Listed by the DEA as a drug of concern, Kratom is easily misused and proven deadly

Powdered kratom Photo Source:
Powdered kratom Photo Source:

by Christy Parrott

Two deaths in Grand County have recently been linked to Kratom, a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. Kratom is typically ingested as a tea, pill, extract, or gum and has been used for its sedative, pain relieving and psychotropic effects. As such, Kratom is used as an opioid alternative to often devastating results.

There’s no denying that Kratom has been safely used in Southeast Asia, ffor centuries; moreover, because Kratom is not regulated, nor is it illegal (yet), it’s readily available in the United States. Sold under the umbrella concept of “natural,” the government is well aware the danger Kratom poses, and in 2017, the FDA began issuing a series of warnings, identifying Kratom as related to at least 44 deaths.

Kratom packages are typically labeled “Not for human consumption,” but that hasn’t stopped it from being sold in head shops, online, or even in gas stations. “It’s scary stuff,” Grand County Coroner Brenda Bock explains, “Because people think it’s a natural herbal substitute.” Bock points out that Kratom hasn’t been approved by the FDA, which means it’s not a government-approved alternative to drug addicts seeking recovery.
Still, some are experimenting. Owner of Clean Kratom Wellness Center, Faith Day shares that taking Kratom helped her get off heroin, and she’s “Never looked back.” Day admits she was an addict, in and out jail, and living in the back of her car. “I was a burden to society, and I used Kratom to get clean,” Day says. Day’s experience with Kratom inspired her to open Clean Kratom Wellness Center, located in Denver, so that she can ensure individuals interested in using the Kratom to get off serious drugs can have a quality-controlled product and the advice they need. “Kratom is a tool,” Day insists, “And it needs to be taken seriously.” Day ensures her Kratom product is lab tested for safety and labeled with the exact amount of active ingredient, Mitragynine, so that her customers can make a more educated decision. “It’s serious, and it needs to be regulated and controlled,” Day insists.

Day warns of companies not testing their products or labeling them properly (if at all). Sold as an herbal supplement, there are no laws guaranteeing the safety of Kratom. According to the Mayo Clinic, the FDA does not require herbal supplements to receive approval, asking only that they meet “Good manufacturing practices.” From vitamins to dietary aids, the safety or efficacy of anything sold as an herb remains under the standard of Caveat emptor: buyer beware. Moreover, consumers may not even be getting actual Kratom. Day explains that Kratom could be sold as many different substances, which could “Come with much higher, and therefore toxic, doses.” For example, Kratom has been listed under the following names: Biak, Ketum, Kakuam. Ithang, and Thom. Additionally, an online search for Kratom brought up other products, such as “Wild Lettuce,” which provided little to no explanation of the contents. “Wild Lettuce is a completely different plant similar to opium,” Day explains. Such confusion only exacerbates the risk of individuals taking something different and potentially worse when purchasing Kratom over the internet.
Plus, the marketing ploy of “Natural” invokes a sense of safety, which is part of what makes Kratom extremely dangerous, particularly to consumers who are unfamiliar with its effects. Kratom has been marketed as a cure for everything from pain management, low energy, improved sexual performance, and anxiety relief. Thinking Kratom is a natural alternative (whether to detox with or get high from) may encourage individuals to take more than they would if it were a prescription drug, for instance. This is serious, because, as Day explains, “Kratom inhibits the enzyme metabolism of other ingredients or drugs. It cannot be mixed with other substances.” Used in the wrong amount or combined with the wrong substance, Kratom is deadly. Interactions can occur with anything from illicit drugs, benzodiazepines, alcohol, gabapentin, over the counter medicine, even cough syrup. An overdose on Kratom, which includes mixing it with many yet-undetermined substances, can result in pulmonary edema. In other words, victims may think Kratom is safe, unintentionally combine it with another substance, and drown on their own body fluid as it fills their lungs.
In fact, Coroner Bock speculates that many previously undetermined deaths in Grand County may very well have been linked to Kratom. Furthermore, Kratom can cause its own dependency cycle, particularly if individuals are not using the product as a means to get off drugs but as another way to get high. “The chemists are getting a lot smarter,” Bock advises. “They’re understanding how to tweak drugs just a bit so that when we run toxicology tests, or when companies run drug tests, those tests come back clean.” Day recommends seeking out a trained professional selling ethical products to fully understand Kratom dosage. Coroner Bock reminds, “There’s other ways to manage withdrawal symptoms.” Currently, the DEA lists Kratom as a “Drug of concern” and lists it as a category 1 substance. Early warning signs of use can be as benign as itchy skin, irritability and hair loss or as severe as seizures, hallucinations or psychotic symptoms. Coroner Bock urges parents to “Be aware it’s out there. By the time we see it, as a first responder, it’s too late.”