FOX 29 Investigates: Kratom Craze - KMSP-TV

FOX 29 Investigates: Kratom Craze

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PHILADELPHIA -

A drug used for centuries in southeast Asia is now in the United States, and its growing popularity is getting the attention of health officials.

Health officials warn it is dangerous and addictive.

FOX 29's Jeff Cole takes an in-depth look at the new drug in town. If you have kids, you'll want to watch this story in the video above.

It's on store shelves right now in the Delaware Valley, and most anyone can buy it, including teens and young adults.

Many believe it's a harmless medicinal herb. Others, including some in law enforcement, say the drug is being abused, and it's swiftly gaining favor as a substitute for banned stimulants like bath salts and synthetic marijuana.

It's called Kratom, also known as Ketum, Thang and Biak.

The drug comes from the leaves of Kratom trees, which are native to the rain forests of Southeast Asia, including the jungles of Thailand.

Kratom powder can be made into tea, placed in capsules for oral consumption, or smoked. There's even Kratom liquid. In low doses, users say they get an energy boost. It's even said to be a painkiller.

In fact, the Internet is abuzz with videos touting the benefits of the natural herb.

But there's a darker side to Kratom. In large doses, the drug reportedly produces a high similar to some opiates, like morphine.

Health and law enforcement officials also warn of serious side effects, and the potential for addiction.

Ken Dickinson is a pharmacist and director of marketing for Gaudenzia, a community-based treatment center that provides live-in and outpatient care for substance abuse addicts and persons with mental health issues.

Dickinson says Kratom is potentially dangerous because little is known about its long-term effects. He says users have told him, in large doses, Kratom is a potent high.

Kratom is legal to buy and sell in the United State. Several countries, including Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar have banned its sale and use.

We bought Kratom at tobacco shops in Philadelphia and Montgomery County. It's also sold on the Internet. We even found someone hawking it on Craigslist. Remember, it's perfectly legal to sell in the U.S., at least for now.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration does have Kratom on its radar screen. The drug is not considered a controlled substance. But it has made its way onto the agency's "drugs and chemicals of concern" list.

The DEA says some Kratom users have exhibited "psychotic symptoms," including hallucinations, delusion, and confusion. The agency says in high doses Kratom can lead to addiction.

Some groups don't advocate Kratom's use but believe it should remain legal.

Dickinson sees it differently. He believes the drug is potentially dangerous and, without some restrictions in place, anyone could get their hands on it.

Again, Kratom is unregulated. So anyone, at any age can buy it. The stores we visited did have signs saying you had to be 18 to shop. Same with the Internet sites.

But some packaging has an age recommendation, while others don't. And as for dosages, all the products we bought had information printed on their labels, Cole reported.

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