FDA warns kratom use may cause heavy metal poisoning

North Carolina

The United States Food and Drug Administration is again warning consumers about kratom, which is a natural and legal substance many use to treat pain and mood disorders.

The FDA said users may be at risk for heavy metal poisoning. 

Kratom is a natural herbal substance that’s becoming increasingly popular. It’s also controversial, and the FDA and other government agencies have been investigating it for a while.

In fact, the DEA calls it a “drug of concern.”

The Oasis coffee shop in Carrboro does a big business selling kratom-infused drinks and other kratom products. The owner said he and others find useful.

“A lot of my customers don’t use opiates, Alieve, or Ibuprofen because of the pain-killing qualities of kratom,” said Oasis owner Robert Roskind.

Studies show kratom is very popular among the 31 to 50 age group. 

The FDA said it tested 30 kratom products. It found what it calls significant contamination levels of lead and nickel.

It warned that long-term users could potentially develop heavy metal poisoning, which includes damage to the nervous system and kidneys. There’s also the possibility of developing high blood pressure and increased risk of some cancers. 

“I assume it’s valid,” Roskind said  “Any product can be contaminated. We’ve seen that with the products like McDonald’s, or romaine lettuce, or meat, or chicken where they brought back millions of pounds of it.”

He emphasized that the study doesn’t say the plant is contaminated but indicates it became contaminated somewhere in the distribution system.

Roskind has been using kratom for about three years. He said the FDA report will prompt him to dig into the situation.

“It concerns me enough I’ll do a couple of things,” he said. “I’ll investigative the report deeper and run it by my distributor to see if it’s tested, and I’ll have my stuff tested for that.”

He already has a printed warning on his counter about kratom’s side effects. He said he might add to that.

“If this proves out, I’ll add a sentence or two saying some kratom has been shown to be contaminated with heavy metals and we’re doing our best to make sure it’s not in our kratom,” Roskind said.

The FDA said its warning is aimed at the long-term daily user.

“The average person coming through here might get one cup of kratom — that’s three grams, a teaspoon. That’s not a heavy user,” Roskind said.

In the past, there have been recalls of some kratom because of salmonella outbreaks.

Roskind said his distributor already tests his kratom for salmonella on a weekly basis and sends him those results, which he reviews.

The FDA warning is of enough concern to Roskind that said he’ll become proactive about his own health, too. He said that, because he’s used kratom daily for the last three years, he’ll have his doctor test him for heavy metals next week when he goes in for his annual physical to see what the results end up showing.

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