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Kratom Products Contain Dangerous Heavy Metals, FDA Warns

New research by federal health officials indicates that many kratom products contain high levels of metal elements, such as lead and nickel, which are dangerous for human consumption and could result in adverse health consequences. 

The FDA released a kratom advisory earlier this week, after researchers discovered the chemical makeup of the supplements may contain metals in doses that could result in human health risks, among other potential health issues that have been previously confirmed.

Kratom is a plant native to Asia, whose leaves are taken and crushed to be made into tea, or taken orally as an herbal supplement. Although the supplement is loosely regulated by the FDA, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found the herb has become increasingly popular across the United States over recent years.

In response to a multistate kratom salmonella outbreak earlier this year, FDA field officers collected 26 separate kratom products to undergo testing. During the analysis researchers discovered heavy metals such as lead and nickel at levels far exceeding what is considered safe for human consumption.

Although a single dose of the kratom was not deemed an imminent health risk, chronic and long-term use could result in consumers suffering from metal poisoning which may cause abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, heart abnormalities and a breakdown of the body’s nervous system.

The FDA warns that very little is known about the potential side effects of kratom, and that the herbal supplement has not been approved for medical purposes.

Previous studies have shown the herbal supplement may not be safe for medicinal uses, indicating that the chemical compounds of the supplement are similar to opioid painkillers, which are highly addictive and often abused. One study found 22 of the 25 compounds in kratom products were found to bind to mu-opioid receptors, making the supplement’s compounds similar to opioid properties and highly addictive.

Earlier this year in February, the FDA released a kratom warning, citing new research that indicated the herbal supplement has been linked to dozens of deaths. The FDA is aware of at least 44 deaths associated with the use of kratom products through its Adverse Event Reporting System, and has stated there is a vital need for additional regulation of the product.

Despite known health risks, kratom products are still heavily used across the nation with an estimated 5 million consumers using the products regularly, according to the American Kratom Association. However, some states have banned the sale and use of kratom products completely, including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, Denver, and the cities of San Diego, California and Sarasota, Florida.

In 2016, the U.S. Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) proposed a rule in the Federal Register to temporarily list kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance, along with heroin and other highly addictive and dangerous drugs. The proposed rule was declined by Congress, forcing the DEA to withdraw its plan and call on the FDA to perform a scientific review of kratom.

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