People who use kratom swear by its pain- and anxiety-relieving properties. But that does not make the product safe. Neither does the fact that it is a plant-based product.
Rather, kratom is potentially so dangerous that several U.S. states and foreign countries have outlawed human consumption.
Yet Oregon officials have been lackadaisical, unwilling to confront the herbal extract’s accessibility and popularity. As was noted in a Register-Guard story this week, anyone can buy kratom at local shops, corner gas stations or online.
The Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee in June killed a proposal to regulate kratom, even though rules for product purity and safety were supported by the American Kratom Association. C.M. Haddow of the association told legislators, “This plant has become controversial because unscrupulous vendors started to spike the natural plant with dangerous substances like heroin and fentanyl.”
The dried leaf of the Mitragyna speciosa tree, kratom can be consumed in a variety of forms: chewed, made into tea, smoked or ground into powder for capsules, tablets and liquids. Part of the coffee family, the tropical tree’s leaves have long been popular in regions of Southeast Asia and Africa as a means to manage pain, avoid fatigue, overcome anxiety and as a substitute from opioids.
But the various strains of kratom also can have significant side effects.
Federal officials and private medical professionals warn that too little scientific research has been conducted. Meanwhile, kratom has been linked to a number of deaths and illnesses around the world.
In April, the Mayo Clinic reported: “At one time, some researchers believed that kratom might be a safe alternative to opioids and other prescription pain medications. However, studies on the effects of kratom have identified many safety concerns and no clear benefits.”
Oregon’s hands-off approach is irresponsible. Kratom may well have some beneficial aspects. But it also can produce psychotropic effects, interfere with brain and organ functions, and create dependence. In small doses, kratom can be a stimulant; in large doses, a sedative or a source of euphoric high.
The Food and Drug Administration warns against consuming kratom, saying the product “affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine [and] appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.” But the FDA and other agencies are dithering over what to do as far as regulation.
It seems obvious kratom should rank high among issues that lawmakers study and resolve before the 2020 Legislature convenes. It is distressing that natural and synthetic mind-altering substances gain traction faster than Oregon officials realize — and react. For example, a majority of states banned salvia, a Mexican herb that can quickly cause hallucinations, but such legislation went nowhere in Oregon.
That hesitancy must not repeat with kratom. Meanwhile, local officials must act, investigating whether Eugene, Springfield and other communities can ban or regulate kratom, or at least restrict sales to persons age 21 and older. Police and other first responders must be educated on how to handle someone experiencing a kratom overdose, severe hallucinations or other distress.
Both kratom sellers and buyers maintain it is safer than opioids. But anecdotal testimonials are no substitute for verifiable, double-blind research studies.