Poison control centers nationwide saw the number of calls about kratom exposures increase from 13 in 2011 to 682 in 2017, often for serious unanticipated effects of the supplement, according to a study published earlier this year.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on April 12 showing that kratom was a cause of death for 91 people in the past 17 months. This is higher than the 44 deaths previously reported by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Kratom is a plant in the coffee family from Southeast Asia. It is marketed as an herbal supplement used as a stimulant, a pain reliever, and a product which can elevate mood. Some researchers are studying kratom as a potential treatment for opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Many users swear that it has helped them with a variety of health concerns. However, numerous users have reported adverse symptoms including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, increased urination and loss of appetite. The FDA warned earlier this year that kratom, which affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine, appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, overdose, and death.
“People may incorrectly assume that since these products are plant-based, or ‘natural,’ they are completely harmless,” says Dr. Christopher Holstege, Medical Director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center. “In fact, all herbal dietary supplements contain active ingredients (chemicals) just like prescription and over-the-counter medicines. They may have been formed in nature, but they are still chemicals and have the potential to cause harm.”
“More study about kratom is needed,” Holstege continues. “We need long term clinical trials to determine its effectiveness at treating the conditions it claims to treat. We need to know if it is safe to use, and what constitutes a safe dose.” Another concern is that since kratom is an herbal supplement, there is no oversight of its production and packaging. Consumers cannot be certain of the strength or purity of the product from one container to the next.
“Kratom has been implicated in numerous deaths. Until we have better answers, the Blue Ridge Poison Center cannot endorse the use of kratom at this time” Holstege added.
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