FDA Warns Kratom Vendors

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued two more warning letters to kratom vendors – Cali Botanicals of Folsom, California and Kratom NC of Wilmington, North Carolina – for making unproven claims that kratom can treat pain, addiction, depression, anxiety and other medical conditions.

Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries as a natural stimulant and pain reliever. In recent years millions of Americans have discovered kratom -- including many who have lost access to opioid medication -- and found it to be an effective treatment.   

The FDA, however, considers kratom an unapproved drug that shouldn't be used to treat any medical condition.

“Despite our warnings, companies continue to sell this dangerous product and make deceptive medical claims that are not backed by science or any reliable scientific evidence,” said acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, MD.

“As we work to combat the opioid crisis, we cannot allow unscrupulous vendors to take advantage of consumers by selling products with unsubstantiated claims that they can treat opioid addiction or alleviate other medical conditions.”

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What makes kratom dangerous? Sharpless cited FDA studies that found salmonella bacteria and heavy metals in a relatively small number of kratom products.  Kratom has also been linked to dozens of fatal overdoses -- although multiple substances were involved in nearly all of those deaths.

The FDA said Cali Botanicals and Kratom NC were using websites and social media to make unproven claims about kratom's ability to treat medical conditions. Cali Botanicals, for example, makes these claims about kratom's benefits:

  • “Kratom is able to reduce the pain levels that reach the brain in a way that’s very similar to opioid drugs.”

  • "Kratom is seen as life-saving by former addicts, who found kratom to be the only way they could overcome their addictions."

  • “Consumption of kratom can reduce pain and swelling to an injury.”

  • “Addicts can wean themselves off of their addictions by replacing their drugs with kratom. It has similar effects as opioids, but without the same dependency. Kratom also helps with the withdrawal symptoms.”

  • “Kratom is used for energy, to increase attention/focus, to relax, and also to treat pain and addiction."

  • “Some researchers have even claimed that kratom can protect you against cancer!”

With the exception of that claim about preventing cancer, those are the same benefits that many kratom users report anecdotally.

"For over two years now I have enjoyed drinking my kratom tea a couple of times a day. It helps promote my mood and energy like a cup of coffee would. The tea also relieves my aching joints and muscles, making my chronic fatigue and pain much more bearable," Kim DeMott wrote in a recent PNN column.  

"Kratom does not make me high, nor do I experience side effects. I am now clear minded without the sedation caused by narcotics. And I am devastated that the FDA is working to ban the only thing that has helped me in the past 28 years," fibromyalgia sufferer Mary Ann Dunkel wrote in another guest column.

Kratom has been banned in 6 states and dozens of counties and cities have enacted or are considering their own bans. Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended to the DEA that kratom be classified as a Schedule I substance – which would effectively ban it nationwide. Currently, the DEA doesn't even list kratom in its annual report on drug threats.