Kratom is a popular herbal supplement and drug that is unregulated in the U.S. It has, however, been investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on more than one occasion. After warnings from the FDA that kratom may contain highly-addictive opioids to recalls due to salmonella contamination, this supplement has been controversial. Most recently the FDA issued a warning that several kratom products contained dangerous heavy metals, including lead.
What is Kratom?
Derived from a tree native to Southeast Asia, kratom is an herbal, natural product. The tree, Mitragyna speciose, is related to the coffee tree. It has been known by natives of Asia for thousands of years and has long been used medicinally. Traditionally kratom is used to relieve pain, as a sedative, as a mood booster, and as a stimulant.
In the U.S. kratom is mostly legal but unregulated. It is imported largely from Thailand and is found in the form of a powder or capsule of powder. People in the U.S. may use it for medicinal purposes, but kratom is also used by some to get high. It is commonly used now to ease withdrawal associated with opioid addiction or even to relieve pain as an alternative to prescription opioids.
Heavy Metal Warning
The FDA issued a statement on November 27, 2018 that several kratom products were found to have dangerously high levels of heavy metal contaminants. Specifically these supplements had unacceptable levels of nickel and lead. The amounts of the metals found in the products were not enough to cause acute metal poisoning. However, they were enough to cause health problems for anyone using the products repeatedly.
In addition to the public warning, the FDA has notified the companies that market these specific kratom products. Consumers are advised to avoid using kratom because of the heavy metal issue and also for other reasons. There are other safety concerns over this dangerous drug, and the evidence into the effectiveness of kratom for many of its purported uses is severely limited.
Other Issues with Kratom
The 26 kratom products tested that led to the warning about heavy metals were part of an ongoing investigation into salmonella contamination. The study was conducted for several months in early and mid-2018, and found that many kratom products were contaminated with salmonella, bacteria that can cause infection and severe illness.
The investigation began when the FDA was notified of a 24-person outbreak of salmonella. Those sickened were infected with a similar strain and to have used kratom. Some of the individuals were able to provide the products they used. Through testing these and other kratom products it was determined that many were contaminated. This led to large recall of specific brands and types of kratom.
Salmonella could be an ongoing risk with kratom, but another is that this natural substance contains opioids. At least 22 compounds have been discovered in kratom that bind to opioid receptors. Some of the potential side effects and risks of kratom are similar to those caused by opioids. With the current opioid addiction and overdose epidemic in the U.S., the growing use of kratom is concerning.
Kratom is risky for many reasons: it is unregulated; it has been contaminated with salmonella; it is similar to dangerous and risky opioid drugs; and now we know that kratom products often contain dangerous levels of toxic, heavy metals. There just isn’t enough evidence that kratom’s purported benefits are real or that they are worth the risks involved with using this substance.