Kratom, WHO and UN: Legality

The Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) organized a series of meetings on the implementation of the international drug control treaties at the end of 2021, which resulted in a final report with conclusions and recommendations on some substances. The substances analyzed and considered as a harm or risk to health underwent a critical review and may be included in the list of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) or in the Single Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Seven substances were analyzed, and three were scheduled (Brorphine, Metonitazene and Ethylone). The other four (4F-MDMB-BICA, Benzilone, Kratom -and its numerous alkaloids- and Phenibut) were kept under surveillance; the same status they had before the meeting.

“The current report shows that there is no reason to consider kratom and its alkaloids as a harmful substance. This could influence decisions at institutional, regional and national levels.”

The fact that kratom remains as a substance under monitoring means that WHO still considers it to have the potential to cause harm to public health, but after further analysis there is insufficient evidence to recommend a critical review, as the risk of abuse or dependence is low, as is the extent of the social and public health problems caused by it, even considering that there are vast numbers of people who report using it as self-medication for a variety of disorders and conditions, such as pain, opioid withdrawal, opioid use disorders, anxiety and depression, in addition to its millennial use as a traditional medicine in Southeast Asian countries.

Between 15-16 million people use kratom in the United States. To this must be added a few million more in Southeast Asia, where it is native from. As its popularity is increasing in Europe, organizations such as the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) have placed the substance under surveillance, although with the recent publication by the UN and WHO of the current report showing that there is no reason to consider kratom and its alkaloids as a harmful substance, this could influence decisions at institutional, regional and national levels.

Maintaining the legality of kratom is important not only for those who use the plant to deal with quality of life issues, but also for ongoing research to determine the basic pharmacology and potential therapeutic value of kratom and its constituent alkaloids.

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