Wisconsin Health News
A state regulatory board on Friday said the Legislature will have to act to legalize kratom in Wisconsin, after lawmakers asked them to look into making the change.
Kratom, a herbal substance with stimulant and opioid-like effects, has been illegal in Wisconsin since a 2014 law replaced the definition of synthetic drugs with a description of their chemical structures.
A bipartisan group of 11 lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Controlled Substances Board last month that two of the chemical structures included in the law are found naturally in kratom.
“We believe this was done without adequate research and understanding of kratom in its natural form,” they wrote. “Therefore, we ask the board to review the research and provide guidance as to whether natural kratom merits scheduling.”
The lawmakers said kratom could be an alternative to prescription drugs.
Board Chair Doug Englebert said at Friday's meeting that they heard presentations on kratom in 2015 and 2018. They opted not to take action since the Legislature scheduled the drug and they didn’t know lawmakers’ intent.
“We didn’t feel it was appropriate for the board to undo that action without going through the legislative process,” he said.
The board unanimously voted to reiterate that position.
Mac Haddow, a senior fellow on public policy at the American Kratom Association, told board members that many of the concerns around kratom have to do with mixing the substance with more dangerous drugs.
“We understand that kratom is controversial," he said. "Part of that is because kratom has become a popular product for adulteration."
He noted that the substance is not illegal at the federal level and that recent research has shown that kratom is “not dangerously addictive and that it’s helping people, particularly those that are dealing with opioid addictions.”
Dr. Subhadeep Barman, a psychiatrist and board member, said the evidence that kratom is a viable product for the opioid use disorder is “just not there.”
“It’s a dangerous product,” he said. “In clinical practice, we come across kratom routinely as a problematic substance.”
Legislation that would have legalized kratom passed the Assembly Committee on State Affairs this spring 9-2. It didn't move beyond that and faced opposition from groups representing doctors and law enforcement.