By Kelly Werthmann
DENVER (CBS4)– The Drug Enforcement Agency is asking for public input on medical uses and effects of kratom, just weeks after the agency said it intended on making the substance illegal.
Kratom is a leaf-based substance that comes from a tropical tree in Southeast Asia. On Aug. 31, the DEA announced its intent to classify kratom as a Schedule I drug like heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
The DEA called kratom an “imminent threat” following reports of 15 “kratom-related” deaths in three years.
That lead the Denver Department of Environmental Health to ban retailers from selling kratom.
Of the 15 stores that received a cease and desist in early September was Jennifer Mahaney’s shop Headed West.
“We had no notice,” Mahaney said. “They made us take our products off the shelves and they put it on a hold which meant we couldn’t access it until further notice from them.”
Mahaney told CBS4 the ban hit her company really hard. They had to let go of some employees, something she said they’d never done before.
“We were definitely caught off guard,” she said.
Kratom is a popular product at Headed West. Mahaney said she has many regular customers who come in almost daily to buy it.
“It’s actually a tea leaf,” she explained. “It’s a supplement that some people are using in their daily life.”
Many kratom users protested the ban in Denver and said it isn’t what people think.
“I take it in my tea every day,” Liz Elliott told CBS4.
Those who regularly use kratom said it helps kick harder drugs, like opiate addictions.
Due to public outcry and pressure from some members of Congress, the DEA withdrew its letter of intent last week in order to gather more input before taking action. That prompted the City of Denver to lift its ban on kratom with some conditions.
“We’re asking retailers to put that product out or offer it with a consumer advisory so that people can purchase it somewhat more informed than they have in the past,” Bob McDonald, Executive Director of Environmental Health and Public Administrator for the City of Denver said.
Mahaney said all of their kratom products are back on store shelves with consumer advisory labels. She is happy to be selling the products again, but added what the DEA is doing now is most important.
“The fact that we have a public comment period, I think that speaks loudly to the people who have had a positive impact from kratom,” she said.
A spokesperson with the DEA told CBS4 that they are soliciting public input until Dec. 1. They are also asking the Department of Health and Human Services to expedite their scientific and medical evaluations of kratom to determine how it should be scheduled.
LINK: DEA Kratom Announcement
Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team in 2012 as the morning reporter, covering national stories like the Aurora Theater Shooting and devastating Colorado wildfires. She now anchors CBS4 Weekend Morning News and reports during the week. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @KellyCBS4.