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Consumer Reports: Dangers of kratom supplements

The FDA says kratom isn't just a plant -- it's an opioid. And they warn it can be dangerous, even fatal -- associating it with more than 3 dozen deaths. (Image credit: Consumer Reports)

For many years, the leaves of the kratom tree have been used in Southeast Asia to treat aches and pains. In the United States, kratom can be purchased as a supplement in the form of a powder, pill or tea, and it doesn't require a prescription. It can act like a stimulant or a sedative, depending on the dose. According to the American Kratom Association, there are 3 to 5 million people who've used it in the U.S. alone.

The research that's been done indicates people are using kratom to help alleviate chronic pain, to treat mood disorders like anxiety and depression and, in some cases, to help wean themselves off opioids. But the FDA says kratom isn't just a plant -- it's an opioid. And they warn it can be dangerous, even fatal -- associating it with more than three dozen deaths. In addition, the CDC says it may be tied to a recent salmonella outbreak, and, at this point, they're recommending people not consume kratom in any form. Consumer Reports also has concerns about its safety.

Any given kratom product can be grossly mislabeled. It can be laced with other substances, including illegal drugs and prescription medications, and it can interact with other medications that you are taking in ways that are really dangerous.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has listed kratom as a "drug and chemical of concern" and, at one point, wanted to put it in the same category as heroin, LSD and ecstasy, essentially banning it for consumers. But the American Kratom Association argues that making the substance illegal could drive more people to prescription painkillers or illegal drugs to treat their symptoms. The organization says it will support appropriate FDA regulations to ensure the safety and purity of kratom, but not a ban. But it could be a few months or longer before there is a decision. In the meantime, Consumer Reports thinks, that given the lack of regulation, it's better for consumers to just avoid this product altogether.

If you are in pain but looking to avoid prescription painkillers, CR says there are a number of options you can consider, including over-the-counter drugs and alternative therapies like acupuncture. Talk to your doctor about which ones make the most sense for you.

All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2018 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumer.org.

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