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Las Vegas Business Owner Fights Kratom Ban

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The federal government is moving to crack down on kratom, which some people use for chronic pain and to lessen cravings for opioids and alcohol.

Kratom is an Asian herb used for pain relief.

It currently sells in health food stores and smoke shops, but this week, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency will ban it temporarily.

Beginning Sept. 30, kratom will be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, alongside heroin, LSD and marijuana.

But advocates in Las Vegas are fighting that decision. 

Angela Harris is the owner of Herbally Grounded. She’s circulating a petition to stop the ban.

“Mostly the effect that people notice is settling down of nerve endings that seem to trigger discomfort or pain in the body,” she said.

Harris said people who buy the herbal treatment from her are struggling with a variety of issues from pain to ADHD. She said the drug is similar to opiates but is gentler and is not addictive. 

“They’ve said it is addictive similar to caffeine,” she said.

Harris believes the banning of kratom is similar to the bans on other plants like cannabis, comfrey and ma huang.

“We get these medicinal plants or these plants that have an effect on us and it’s as if the American people are too stupid to handle it,” she said.

She's fighting alongside Oregon-based journalist Angela Bacca, who says informing the public could overturn the ban.

Bacca said there have been 14 to 15 deaths related to kratom, but she said the people who died had other drugs in their system at the time.

“It would be like spiking the punch bowl at a party and blaming the fruit juice for getting everyone drunk,” she said.

However, the  DEA said that between January 2010 and December 2015 poison control centers received 660 calls related to kratom

Both Harris and Bacca argue that Big Pharma and the DEA have a stake in banning the substance. They say pharmaceutical companies make money on opioid pain killers, and the DEA can create jobs and make money from enforcing a ban.

“As long as they have a job to enforce something they think they can eradicate, they will," Bacca said. "The problem is you can't eradicate nature. You can’t.”

Bacca said she has used kratom herself to combat the pain of Crohn's disease without opiates. She said takes away the pain without feeling high. 

Critics of the herb say it is often bought online, which can mean there is very little oversight into what is in it. They also say because it is similar to heroin it is ripe for abuse and addiction. 

Angela Harris, owner, Herbally Grounded; Angela Bacca, freelance journalist

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.