The Grapevine

What Are The Risks Of Kratom Use?

There has been more than a 50-fold increase in poison control calls for kratom over recent years in the United States. To put into perspective, the rate has increased from an average of one call per month in 2011 to two calls per day by 2017.

These figures were presented in a new study published in Clinical Toxicology, once again raising questions about the safety of kratom, a herbal supplement which is used to treat pain, manage anxiety and depression, and even reduce symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

So what are the possible side effects and complications of the plant-based drug? According to the study, people have experienced confusion, increase in heart rate, agitation, high blood pressure, seizures, kidney problems, and more.

And a small number have also died from causes at least partially related to kratom exposure — a total of 11 deaths were reported between 2011 and 2017.  While a majority of the patients were over the age of 20, much younger groups are also at risk.

"Kratom use has been associated with a variety of serious medical outcomes, from seizures and coma in adults to severe withdrawal syndrome in newborns," said Henry Spiller, a co-author of the study.

Indeed, kratom use during pregnancy may result in exposure in the womb. There were seven calls made regarding newborns, five of whom were experiencing withdrawal symptoms because of this. In one case, the newborn was suspected to be exposed to kratom via breastfeeding.

"Individuals who choose to use kratom need to be aware of the potential risks. Just because it is currently classified as an herbal supplement does not mean it is regulated or that it is safe," added Spiller, who is the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

It should be noted that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved kratom for medical use. In 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb made a statement strongly discouraging the use of the supplement due to lack of strong research to back up its safety and efficacy.

The new study on poison control calls also had a number of limitations. Researchers were not able to pinpoint the reason why calls have risen rapidly over the course of this decade. This largely because there is no reliable data on how many Americans use kratom.

As Spiller explained to Inverse, it is possible that kratom use has increased which has been accompanied by a proportionate rise in adverse events. It is also possible kratom becomes more and more dangerous to use over time.

It could also be attributed to better awareness, which means more testing and improved accuracy in identifying kratom use by patients. Or, rather than more people using the drug, it is possible that the same subset is using the drug at higher concentrations.