SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Kratom. Some of you may know what it is. Others have never heard of it.
It's derived from an herb grown in southeast Asia and you can find it at stores across western Mass, but in September, the FDA sent out a warning telling consumers not to use it, concerned it would expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence, because it affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine.
"It's actually been around for quite a while. It's a natural plant from southeast Asia. It's part of the coffee in the Gardenia family," Kayla Koc, co-owner of Western Mass Hydroponics on Boston Rd. in Springfield, tells us.
Kratom has been on Kayla's store shelves for about a year now.
"Capsules are very popular right now. The concentrates, some people really don't want to venture into that yet. People have been taking the powder and capsules more have also been taking extracts," stated Koc.
Koc says different strains have different uses.
Red is more of a sedative and helps with sleep, while white works as a stimulant, helping you stay awake.
Koc tells Western Mass News most users put it in their coffee or tea.
Aquarius hydroponics Inc. in Agawam has been selling the capsules, powder, and concentrates for seven months and have noticed it becoming more popular, leading them to expand their inventory.
"There's a variety of reasons why people would take it. At low doses, it can act as a stimulant. At high doses, it can act kind of as a sedative, so people take it just for those reasons alone, but also, there's people that take it, because it's said to hit the same receptors that opioids hit, so people trying to kick opioids can get relief from those withdrawal symptoms by taking Kratom, so there, people that take it for that use," John Eaton, the CEO of Aquarius Hydroponics, Inc., explained.
But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a warning for consumers.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2017, the FDA identified at least forty-fourth deaths related to Kratom, with at least one case being a result of using only Kratom.
The FDA adds that many of the Kratom-associated deaths appeared to have resulted in consumers taking Kratom with other harmful substances, including illicit drugs, opioids, alcohol, and over-the-counter medications, such as cough syrup.
In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weighed in, reporting that Kratom had been determined to be a cause of death by medical examiners in 91 out of 27,000 deaths examined by the agency over an 18-month period ending in December of 2017.
Dr. Susan Cary is the Medical Director at Savida Health in West Springfield.
She tells Western Mass News Kratom is something they are keeping a close eye on.
"We've been reading about it. We've been talking about it. We've been teaching our staff about it, so probably three or four months ago, we did a survey through all of the Massachusetts offices just asking patients, 'We're not testing for it, but have you heard about it? Is it out there? Are you finding it? if you wanted it, would you know where to get it?', and I think we had five positive responses out of close to 600 asks, so it doesn't seem like it's here right now. We have unofficially asked a number of people in our Vermont practices and it is a little bit more used in Vermont," says Dr. Cary.
Reported health effects of using Kratom include:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
"With overdose, with excessive use, we can change the brain and then it makes it very hard to go back, so I think that's our biggest concern. One, that people don't take it seriously. Two, it can do some damage we don't actually know about yet," added Dr. Carey.
As of September of 2019, there are no FDA-approved uses for Kratom, as the agency continues to investigate the safety of using it.