of kratom itself. The real problem politicians have with it, of course, is that people might use it to have fun.

It’s Puritanical idiocy and badly out-of-date, but as a political approach it seems unwilling to die. The Florida law must still pass the full Senate as well as the state House of Representatives.

If that happens, expect other conservative states to pass similar laws. Ironically, just as marijuana reform explodes, politicians are trying to ban drugs that are almost as safe. Why? Because they’re scared of new things, that’s why. Still, it’s no way to govern.

state marijuana laws


About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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