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2 Investigators: Dangerous New Drug Kratom Being Sold Legally In Illinois

(CBS) -- The DEA says there's a new and dangerous drug popping up all over the country and parents need to be on the look-out for it. The CBS 2 Investigators found while it's banned in some states it's being legally sold all over the Chicago area.

Wesley Todd manufactures a controversial pill called Kratom, and is based in Florida, with a distribution and processing center in California.

He and other Kratom sellers -- use plant leaves grown in Indonesia and Thailand. Kratom is banned in Thailand and law enforcement officials say Kratom acts similar to an opiate. There is a buzz all over the internet and numerous testimonials from people on Youtube who compare it to Oxycontin or a sedative.

Todd -- who runs a company called Mayan Kratom -- said it's all-natural, safe, and helped him deal with the lasting effects from injuries suffered in motorcycle crash.

CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini reports, while some call it an alternative herb, others call it a potentially deadly addictive sedative -- including Jack Riley, Special Agent in Charge for the Chicago Field Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

"This is as dangerous as it comes. It can cause heart rate going up sweating going up blood pressure going up and if you have other medical conditions it could actually be life threatening," Riley said.

Riley says in small doses it's considered a stimulant, and in larger doses a sedative.

CBS 2 went undercover to show how Chicago area smoke shops are peddling Kratom frequently. One store clerk told Savini he is selling it day and night, and another clerk agreed it delivers a Vicodin-like high.

Toxicologist Edward Boyer from Massachusetts warned it's addictive, and can cause liver damage. He said children especially need to stay far away from it.

"Kratom is a substance that binds to the same receptors the Vicodin, Oxycontin, morphine, heroin all bind too," said Boyer.

Todd, 35, who once lived in the Chicago area, says his company -- Mayan Kratom -- is the third largest in the market.

He claims it's perfectly safe, and not at all addictive. When asked if children are at risk taking it he responded, "I don't believe so."

"Traditionally it has been used to help for pain for people all over the world for centuries it's been used for anxiety."

Yet he and other Kratom sellers face scrutiny now that three states have some form of ban on the product. Illinois has no ban on it, but the DEA has it on their watch list as a suspicious drug.

Just how big has Kratom gotten? So big that Todd's competitor in Chicago, Lincoln Park resident Michael Pilney, allegedly offered undercover DEA agents seven pounds of cocaine to kill Todd.

Todd wouldn't comment on the specifics of the murder-for-hire plot, but Pilney was charged in DuPage County and is currently free after posting an $800,000 bond.

Pilney distributes Lucky Kratom, and police sources said they found illegal drugs like cocaine and ecstasy in a home he was using to store drugs in suburban Lincolnwood this past June.

Pilney allegedly wanted to maintain his share of the Kratom market, and was upset with Todd because Todd once worked for Lucky Kratom. Pilney currently faces solicitation of murder charges.

"There are bad people in every industry," Todd said.

Todd says he's now selling his Kratom in 47 states and two other countries.

While the Kratom craze continues, so do the warnings.

"I would tell all parents be very careful if your children say they are interested in using this thing," said Dr. Boyer.

Todd says he refuses to distribute his Kratom to gas stations and convenience stores, and sells only to smoke shops that have age restrictions.

He says he has tens of thousands of customers. Indiana is reportedly one of the states that has banned Kratom and there is no word on any attempt to do the same thing here in Illinois. The DEA says its investigation into Kratom is ongoing.

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