Medical herb similar to pot could be banned in Florida

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Medical herb similar to pot could be banned in Florida

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Drug Enforcement Administration is once again considering a ban on kratom, a popular herbal supplement served in South Florida kava bars and touted as an alternative to opiates.

Step to the bar top at Nakava Bar in Boca Raton and you won’t find a sip of alcohol on the menu. Instead, you’ll find colorful combinations of cold and hot teas blended with herbs including kratom — a plant native to Southeast Asia used for its stimulant and pain-relieving effects.

For $7, you can order a single “shot” of kratom tea served in pink lemonade, mango pineapple, or tiramisu — a combo of cacao and dairy-free creamer.

Kratom is typically dried, ground and ingested in capsules, smoked or served as tea. The coffee family plant grows naturally in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, where people have used it for centuries as a traditional medicine.

It’s widely available throughout South Florida at head shops, vape shops and more than a dozen kava bars between Miami and West Palm Beach.

But it may not be available forever. Kratom was nearly added to the DEA’s list of illegal narcotics last year, but the process stalled after an outcry of public support for the drug, said Katherine Pfaff, a DEA spokesperson.

Now the DEA is again reviewing kratom following the Food and Drug Administration’s public health advisory about the “deadly risks associated with kratom,” announced in November.

Alongside the announcement, the FDA sent a medical and scientific evaluation to the DEA, which it will analyze before proposing to rule kratom a schedule 1 narcotic with no medical use and a high potential for abuse — on par with heroin and marijuana, Pfaff said.

It’s not clear how long that will take, Pfaff said.

“We will conduct a thorough analysis so we are not going to put a time-frame on that,” she said.

Kava bars are not your neighborhood pub. Instead of beer and alcohol, they sell herbal drinks like kratom and kava, a South Pacific herb with relaxing, sedative properties.

Purple Lotus Kava Bar Owner James Scianno said banning kratom would cut into his bottom line.

Scianno has sold over a million kratom drinks at his bars in West Palm Beach, South Beach and Delray Beach, he said. Kratom accounts for 30 to 40 percent of his sales, Scianno said.

Other drinks on his menu include yerba mate and kava.

At low doses, kratom produces stimulant effects, making people more talkative, alert and energetic, according to a DEA fact sheet. At high doses, kratom users can experience the drug’s sedative effects, the report shows.

Proponents say kratom can be used to successfully wean users off opioids by relieving withdrawal symptoms.

“Kratom is an alternative to opioids, not a gateway to opioid abuse,” said Dave Herman, chairman of the American Kratom Association, an advocacy group. “The American Kratom Association supports appropriate FDA regulations to ensure product quality and safety for consumers.”

The FDA announcement, however, called it “very troubling”

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