It acts on opioid receptors, hence the panic. But since some heroin users take it to ease withdrawal, its prohibition could have some very harmful effects indeed

Just this morning I got an email from a head shop Id dropped into on my last trip to San Francisco. I didnt recall leaving my email address, but I certainly remembered the shop, festooned with fascinating herbs in colorful packets, unfamiliar plants, water pipes like octopi, merging aesthetics with efficiency. Sunshine streaming through the windows and the scent of incense, barely noticeable but enchanting as always.

I was visiting the haunts of my hippy days, the famous intersection of Haight and Ashbury, and of course everything looked so much cleaner, more commercial, and, well, more legal, than it had back then. But what to buy? I dont normally take drugs anymore, legal or not, but I recognized the name kratom on several vividly coloured pouches on display behind the counter.

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is sold as the crushed-up leaf of the kratom plant, grown in jungles throughout southeast Asia. You can make kratom tea or dissolve it in juice to experience its effects, and its become increasingly popular all over the Western world (though its been around for centuries). You can buy it at head shops, hundreds of internet sites, and now at kratom bars popping up in Los Angeles and other happening places. Obviously some people enjoy this legal high.

Kratom was indeed the subject of the email, and the tone of the message was urgent:

Important Info Regarding the Future of Kratom

In case you havent heard, theres a very important development regarding your access to this safe and incredibly helpful herb!

And then:

On August 30 the DEA announced their intention to place Kratom on the Schedule I list of substances starting September 30.

You can read all about this remarkable decision by the drug police. Theres a tidy article in Forbes, theres lots on YouTube, and the DEA site succinctly states their rationale:

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) today announced its intention to place the active materials in the kratom plant into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act in order to avoid an imminent hazard to public safety.

The first thing you should know is that Schedule I drugs most famously heroin, and somewhat embarrassingly marijuana and LSD call for the most severe controls and punishments. (Meth and cocaine are nearby on Schedule II). So the kratom user may end up cell-mates with meth and heroin addicts.

The second issue is why? Whats the imminent hazard to public safety?

I wasnt aware of any hazard when I asked the pierced young woman behind the counter what type of kratom I should try. I had taken kratom with a friend in the Netherlands where I live. Here its fully legal and sold in shops, as it is in most (but not all) Western countries. Kratom happens to be illegal in Thailand, apparently because it undercuts the lucrative opium industry.

I hadnt felt much the first time Id taken kratom and wanted to give it another try. So I asked the young woman what she recommended and she brought out a menu card. Midnight Blue is the most relaxing, Sunrise is sort of stimulating but mellows you out at the same time. Starshine just helps you feel … centered. Each mixture was touted to profer a slightly different buzz. So I bought a couple of packs for about $20 and got a little … high?

High is a strong word for what kratom actually offers. This plant is just one of a list of age-old plants and herbal extracts that make people feel a bit peppier, a bit happier, a bit more relaxed. A list that includes St Johns Wort, ginseng, wild lettuce, coffee (yes, coffee), kava, lavender, valerian, betel nut the list goes on and on. The word medicinal is sometimes used. But high? That would be stretching it.

You can read all about kratom on the web, but perhaps one reason the DEA considers it an imminent hazard is because part of its effect comes from stimulating opioid receptors. You know, those receptors that get you smashed when you shoot heroin. Anything that stimulates opioid receptors and makes you feel pleasant must be very dangerous, so we shouldnt take any chances. In fact, lets ban alcohol (martinis owe much of their buzz to opioid receptors), lets ban jogging (that notorious runners high a long, winding road to the gutter). And while were at it, lets ban breast milk, which helps babies feel relaxed because it too stimulates opioid receptors.

But kratom is not an opiate. The molecule isnt even vaguely related to morphine or heroin. Its just an herb. Its impossible to overdose on kratom. Youre likely to get a headache if you take too much. The roughly 20 deaths attributed to kratom in recent history are thought to be caused by other drugs: the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that commercial forms of kratom are sometimes laced with other compounds that have caused deaths. And considering the 88,000 deaths per year linked to alcohol and the 28,000 overdose deaths from opiates (heroin and painkillers) in the US alone, it seems someone isnt doing their math.

Is kratom addictive? Maybe a little. But not as much as coffee and cigarettes or Q-tips, tattoos, and Pokemon Go. And if you take it daily, guess what? It loses its effect.

Ive made the DEAs announcement sound silly, even stupid. There they go again, banning whatever bothers them until voters in Colorado or somewhere start to object. But theres a terribly tragic outcome to be expected if kratom is banned. Because kratom attaches to opioid receptors, its an ideal way for heroin addicts to get off heroin with minimal withdrawal symptoms a harmless, herbal methadone substitute. This folk-wisdom is splashed all over the net and freely shared among drug users. If kratom is banned in the US, many heroin addicts who want to quit will go back to heroin instead, and many, many more people will die.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Russian spy assault: Johnson welcomes allies’ supporting

Foreign secretarys statements precede Trump sacking of Tillerson, who had criticised Moscow

The UK has been encouraged by the “strength of support” from allies to take action against Russia after the nerve agent attack on a former spy and his daughter, Boris Johnson told just hours before the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was sacked by Donald Trump.

Tillerson, who spoke to the foreign secretary on Monday afternoon, had told reporters the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal” clearly came from Russia” and would have consequences.

His statements went further than those of Theresa May, who told the House of Commons on Monday it was ” highly likely” Russia was behind the two attacks. The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, had stopped short of pointing the finger at Russia.

Just hours after Johnson had welcomed US support, Trump tweeted that he had replaced Tillerson with the CIA director, Mike Pompeo. The sacking may not be linked to Tillerson’s comments on Russia; closer relations between the pair are believed to have been degenerating for some time, especially over the Iran nuclear deal and Trump’s announcement that he would meet the Northern korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

It is unclear when Tillerson learned that his dismissal was imminent. It was first reported he had known since Friday, which was denied by sources, and a state department spokesman afterward said Tillerson” did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason” and later suggested he had read the news on Twitter.

The US president said he would speak to the British “ministers ” about the Salisbury poisoning on Tuesday.

Trump told:” It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia … I would certainly take that finding as fact .” But he added:” If we get the facts straight we will denounced Russia, or whoever it might be .”

Graphic

Downing Street is hoping for a strong statement of support from Trump when he speaks with May on Tuesday, having previously been encouraged by such direct disapproval from Tillerson.

Skripal and his daughter remain in hospital in a critical condition while the Wiltshire police detective sergeant Nick Bailey is in a serious but stable condition.

Bailey is making good progress, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism police officer told. Delivering an update on the police investigation outside New Scotland Yard on Tuesday, the Metropolitan police deputy deputy commissioner, Neil Basu, told 38 people were ensure by medical staff in the aftermath of the” reckless, despicable and targeted” attack.

Of those, 34 have been assessed and discharged and one more person is still being monitored as an outpatient but is not showing signs of illness. Previously, police had said 21 people had been affected.

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Theresa May: highly likely Russia is behind Salisbury spy attack- video

In an interview earlier on Tuesday, Johnson repeated May’s ultimatum to the Kremlin that it must explain by midnight on Tuesday if it was behind the attack, or if it had allowed the deadly nerve agent novichok to get into the incorrect hands.

” If they can come up with a convincing rationale, then patently we will want to see full disclosure of that to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague ,” Johnson said.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Russia had requested access to the substance to perform its own checks but any such requests had been refused. May’s spokesman hit back at Lavrov’s suggestion that Britain could be violating the chemical weapons convention.

” The UK fully complies with all of its obligations for the purposes of the chemical weapons convention ,” the spokesman told.” Under the chemical weapons convention, nations have the mechanism to consult but there is no requirement to do so .”

Quick guide

What is novichok?

Novichok refers to a group of nerve agents that were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970 s and 1980 s to elude international restrictions on chemical weapons. Like other nerve agents, the objective is organophosphate compounds, but the chemicals are applied to induce them, and their final structures are considered classified in the UK, the US and other countries. By constructing the agents in secret, from unfamiliar chemicals, the Soviet Union is also intended to manufacture the substances without being impeded.

” Much less is known about the novichoks than the other nerve agents ,” said Alastair Hay, an ecological toxicologist at the University of Leeds who analyse the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in 1988.” They are not widely used at all .”

The most potent of the novichok substances are considered to be more lethal than VX, the most deadly of the familiar nerve agents, which include sarin, tabun and soman.

And while the novichok agents work in a similar way, by massively over-stimulating muscles and glands, one chemical weapons expert told the Guardian that the agents do not degrade fast in the environment and have “an additional toxicity”. ” That extra toxicity is not well understood, so I understand why people were asked to wash their clothes, even if it was present merely in tracings ,” he said. Treatment for novichok exposure would be the same as for other nerve agents, namely with atropine, diazepam and potentially drugs called oximes.

The chemical structures of novichok agents were made public in 2008 by Vil Mirzayanov, a former Russian scientist living in the US, but the structures have never been publicly confirmed. It is thought that they can be made in different forms, including a dust aerosol that would be easy to disperse.

The novichoks are known as binary agents because they become lethal merely after mixing two otherwise harmless components. According to Mirzayanov, the objective is 10 to 100 times more toxic than the conventional nerve agents.

The fact that so little is known about them may explain why Porton Down scientists took several days to identify the compound used in the two attacks against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. While laboratories around the world that are used to police chemical weapons incidents have databases of nerve agents, few outside Russia are believed to have full details of the novichok compounds and the chemicals needed to stimulate them.

Photograph: Matt Cardy/ Getty Images Europe

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