Kane In Your Corner: What you need to know about the use of herbal product Kratom

The herbal product, sold at convenience stores, is being used for everything from pain relief to boosting energy. But doctors warn there can be serious, even fatal side effects.

Walt Kane

Apr 29, 2024, 9:26 AM

Updated 27 days ago


An herbal product from Asia, known as Kratom, has become a popular choice to relieve pain, boost energy and ease anxiety. But some doctors say Kratom could have serious, or even fatal consequences.
Trish Bossone will never forget the phone call, informing her that her 33-year-old son, CJ, had died. CJ was a recovering addict, but he had been for years, so Bossone says when he broke his arm, he avoided using painkillers and turned to Kratom, which is sold at many convenience stores.
“He's like, ‘Mom, it's legal. It's an herbal pain supplement’,” Bossone recalls.
According to his autopsy, CJ died of “mixed drug intoxication including mitragynine”, the scientific name for Kratom. And his death may not be an isolated case. Kratom has been mentioned on over 4,000 autopsies nationwide.
The Food and Drug Administration advises consumers not to use Kratom because of what it calls, “the risk of serious adverse events,” adding that “in rare cases, deaths have been associated with kratom use.” The agency says most of the people who died were taking Kratom along with other medications. That includes CJ, who had a prescription for Adderall.
Dr. Deena Adimoolam says she would also advise patients to avoid Kratom. “It actually works on our opioid receptors, so it may be actually working the same way that opioids would work with your pain medication,” she says.
The American Kratom Association insists Kratom can be used safely for everything from pain relief to extra energy. “It’s an alternative that has fewer side effects than prescription medications,” says Mac Haddow, the group’s senior public policy fellow.
The AKA is lobbying for a bill it calls the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, which would require better labeling and only allow Kratom to be sold to adults.
“It’s a natural product. It is a botanical supplement. That doesn't mean it's safe, per se, but it means that it should be regulated properly, and the consumer should responsibly consume it,” Haddow says.
Six states have banned Kratom, but there are currently no restrictions on its sale in the tri-state area. That may soon change. New Jersey Assemblyman Sean Kean (R – Wall Township) has introduced legislation he calls “CJ’s Law”, which would ban Kratom in New Jersey.
Trish Bossone says CJ’s law would be proof her son did not die in vain. “I do believe Kratom was what killed him,” she says. “That's what I believe.”

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