Kratom and fake news: deaths and addiction

When googling the word kratom, the first entries of the most famous search engine on the planet show some online stores where to buy it, some Wikipedia entry and dozens of articles talking about the threat of this new drug that has caused dozens of deaths.

Sensationalism and misinformation aside: does kratom carry a risk of addiction? According to the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) there were 9 deaths associated with kratom in 2011. The CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recorded 91 overdose deaths between 2016 and 2017 in which kratom was present in the body of the deceased. 

However, upon further analysis of both reports, it is clear that kratom-associated deaths actually occurred in the context of combined use with other more potent substances, such as illicit drugs, opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol, gabapentin, and other over-the-counter medications. No scientific evidence was found that kratom can cause fatal overdoses.

The CDC, for its part, states that in 80% of the deaths referred to the deceased had a history of substance abuse and that approximately 90% were not receiving medically supervised medical treatment for pain. It mentions 7 deaths directly and only related to kratom, although it has not been possible to confirm that there were no other substances in the body of the deceased. 

“According to addiction experts such as renowned scientist Dr. Jack Henningfield, kratom is no more addictive than coffee, chocolate or guarana.”

We do not have empirical evidence to disprove or scientifically confirm any of the allegations surrounding the use and abuse of kratom, but it is essential not to get carried away by sensationalist headlines that talk about death and addiction without understanding the real context of these deaths and addictions. 

Negative propaganda about a product that needs more scientific research only delays and hinders those studies, making it difficult the generation of truthful and scientifically contrasted information. At the same time, there are millions of people who take kratom regularly, responsibly and successfully (between 15 and 16 million in the United States according to the AKA, American Kratom Association) whose lives have improved thanks to its use as a supplement.

Also, according to addiction experts such as renowned scientist Dr. Jack Henningfield, kratom is no more addictive than coffee, chocolate or guarana. Furthermore, most kratom consumption in the United States is limited to mild pain reduction and relaxation.

While we do not want to ignore that kratom may generate some addiction, we believe it is important to remember the importance of responsible and controlled consumption of this and any other substance or supplement with similar properties.

If kratom has an addiction potential comparable to that of such standardized products as coffee, there would be no reason to disregard its benefits. There are a multitude of other everyday products on the market that carry a much higher risk of addiction and side effects than kratom that are regulated and sold freely, such as tobacco, alcohol, various over-the-counter medications, and even sugar.

Among those taking a scientific stance in addressing the current kratom issue are authors from the renowned journal Scientific American, arguing with reasonable arguments that banning kratom would only contribute to more people dying due to overdose, abuse or misuse of legal, doctor-prescribed opioid medications, which were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States between 1999 and 2019 according to the CDC.

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