BOSTON (CBS) - An herb related to the coffee plant and native to Thailand is the latest natural product to be labeled a drug of concern by the federal government. The I-Team discovered it is readily available in Massachusetts and experts say it can have a powerful and gripping effect on the brain.
We're talking about Kratom. It comes in capsules, powder and even a concentrated liquid form. Dr. Edward Boyer is a professor of emergency medicine and a toxicology expert at UMass Memorial Medical center in Worcester. "Kratom is a substance that binds to the same receptor [in the brain as] morphine, Oxycontin, Vicodin and heroin," he said.
Experts say in small doses, Kratom is a stimulant, but take more of it and it offers an opium-like high described by one user on YouTube. "It feels like I took 40 – 60 milligrams of Oxycontin."
While this sounds like potent stuff, Kratom is available legally all over Massachusetts. We found it in several shops in the Boston area and a clerk in a Providence smoke shop described its growing popularity. "It's awesome. We sell a ton of it," she said.
Kratom is not regulated by the FDA and is not well-studied. According to Boyer, that doesn't mean it is not potent. "There are reports of individuals developing compulsive use, consistent with addiction," he said.
Patty Smith watched as her adult daughter became increasingly addicted to a liquid form of Kratom, spending nearly $1,600 in a period of just a few weeks. "My main concern was not only her health, but financially what it was doing to her," she said. Patty said her daughter has beaten the addiction but she worries about the herb getting into the hands of children.
Unlike other drugs that are smoked or injected, Kratom is taken orally in capsules or mixed with water like tea which makes it more accessible to kids. According to Dr. Boyer, children are much more susceptible to the addictive properties of this herb. "I would tell all parents to be very careful if your children say they are interested in using this thing," he said.
Representative Vinny DeMacedo of Plymouth wants to eliminate that worry for parents altogether. He's filed a bill to outlaw Kratom. The bill failed its first trip through the statehouse, but he vows to keep trying. "You could get into an automobile, high on Kratom, drive down the road and kill someone," he said.
There are some who believe Kratom is beneficial to help heroin addicts ease the pain of withdrawal but there have been no studies to show that actually works.
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