Kratom: Legal and Lethal

Posted at 11:25 AM, Nov 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-02 12:25:45-04

For the majority of her life, Dawn Cipriano has battled chronic pain, spending a good chunk of her life in bed. 

"I have 4 different types of arthritis, degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, chronic migraines,” she said.

That was until June when she first tried tea brewed from Kratom.

"The first time I took it, I woke up the next day with zero pain” Cipriano said.

“I have not been in zero pain in 30 years, 30 plus years. It was, I was surprised.”

Kratom is a tree leaf from Southeast Asia. 

There, it's used to treat depression, pain and drug addiction. 

It’s still fairly new in the United States. 

As more people learn about the unregulated substance, it's popularity grows.

“It appears that the low doses are more for energy production, for something like that,” said Dr. Kimberley Haynes-Henson.

“Some of the people compared to it as like a caffeine like effect. The higher doses it appears to switch and become something that helps people relax at the end of the day, maybe more of a downer type mechanism to that."

Kratom comes in many forms including powders and capsules. Most commonly, it’s sold at head shops. 

But, with little information out there, doctors and the drug enforcement administration took note. 

In late August, the DEA published a report that announced its intent to classify kratom in the same category as heroin and LSD.

The DEA says two active components of the plant are the most dangerous....warning the substance can cause hallucinations, psychosis, and death. 

The DEA has linked Kratom to 15 deaths.

Although advocates say in 14 of those deaths, other drugs were involved.

Locally, poison control says they've only had one call for a possible Kratom overdose from rural Nebraska in the past year. 

In October, the saga continued when the DEA withdrew its notice of intent to put kratom in the most restrictive category of controlled substances. 

Now, it's asking for public comment through December 1st. 

The DEA has also requested that the food and drug administration expedite scientific research.

Dr Kimberley Haynes-Henson with Nebraska Medicine is an expert in pain treatment. 

She notes that while legal, Kratom is regulated in Thailand.

“People assume because this is a natural substance, than its safe. But some of our most powerful and our strongest drugs, come from plants. So I would encourage people to be cautious,” she said.

As for Dawn Cipriano, she's against a full on ban, but is okay with having some regulations. 

She said she's just happy to have gotten her life back, but worries she'll lose it again.

"I have never done anything illegal in my life first of all, and I found this plant that makes me be able to life, or helps me be able to live,” she said.

“It helps me go back to work, to do things with family. I really don't want to go back on pain medication. it's harder on your body than tea."

The DEA said they'll look over research and public comment that people submit.

From there, a spokesman told KMTV they'll decide how to classify Kratom.