The Herbal Supplement That Could Poison You

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It may sound like something from Planet Krypton, but kratom is an Earthly herbal supplement that’s become popular for people looking for more “natural” ways to relieve pain, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and opioid withdrawal. But the quality, purity, and concentration of kratom products vary considerably, and the supplement has been linked to a number of adverse health problems, including rapid heartbeat, agitation, seizures, kidney failure, coma, and death.

Now a new study shows that annual kratom-related calls to U.S. Poison Control Centers skyrocketed from 13 in 2011 to 682 in 2017. Even more disturbing: Approximately 65 percent of these calls, which went from about one per month to two a day, were placed during the last two years of the 7-year study — 2016 and 2017.

The researchers for this study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology, obtained data from the National Poison Data System, maintained by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Most calls about kratom exposure:

  • Involved men (71 percent)
  • Involved adults over the age of 20 (89 percent)
  • Involved intentional use rather than accidental exposure (60 percent)
  • Were placed from a home (86 percent) rather than a public place
  • Resulted in serious medical problems (52 percent)

About 9 percent of the calls involved a suspected suicide attempt using kratom, and 32 percent resulted in admission to a health care facility. Of the 48 emergency calls about kratom exposure in children 12 and younger, 69 percent involved kids under two, including seven newborn babies, five of whom were experiencing kratom withdrawal because their mothers had used the supplement.

Characterized by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a "drug of concern," kratom is not approved — or regulated — for any use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No supplements require FDA approval to be sold in America doctors do not recommend kratom.