Kratom: The New Herbal Drug That May Be Dangerous

December 19, 2023

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

Kratom is an herbal substance that has been around for many, many years – since the 1800s. More recently, it has become a popular drug for various reasons, including for relieving pain. Some are even using it for its euphoric effects to get high. But just because it’s herbal, does that mean it’s safe to use?


What is Kratom and What Does It Do?

Kratom is an herbal substance, coming from a tropical evergreen tree that is native to Southeast Asia. In terms of chemistry, its two main chemical components are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the drug can produce opioid- and stimulant-like effects. For example, some say it relieves pain, reduces feelings of anxiety, and eases depression. Others say it can alleviate the symptoms of an alcohol hangover, or it helps with the withdrawal and cravings from other drugs. Additionally, it is said to produce effects similar to opioids.

Currently, products containing the drug are legal and accessible in many areas, although several states have banned the sale of the herbal substance. As of July 2023, the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved kratom for treating any condition, as a dietary supplement, or as a food additive.


Is Kratom Safe?

Similar to marijuana, the safety of kratom hasn’t sufficiently been studied in clinical settings. Additionally, it is unknown if the drug is even efficacious. And, it is unknown what doses are appropriate to treat varying ailments.

Some have reported rare but serious side effects. These include cardiovascular and respiratory problems when using the drug. Additionally, others have reported gastrointestinal and even psychiatric complications. Some claim they experience withdrawal when they stop using the drug.

Recently, some have even claimed that use of the drug has led to deaths. Lawsuits relating to the use of the drug and the claimed wrongful deaths are still ongoing.


Guidelines for Safe Kratom Use

The American Kratom Association (“AKA”) has proposed guidelines for consumers on how to safely purchase kratom. As with any substance, it is advised to consult with your physician before you use it. Additionally, it should always be used responsibly.

The AKA recommend only purchasing products which have clear labeling about what is included. For example, the label should state the number of capsules in the package and the recommended serving size. Additionally, the label should state the amount of mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine in the product. More specifically, 7-hydroxymitragynine should not exceed 2% of the product. Further, the label should include general information, such as potential allergens and any other appropriate warnings.

When it comes to packaging, buyer beware of any unprofessional packaging. For example, be on the lookout for containers which are not tamper-proof. Zip-lock style bags are simply not safe. Additionally, beware products which claim to be shipped directly from a farmer without any independent lab testing. The plant product can be contaminated with things such as e-coli, salmonella, and other microbes.

As to product claims, there are no approved usages for kratom. As such, it is not recommended that you purchase any kratom product that is marketed with any therapeutic claims. The manufacturer’s contact information should also be readily available so that a consumer may obtain a certificate of analysis from an independent laboratory from the manufacturer.




Image: Photo by Val1um1, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license