Is Kratom Poisoning on the Rise in America?
Controversy is nothing new to the kratom scene. In recent years, the compounds usefulness and safety as a therapeutic agent has been considered questionable. Many attribute this to the limited amount of quality research available. For years, supporters have been shouting that the substance is safe and natural medicine that is being wrongfully stigmatized. However, new research may suggest that the risks of kratom poisoning do in fact outweigh the supposed rewards.
What is Kratom?
To clarify, kratom is a common name for the plant called Mitragyna Speciosa. This is a tropical tree in the coffee family. It is native to Southeast Asia, and has reportedly been used since the 19th century in traditional medicines. This is in part to what has led to its growing popularity in the mainstream.
The plant has both opioid properties, as well as some effects similar to those found as stimulants. However, it is not an opioid. On the other hand, its active molecules do bind to the same neuronal receptors as opioids. Some users claim it is helpful with managing:
- Chronic pain
Meanwhile, many use the compound recreationally. In some cases, users will mix the plant with other psychoactive substances, including caffeine or codeine. Otherwise it can be consumed by:
- Chewing the leaves
- Brewing the leaves in tea
- Mixing with other drinks
- Ingesting in tablet form
- Consuming powder in drinks or on food
In 2018, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that there is no evidence that kratom is safe or effective for treating any condition. Meanwhile, it does have plenty of notable side effects. Common mild side effects include:
Some of the more severe side effects reported include:
- Respiratory depression
Furthermore, there are reports of deaths resulting from the substance. Although, in most instances, it was mixed with other substances. The FDA reports that between 2011 and 2017, there we 44 kratom-related deaths in the United States.
Tracking Cases of Kratom Poisoning
Despite the back and forth debate about the alleged values of kratom, new data may indicate just how poisonous it can be. As part of a new study, researchers discovered that calls to poison control centers in recent years regarding the use of the herbal substance have increased more than 50-fold.
To put things into perspective, the number of calls to poison control centers relating to kratom poisoning across the country include:
- 2011- 13 calls to poison control
- 2017- 682 calls to poison control
Out of those calls:
- 11 individuals died
- Nearly 10% experienced life-threatening side effects
Again, keep in mind that the majority of these cases involved another substance in addition to kratom. In fact, individuals who took kratom with another drug were more than twice as likely to experience a more serious response.
Additionally, of the 11 fatalities, nine reportedly ingested other substances including:
Of course, given the nature of these powerful drugs, kratom cannot necessarily be burdened with the blame for these deaths. However, researchers still believe that the substance plays a significant part in the severity of the symptoms people experience.
Still, researchers conclude their report by requesting enhanced information about kratom poisoning and increased regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on kratom products.
Specifics of the Study
Initially, there were two key intentions of the study:
- Determining the number of calls to poison control centers that involved kratom
- Identifying the demographic information of the callers
To find that information, researchers reviewed data on 1,800 calls from the National Poison Data System. The full report was then published in the journal Clinical Toxicology.
2011 was designated as the beginning of the time period used in the study. However, researchers point out that 65% of the calls were received in the final two years of the study, 2016 and 2017. Live Science notes that the data shows:
- Approximately one-third of all the calls required treatment at a health care facility
- 71% of the calls involved men over the age of 20
- Approximately 2.5% of the cases involved children under the age of 12
Out of all the children who were exposed to kratom, seven were newborns. And of those newborns, five reportedly experienced symptoms of withdrawal due to exposure in the womb. One infant was even exposed to kratom through breastfeeding.
Popular VS Practical
Currently, kratom is still technically legal in the United States.
Americans today are more willing to embrace alternative medicines, herbal supplements and drug reform than previous generations. Support for new changes like cannabis legalization, harm reduction strategies and even safe injection sites has continued to grow. Likewise, the belief that kratom contains healing properties has helped to increase the substances use in recent years.
According to the American Kratom Association, between 3 and 5 million people in the United States use it. In fact, with the opioid epidemic in America being such a pervasive issue, many argue that kratom can actually be used for treating opioid and alcohol
Even thought the FDA so far has not approved kratom for any medical use, proponents are still pushing back against government regulations. Case in point, the Department of Health and Human Services and Drug Enforcement Administration briefly attempted to ban the substance. However, public outcry ultimately led to the organization giving up on the ban.
However, health officials and lawmakers are skeptical. This study is just another reason that many believe there need to be more thorough investigations into the drugs effects and the risks of kratom poisoning. Thus far, there appears to be a lack of significant scientific evidence that proves the usefulness of the substance as a medicine.
So even if the drug is popular, it has yet to prove as being practical. It is very likely that a lot of people will jump on this article as an attack on kratom, but truthfully it is only presenting a reasonable question and asking for more comprehensive answers.
Kratom and Opioids
Part of the reason the DEA is so cautious about kratom is the close resemblance biologically to opioids. At one point, the agency had even considered using emergency scheduling to classify the plant as a Schedule I substances. This would put it in the same restrictive category as others with a high potential for abuse and no medical value, such as:
As previously mentioned, the attitude toward cannabis has changed drastically over the last several years. Therefore, it is easy to see why so many kratom supporters pushed back. In the end, an advocacy group named the American Kratom Association raised $400,000 to pay a legal team and lobbyists to rally Congress. In the end, representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties wrote a letter to the DEA stating:
“Given the long reported history of kratom use, coupled with the public’s sentiment that it is a safe alternative to prescription opioids, we believe using the regular review process would provide for a much-needed discussion among all stakeholders.”
The move worked, and the DEA took a step back from their actions. However, many researchers remain skeptical as to the real scientific evidence that shows the drug is more good than bad.
Conclusion of Study
As part of their conclusion, the researchers offer a number of recommendations for future action regarding kratom.
For one, they advise the medical community to disseminate more information about the risks of kratom. This includes the side effects and more severe symptoms. Specifically, they believe there should be more information for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Furthermore, they suggest the FDA increase regulations. Written in the conclusion is the statement:
“At a minimum, they should be free of potentially harmful ingredients, provide a uniform strength of active ingredients and have appropriate labeling.”
At the very least, even those who support the substance as an alternative medicine might be willing to embrace regulation that could ensure better for the quality of kratom products. However, when it comes to having a substance with some very real adverse effects on the market for consumption, many believe we should proceed with caution. This is especially true when reports of cases involving kratom poisoning have grown drastically at the same time that the substance has become more popular.