Kratom: What to know about Colorado’s newest regulated drug
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - A product called kratom hits the same receptors as an opioid does, and in many states, anyone can get their hands on it.
“It can be a dangerous substance because there is no clear dosing for it,” said Dr. Thomas Tobin, Chief Medical Officer at Community Hospital in Grand Junction.
Kratom use originates from southeast Asian communities in places like Thailand, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. Kratom is an herbal leaf and there are many claims about what it can do. In small doses it can act as a stimulant, but that’s not all.
“In higher doses, it acts more like an opiate or a painkiller,” said Dr. Tobin.
In 2019 the FDA stated there is no evidence kratom is safe or effective for treating any condition.
“The DEA looked at classifying as a schedule one drug, which would have made it completely illegal just like heroin or anything else. They backed off that position because of the public outcry of people that use it medicinally, although it has no medical use, that’s approved,” said Dr. Tobin.
Reported effects of kratom vary, a person can use the leaf as a stimulant to be more alert. But in extreme cases people can experience psychosis, addiction, withdrawals and even death. But local kratom shop owner Jesie says he’s seen an improvement in his own life after taking kratom to help with his anxiety.
“It makes me feel like I don’t mind being around people as much. For me, that’s how it works. And I just want to help other people out,” said Jesie, the owner of Colorado Kratom.
Most of his customers are looking for some type of pain relief when they come into his shop.
“Vets, older people. They usually use it for pain, and then a lot of people are trying to kick a habit,” he said.
Dr. Ryan Jackman is the Medical Director of St. Mary’s Integrated Addiction Medicine. He says people need to be aware of the risks when using kratom.
“For an individual who is at risk of opioid use disorder, when their brain is exposed to kratom, they are at a higher risk for wanting to use more.”
But Dr. Jackman says he doesn’t see kratom becoming a substitute for opioids like fentanyl because of the cost.
“Generally, you see this progression in the direction of more potent, and more affordable. Kratom really doesn’t fit either of those categories,” said Dr. Jackman.
Jesie says the kratom used at Colorado Kratom is all lab tested before a customer purchases it and he tries to make it as affordable as possible. While kratom may not be as potent as an opioid people can find out on the street, there is no age limit on kratom products across the State of Colorado as of September 2023.
“Many individuals who develop use disorders, particularly use disorders to multiple substances, throughout their life, one of the similarities in these cases is that they started using a substance in their adolescent ages, said Dr. Jackman.
But Jesie says he only sells his product to those 18 and older. Both Dr. Jackman and Dr. Tobin say people don’t know the risks of taking kratom, because no one is talking about it. Though, if there are heavy regulations on the substance in the future, studying the effects would be more difficult.
In May of this year Colorado lawmakers passed regulation on kratom. Effective July 1, 2024, the new law prohibits a person from selling or offering to sell a kratom product to anyone under 21.
As of 2021, kratom is illegal in six states, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.
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