Kratom: What is it and why is it all over the news?

The Asian herb is believed to be responsible for a Salmonella outbreak in 20 states.
kratom opms
Photo: Getty Images

The U.S. Centers For Disease Control announced that they’ve determined the source of a multistate Salmonella outbreak that sickened 28 people in 20 states — and it has nothing to do with raw chicken. 

 

According to the CDC, the only connection the 28 people had consumed kratom in either a pill, tea or powder before experiencing the side effects of Salmonella poisoning — like diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever and chills — that put 11 in the hospital.

 

What is kratom?

Kratom is an herb with roots in Southeast Asia that, while not as known as the other herb Marijuana, is rapidly gaining in popularity. It binds to the same opiate receptors as morphine, making it an appealing alternative to highly addictive opioids — or to help those detoxing from heroin or painkillers.

 

However, opponents say the herb, though natural, is no better than the alternative.

 

"People are using kratom to get off opioids, when in fact it is opioids," U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokesperson Lyndsay Meyer told CBS MoneyWatch.

"Heroin comes from a plant. Just because it comes from a plant doesn't mean it's safe.”

The drug is responsible for at least 44 deaths, according to the FDA, and the number of reports to poison control centers regarding the herb increased 10-fold between 2010 and 2015.

kratom opms health effects

Withdrawal from the herb — also known as thang, kakuam, thom, ketom and biak — is known to cause seizures and liver damage. And the herb isn’t regulated, meaning that shipments coming from other countries can potentially include unknown chemicals and additives that could cause more harm — like Salmonella outbreaks.

“Patients addicted to opioids are using kratom without dependable instructions for use and more importantly, without consultation with a licensed health care provider about the product’s dangers, potential side effects or interactions with other drugs,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote in November.

Is kratom legal?

Kratom is technically legal, but a few cities and states have either outright banned it or only allow its use in people 18 or older.

The FDA and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency have been mulling over a complete ban of the herb, though those efforts are currently on hold.

"Scientific data we've evaluated about kratom provides conclusive evidence that compounds contained in kratom are opioids and are expected to have similar addictive effects as well as risks of abuse, overdose, and in some cases, death," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a recent statement.

However, the American Kratom Association says that it’s no more dangerous than any other legal drug.

“Although the primary alkaloids of kratom, MG and 7-OH-MG, may demonstrate some characteristics considered for controlled substance scheduling, as do many other products including caffeine, nicotine, some antihistamines, and alcohol, despite decades of widespread consumption, there does not appear to be a public health risk that would warrant their scheduling,” the AKA wrote in November 2017.

 
 
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