A Great Sum for Kratom

This column focuses exclusively onthe cannabis situation in Florida, as it relates to matters of civil liberties, politics and human health, physical and mental. Sometimes that crosses over into other areas, and this is one of those times.

A prominent argument in favor of medical marijuana is its usefulness in dealing with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder—issues that have rocketed to the front burner of public discussion in recent years. This trend can largely be credited to the veteran community, which has seen an average of 22 suicides a day for the past few years.

Another substance that’s gaining traction in some circles is kratom, aka mitragyna speciosa, which has emerged from the relative obscurity of Reddit and the dark web to become about as mainstream as any weird green powder can ever be.

Leading the way on research is my esteemed alma mater, the University of Florida. Its College of Pharmacy just received its second multimillion-dollar research grant within the past year: a two-year $3.5 million grant in December and a five-year $3.4 mil in April.

I’m sure it’ll be spent wisely.

In May, UF Health published a press release touting the grant it received from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“The first NIDA-funded study examines kratom’s alkaloids individually. This grant evaluates these alkaloids together to study kratom’s effect as a whole,” the release reads. “For the first time, UF investigators will be able to compare the effects of kratom in its traditional form—as a tea made from fresh leaves—versus the way westerners consume it—as dried leaves.”

The project is built around the work of three UF doctors: Chris McCurdy, Lance McMahon (no relation to Vince) and especially the late Bonnie Avery, whose death in March preceded the grant award by one month.

According to the release, “Most researchers only analyze kratom for mitragynine, its most abundant alkaloid, even though it contains more than 40 [alkaloids]. Avery’s expertise led to the developing of methodology to simultaneously identify and quantify 10 alkaloids.” This research will form a large part of her legacy as a researcher, and it will probably help save lives.

Kratom has developed a reputation in hipster circles for its salubrious effect on people trying to wean themselves away from opiate dependency, but the law treats it as a drug in and of itself. If the men and women behind this groundbreaking UF study get their way, all of that could change forever—but honestly, probably not anytime soon.