CDC: Nearly 100 Overdose Deaths Linked to Herbal Supplement

TAGS: overdose, drug abuse, Kratom side effects, Kratom, CDC, death, drugs, Joe Schillero, supplements

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report stating kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), a plant grown in Southeast Asia and sold as an over-the-counter herbal drug, was a cause of death in 91 overdoses in the United States from July 2016 to December 2017.

In seven of these overdoses, kratom was the only substance that tested positive in a toxicology report. However, fentanyl was also listed as a cause of death in the majority of these overdoses.

elitefts columnist Joe Schillero, who has written about his personal use of kratom for anxiety, points out that “using the term ‘related’ in the deaths really only means that person had been using Kratom (in addition to a host of other things) at the time of their death, and Kratom itself was not identified as the cause of death.”

Kratom is often used in tea to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms, pain, fatigue, coughs, and diarrhea. Its leaves can also be smoked, chewed, or crushed into a pill, capsule, or extract.

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, kratom works by interacting with opioids receptors in the brain, which produces pleasure and decreased pain when taken in large amounts. In small amounts, kratom may act as a stimulant, increasing energy, sociability, and alertness.

“That being said, kratom isn't without its risks,” Schillero says. “These reports are good reminders that since the supplement industry isn't regulated like pharmaceuticals, you really don't know exactly what you're getting when you purchase something online or in a store. In some cases, someone may think they're only consuming kratom, but really they're actually getting a modified substance or one cut with additional herbs or drugs. This is a serious risk that people need to consider. It's also important to consider that because there are not prescribing guidelines for something like kratom, it is human nature for people to think that ‘Well, if a little is good, a lot must be better.’ Because research on kratom is still fairly new, it could be easy for someone to use it incorrectly (just like with many substances).

The National Institute on Drug Abuse also notes that there are “uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects” of kratom, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Itching
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Increased urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Symptoms of psychosis

Like opiates, kratom can become addictive and users can experience withdrawal symptoms.

“I think with these types of issues it can be very easy to go to one end of the spectrum or the other,” Schillero says. “Some people will defend Kratom to the death as if it has no risks, and others will make outlandish remarks about how it's killing people everywhere. What I think is best is for each individual to examine the current research and laws to determine the benefits versus risks for themselves.”

Header image credit: Dominic Milton Trott © Flickr

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