Safe with Kratom? Study Links to Liver Health Problems


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Kratom has been used to relieve pain and relieve opioid addiction. Getty Images
  • Researchers say kratom can cause severe liver damage in some people.
  • They looked at 404 cases of supplement-related liver damage and reported that 8 cases may be associated with kratom.
  • Experts say it’s too early to determine whether kratom is causing liver damage or other health problems.

As an herbal supplement named kratom gains in popularity, the full picture of its potential pros and cons becomes even clearer.

This increase has been attributed to its use as a possible treatment for opioid withdrawal as well as other potential uses.

But kratom – which is derived from a coffee-like plant that has pain relieving and stimulating qualities – has also caught the attention of regulators.

The latest development is included in new research presented today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease.

In it, the researchers conclude that kratom can cause serious liver damage in some people who use it.

The findings echo previous research, although some experts say it is still too early, as well as “irresponsible,” to conclude that kratom is the cause of these health problems and should be banned.

In the new study, researchers at the US Drug Induced Liver Injury Network looked at 404 cases of liver damage associated with supplement use.

They found that eight of these cases were associated with products containing kratom. Seven of those eight cases were thought to be due to kratom.

Study participants had used kratom for 15 to 49 days before the injuries. Six of them were hospitalized, but all recovered without the need for a liver transplant.

However, the rate of these incidences may increase.

The study looked at cases between 2004 and 2018. Three of these liver injuries occurred in 2017, the only year there was more than one.

Dr Victor Navarro, lead author of the study and head of gastroenterology at the Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, noted in a press release that the results indicate a potential increase, possibly coinciding with the outbreak of opioids.

“[Healthcare] suppliers should be aware that this readily available substance, commonly used for its psychotropic effects, is capable of causing severe liver damage, ”he said.

Other experts, however, were not as concerned with the results, especially with the small number of cases of liver damage discovered by the new study.

Experts say the number of people using kratom has increased in the United States in recent years due to its wide availability on the internet and in stores.

Marc Swogger, PhD, a clinical psychologist who focuses on the therapeutic and harmful use of substances, including kratom, at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York City, said “over 5 million people” use kratom in the United States.

He said that number has increased in recent years as the supplement has become more widely available.

He added that it is not clear from current research whether kratom caused the injuries in study participants.

“The case studies have too many limits to make this leap and it is irresponsible,” Swogger told Healthline. “More studies – including randomized controlled trials – will be important to document any positive or negative effects of kratom.”

While Swogger believes that “the risks of kratom have probably been overstated”, he noted that there was some risk.

“There is always a risk when you use a plant that has not been comprehensively studied and is not regulated,” he said.

He noted that some products could be adulterated and that there could be unexpected side effects.

He added that people who consume a lot of kratom may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop.

Swogger advises people who use kratom to obtain it from a reputable supplier who is testing the product and keep the potential risks in mind.

But he also says that kratom may be a “legitimate harm reduction option” that in his research would have helped people get rid of opioids.

The federal government took a more critical view.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration has attempted to make kratom a Schedule I drug, in the same category as substances such as heroin, and includes the descriptor “drugs without accepted medical use”.

The DEA abandoned this plan after the pushback, but other agencies took action against kratom.

In February 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked an outbreak of salmonella to kratom without pointing to a particular brand or distributor, instead recommending that people “not consume kratom in any form. that is”.

Around the same time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the destruction of a “large volume” of kratom products from one of the major distributors.

Also last February, the FDA said it had identified 44 deaths since 2011 attributable to kratom. The CDC revised that figure in April of this year, saying kratom played a role in 91 deaths in 2016 and 2017.

“Based on the scientific evidence of the serious risks associated with the use of kratom, in the interest of public health, the FDA encourages all companies currently involved in the sale of products containing kratom intended for human consumption to take similar steps to take their products. off the market, ”the FDA said in February 2018.


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