NAMPA -- Kratom, a supplement or drug being sold in dozens of Treasure Valley stores, is now on a Drug Enforcement Administration list of Drugs and Chemicals of Concern, which is a watch list of substances that government chemists are studying.
Kratom has gotten some negative attention in our region recently. Recently, a Washington woman was taken by police after they say she was running around naked and then began swinging a hammer while holding a baby. Police say she had been taking synthetic marijuana, bath salts and Kratom.
A viewer first contacted KTVB last year about Kratom, having noticed it in a gas station on the heels of the ban on "Spice," which is a now-illegal form of synthetic marijuana.
At the time, there wasn't much information and most people, even in medicine and law enforcement here, hadn't heard of Kratom or known much about it. Now, a DEA agent tells KTVB it's something they're looking at like Spice and so-called bath salts.
Agents say it appears Kratom is dangerous because it can cause hallucinations. They say because it's legal, they are concerned about children getting ahold of it and people abusing the substance or getting addicted to it.
"It's always sold as if it's safe. Legal this, or it's safe for human consumption. But in all actuality it's never been tested. It's never been through FDA trials and we don't know what it does to the human body," said Selby Smith, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge of the Seattle Office of the DEA.
Kratom, according to the DEA, is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. In low doses, it acts as a stimulant and in high doses, as a sedative. According to its drug fact sheet, the DEA says Kratom can be addictive.
Nampa Police say they first heard of Kratom while investigating the now-illegal substance Spice. As of now, while on their radar, Kratom is not a big concern.
"When Spice came out, Spice was marketed and sold as a legal alternative to marijuana, giving the same effects. This stuff here, it has supposedly legitimate medicinal effects, that's the way it's marketed," Nampa Police Sgt. Tim Randall said.
KTVB decided to do a quick check of availability, popularity, and why it's being bought and sold. We found it at a gas station, a tobacco store, and a head shop, in capsule and liquid forms.
Here's what we were told by clerks about its uses:
"A lot of people with back problems you'll find that take them."
"It's a natural pain reliever. It's euphoric also. So it can kind of act as a stimulant and pain reliever at the same time."
"It is mostly used for pain relief. Especially back and teeth problems."
Nampa Police tell us their officers and crime reports show no records of people known to be under the influence of Kratom getting into trouble and say this is just the latest thing that could be dangerously abused.
"I mean we've got all kinds of legal products out there that people use illicitly to get high. This is just another one of those," Randall said. "You can take certain chemicals, cough syrups or whatever you take in large amounts, or with alcohol or other things, it creates an effect that people are looking for. They just keep finding these things to find ways to get high."
DEA information sheets report "no legitimate medical use for Kratom in the United States." The agency also emergency room visits by Kratom users is on the rise; however, locally neither Saint Alphonsus nor St. Luke's emergency doctors had heard of any cases involving Kratom.
KTVB corresponded with a Washington distributor of pure Kratom (Herbal Salvation) via email. Here is a portion of what they had to say:
"Our Kratom is intended as an all natural supplement for mood enhancement and all natural pain relief. We believe that Kratom should be used by responsible and informed adults in the same way that coffee, creatine, or really any supplement or natural alternative should be. We will cease all business with any establishment we find sells Kratom to minors or to anyone for a "legal high."
... If there is any danger in Kratom I believe it lies in irresponsible individuals and extracts. With extracts they are attempting to isolate the alkaloids within Kratom and make the smallest amount as strong as possible. If Kratom were Coffee, then Extracts would be Energy Drinks. In addition to the chemicals that many use for the extraction process, if they make it powerful enough I can see a potential for abuse that you do not have with pure leaf. That is why we have decided to stay away from them."
The distributor also recommended adults do research before taking Kratom and consult a doctor before adding any supplement.