From 2011 to 2017, the number of calls to US Poison Control Centers related to kratom exposure increased significantly, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Toxicology.

Kratom, a plant indigenous to Southeast Asia, has been growing in popularity in the US, with circulating claims of it being a safe treatment with a range of healing properties. However, the herbal product, which has been shown to exert similar effects as opioids, is currently not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for any medical use.

To better understand the characteristics and trends of kratom use, researchers used the National Poison Data System to identify exposure cases reported to poison control centers from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2017. “Both single-substance and multiple-substance exposures involving kratom were included, though only single-substance exposures were used in the analysis of clinical effects,” the authors explained.

The data showed that in 2011, there were 13 calls related to kratom exposure, while in 2017, there were 682; in total, there were 1807 exposures reported during the study period. Most of the exposures were found to be intentional (74.3%), and occurred in adults over 20 years of age (88.9%). Over thirty percent of first-ranked exposures (exposure where the first-ranked substance was kratom) resulted in health care facility (HCF) admission, while 51.9% were associated with serious medical outcomes.

Clinical effects related to single-substance kratom exposure included agitation/irritability, tachycardia, nausea, drowsiness/lethargy, vomiting, confusion, and hypertension; seizures, respiratory depression, and coma were among the more serious clinical effects. Among those with single-substance kratom exposure who received treatment, the most common therapies administered were IV fluids, benzodiazepines, oxygen, and naloxone.

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Based on the findings, the authors concluded that “The high proportions of HCF admissions and serious medical outcomes highlight the need for kratom regulation by the FDA to ensure quality and safety, as well as the need for more research on the effects of kratom in humans.”

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