Substance sold locally soon to be banned

BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) - A substance that you can get easily at a number of smoke shops in town will soon be banned.

The Drug Enforcement Agency says kratom is a dangerous substitute for opiate-like drugs like heroin, and it will be illegal at the end of the month.

"We get people pretty much every day looking for kratom," said Mike Garcia, who works at Smoken Joe's smoke shop in Bryan.

Garcia says they sell the popular, all-natural substance at least eight times-a-day. Now that the Drug Enforcement Agency is deeming it illegal, they will have to take it off shelves at the end of the month.

"When we don’t have it, some people might get upset,” said Garcia. “But we can’t do anything about it."

Kratom comes from a Southeast Asian tree. Users eat the leaves, put it in a tea, or ground the leaves into a capsule.

"The powder, you can mix it in drinks,” said Garcia.

Dr. John Dyben is a Florida board-certified master addictions professional with the Hanley Center, and says kratom at low dosages simply acts as a stimulant, but at higher levels, can have an opiate-like affect or act as a pain killer.

"It is certainly a drug that has some addiction and substance abuse potential. My experience here is that it is something that leads to people actually relapsing to their original drug,” said Dyben.

Dyben says he doesn't understand why the substance is being classified as a Schedule 1 drug like heroin, LSD and marijuana. A Schedule 1 substance is one with a high potential for abuse and not accepted as a medical treatment.

"It reflects that we still have, at least in the governmental aspects, this idea that somehow a war on drugs, somehow the problem is a legal issue,” said Dyben. “The reality is the war on drugs has not worked, but has only made things much worse."

Dyben believes dealing with users' addictions is a better way to lessen the impact of drugs.

The DEA says 14 deaths have been linked to kratom in the U.S. and about 30 worldwide, though kratom was never cited as the only factor.