I spoke with Dr. Jane Babin, molecular biologist and patent lawyer, regarding Mitragyna speciosa, better known as kratom. Kratom is a plant in the Rubiacea family, making it a botanical cousin of the coffee plant. It has been used safely as a folk medicine for hundreds of years in its native South East Asia. Recently as it has grown more popular among users around the globe it has come under fire of both the DEA and FDA. Luckily, despite the concerted attempts of these regulatory agencies, there are a host of brilliant minds in the field of science, law, forensic toxicology, pharmacology and other areas who believe that kratom is a beneficial plant with multiple medicinal and health benefits. Dr. Babin offers her expert opinion on whether or not kratom is actually an opioid, what potential risks there may be and how they weigh against other legal substances.
The FDA is currently waging an all-out war on kratom. A year out from the historic win against the DEA’s attempted extra-judicial ban of the South East Asian plant, the FDA seems intent on picking up where DEA left off. Despite the concerted effort of regulatory agencies like the FDA, there are a number of extraordinarily brilliant experts who support the use of kratom and its continued availability for those who can benefit from it.
Recently, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta went so far as to posit that kratom could be vital in combatting the opiate epidemic. Addiction expert and Johns Hopkins University professor, Dr. Jack Henningfield is yet another authority who has made an analytical defense of kratom’s safety. I had a chance recently to contact Dr. Jane Babin. Dr. Babin has a double doctorate in law and molecular biology and has spent 20 years as a patent lawyer in the bio-tech field. Since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced stricter guidelines related to opiate and opioid prescription, Dr. Babin became interested in kratom as an alternative.
Last year she wrote an impassioned and impeccably researched defense of kratom addressed to the DEA. More recently, she was involved in writing up a report debunking two recent deaths supposedly attributed to kratom. The FDA is now claiming 36 deaths due to kratom. This is up from the previously debunked figure of 15 deaths. However, the FDA is somewhat reticent in sharing their data. When a Reuters reporter requested more information about the supposed 36 deaths, the FDA referred them to the Freedom of Information Act.
One of Dr. Babin’s concerns related to the attribution of death to kratom is the fact that so many other things are overlooked. In one of the last two cases, there were multiple exacerbating situations that could have singularly led to death. Taken together, a contraindicated drug combination and other conditions were likely to result in death, but since kratom was found in the coroner’s report kratom was assumed the culprit. That’s the equivalent of finding a heroin addict dead, needle still hanging from a vein and glass of lemonade in the other hand. At this point would you be prepared to assume the lethality of lemonade?
Kratom does not possess many of the dangers of traditional opiates and opioids that make them such a public health concern. Addictive potential is comparable to coffee and no respiratory depression or toxicity dangers have been currently noted. Dr. Babin wants to make sure we don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater, which would potentially take away what is, by all accounts, very safe.”
As for addictive and dangerous, sugar kills millions and caffeine was the subject of a recent research study that analyzed 50 recent deaths due to caffeine overdose. Bacon has been shown to be addictive and the more you eat, the more you crave. Meanwhile, kratom is in possession of multiple health benefits.
Dr. Babin reviewed and endorsed Dr. Henningfield’s 8-factor analysis of kratom which ruled the plant as having a low addictive potential and favorable safety profile especially in comparison with opiates and opioids currently in use. Dr. Babin has previously taken the DEA and FDA to task for relying on contradictory opinions and ignoring some of the current scientific findings.
You literally created the opiate epidemic then want to take away a plant that HELPS with it? And we are supposed to believe the FDA has our best interest at heart. Still waiting on your 8 factor and proof of those alleged 36 deaths by the way. #kratom— Nina (@Neenahh1) November 14, 2017
At this point, Dr. Babin is advocating for kratom’s approval as a dietary supplement. This may not be easy or inexpensive though, but could still be our best bet. “With the caveat that there is a lot of opposition to it. It’s something they don’t want to approve no matter how safe it’s proven to be.”
Cooperation between vendors, importers and advocacy groups like American Kratom Association and Botanical Education Alliance is something that may be helpful at this point.
“There should be standardization across the industry and cooperation amongst vendors and importers,” Dr. Babin urges.