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Kratom debate — herbal cure or public health threat?

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- A growing number of storefronts can be seen around the Quad Cities advertising Kratom, often alongside other herbal products like CBD oil.  Coming to this country in the form of a green powder, Kratom is derived from dried and crushed leaves of the Mitragyna Speciosa tree, indigenous to parts of Southeast Asia.

The people who use it, like AHA Holisticals owner Alisha Wadden, say it's a mood booster that can relieve pain and even help curb opioid addiction.

"It gave me my life back," said Wadden, who said she started using Kratom to help relieve her chronic pain. "I live essentially pain-free," she said.

Charles Harris, a Qualified Behavioral Health Professional at Robert Young Center in Moline said in low doses, Kratom gives a mild euphoric effect; at medium doses, it can relieve pain.

"And it's been used in the past, for thousands of years, as an aid in opiate addiction to ease the withdrawal symptoms," he said.

But the FDA has warned that it can expose users to risks of addiction, abuse and dependence. The CDC has linked Kratom to 91 overdose deaths in the United States.

"It gives the same sedative effects that an opiate does, it causes addiction just like opiates do," said Harris.

In spite of the risks, more and more people say a few grams a day has changed their lives.

Trisha Hart, a retail salesperson, said she hasn't been taking her Tramadol, an opioid pain reliever, since she started using Kratom about a month ago.

"I haven't had any since -- yes," she said.

Both Wadden and Harris said they believe Kratom has potential medical benefits if taken in moderation. But they say the emerging industry is in desperate need of research and regulation.

"I celebrate with them as they’re getting jobs, I celebrate their sobriety," said Wadden. "I have tears with them, it’s pretty amazing to see first hand what this does," she said.

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