Whenever legislators take up the banner to outlaw kratom in the west—a good example being the US—they often brandish the allegation of kratom being a dangerous drug capable of causing grave bodily harm or overdose fatalities to users. There have been reports of kratom being involved in overdoses resulting in hospitalisation and even death, and the anti-kratom party has certainly been quick to make capital out of these reports in its campaign.
But how reliable are the reports? Curiously enough, most of the so-called kratom fatalities are actually unsubstantiated. The vast majority—if not the totality—of supposed kratom deaths that have actually been documented all involved drug interactions and unsafe use of the herb, which casts doubt upon the allegations. After all, even liquor can be cause for hospitalisation (an in fact often is that) when used recklessly or with drugs that do not produce savoury results when combined with it.
It behoves both public and media to investigate such matters carefully, as there has been a marked tendency to reduce causes in such cases to a single, hyped-up drug of the moment. Consider the nine supposed Swedish kratom deaths reported not too long ago: these were actually from a kratom brand that turned out to have synthetic pharmaceutical compounds added to it. The same goes for most of the other kratom hospitalisation cases thus far recorded: synthetics added to kratom, usually to a kratom extract, as well as combination of the herb with drugs such as heroin and morphine often feature in the full reports. Indeed, the only remotely justifiable case of “possible Kratom toxicity” [emphasis mine] as reported in the Oct 2012 issue of J Forensic Science, still noted the presence of cold medications and benzodiazepines in the bloodstream.
There has yet to truly be any evidence showing kratom to be a drug capable of causing fatalities on its own, even if there are hypotheses as to the levels required in the blood for it to reach toxicity status. No cases exist either of people reaching those actual levels. The most that can be said of its dangers would be that it would be unwise to take the herb with other medications or psychoactive substances due to potential drug interactions, and that those with special conditions (e.g. allergies, pregnancy, compromised immune systems) should avoid it.
Find out more about the potential risks involved in taking kratom, specifically potentially fatal drug interactions involving it. We review here too some of reports of actual fatalities involving kratom and their value as evidence either against the herb or for it.