HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The FDA is cracking down once again on Kratom products, which are herbal opioid-like supplements.
Federal health officials recently issued warning letters to two companies they say make unproven claims about the potential health benefits of Kratom. The warning is against businesses using websites and social media to illegally market Kratom by making unproven claims to treat or cure opioid addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
Kratom is an herbal supplement derived from the leaves of a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. The American Kratom Association, an advocacy organization for the supplement’s potential benefits, says up to five million Americans are using Kratom.
"I couldn't believe how much less pain I was in. I couldn't believe that I couldn't believe that I waited this long to actually do something besides just swallow prescriptions,” said Gini Downey, a Kratom user.
Buddha owns Five Rings store in Horry County, a health and wellness shop that sells Kratom imported straight from Indonesia. He started taking Kratom five years ago in desperate need of an alternative option to opioids and says he’s never turning back.
“It allows me to be able to get up and get out of the house and do things and be able to cope with every day," said Buddha.
It’s been around for centuries and has been growing in popularity as a natural pain killer. The product is often sold as powder, capsules and extracts. At low doses, Kratom acts like a stimulant and at higher doses it can sedate dulling pain. You can find Kratom at smoke shops, gas stations,or online marketed for anxiety relief, an energy supplement and pain reliever.
But the federal government isn’t buying it, saying Kratom in high doses acts like an opioid and note that it’s unregulated and poorly studied.
"The FDA has raised concerns over Kratom tainted with other harmful contaminants being available for sale,” said Dr. Ron Reynolds with Beach Family and Urgent Care.
Supporters say with the growing popularity, many vendors are not selling the pure form of Kratom, therefore it’s important to do your research beforehand.
A CDC report released in April linked Kratom to 91 overdose deaths in 27 states, but Gini Downey, a Kratom user and member of the American Kratom Association, points in many of the overdose deaths, other drugs were also listed as contributing to the overdose. While the FDA states Kratom, like opioids, carry risks of abuse and addiction, supporters like Downey say it has the potential to save lives.
“This stuff really did change my life, it changed lots of people’s lives and I really feel like more people need to realize that they don’t have to rely on medicine that’s not making them feel any better," said Downey.
Kratom users compare the addiction to be lower than cigarettes and similar to coffee.
Doctors say more research is needed as the nation continues to battle growing opioid crisis. The FDA is reminding consumers that Kratom is not regulated and there aren’t a lot of studies done so far, including how it interacts when paired with other drugs.