Kratom is legal in Colorado, but its use is hotly debated
Routt County residents advocate for use of the herbal supplement instead of opioids
Editor’s Note: This story was updated Monday, March 13, to include a comment from Routt County Public Health Officer Dr. Brian Harrington.
The use of leaves of plants for therapeutic purposes stirs up controversy, and kratom is one of those plants that brings out passionate opinions.
The herbal supplement kratom, derived from leaves of a tree found in Southeast Asia, is more potent than more well-known, plant-based products such as matcha and kava. Yet, kratom is lesser known than marijuana. The wisdom of use of kratom is debated among pain patient advocates, support organizations, doctors and regulators.
Discussions of kratom came to the forefront in Routt County this month when a former coach was accused of distributing kratom to high school athletes in Hayden and Steamboat Springs.
Known formally as Mitragyna speciosa, kratom currently is legal across the majority of Colorado – except for in Parker and Monument – for use by adults 21 and older.
The American Kratom Association, an advocacy group established in 2014, notes that Colorado is one of seven states that have passed a Kratom Consumer Protection Act. Five states have banned kratom, and eight states have some local bans. Otherwise in the U.S., kratom is legal and unregulated.
As a result of Colorado Senate Bill 22-120 approved in May 2022, selling kratom in Colorado to someone under 21 could result in a civil infraction and a $200 fine. The law also currently requires sellers to check a government-issued photo ID before selling kratom, according to Shannon Gray, with the marijuana enforcement division at Colorado Department of Revenue.
The protection act provides a regulatory framework for the legal sale of kratom that will become stricter on July 1, 2024. The act will prohibit knowingly preparing, distributing, advertising, selling or offering to sell a kratom product that is contaminated with fentanyl or any other controlled substance. Kratom products sold will have to be labeled with the manufacturer and full list of ingredients.
Despite years of debate, there is no question that use of kratom should be restricted to well-informed adults, advocates say.
Kratom advocates Lisa Jacoby, 37, of Steamboat Springs as well as Doug Person, 73, of Clark say kratom has been beneficial to help with their back pain from injuries and as an alternative to prescription opioids that have serious risks and side effects.
“If you have a choice between taking an opioid that is synthetic with the history of the epidemic that we all know that exists or to take something that comes from a coffee tree that has been working for people for centuries, I would choose the natural herb,” said Jacoby, who has worked in the medical field since 2006.
“I personally feel like my life has been saved by this stuff,” said Person, who injured his back severely in 2007 and underwent spinal fusion surgery. “I was taking pain medication under a doctor’s care for 11 years. I began taking kratom and then reducing my intake of narcotics until I was totally free and suffered no withdrawal symptoms.”
Four medical practitioners, naturopathic doctors or clinics in Routt County contacted by the Pilot & Today said they do not recommend kratom to their patients for various reasons. The providers, who did not want to be named, cited concerns about kratom of finding clean and high-quality sources, possible side effects and interactions with other medications, and risks when not dosed at appropriate levels.
Jacoby said appropriate dosing was a concern for her initially, so she started using kratom at low doses. When using too much or trying some unsatisfactory brands, Jacoby experienced side effects such as nausea and constipation.
The American Kratom Association website lists brands that have committed to Good Manufacturing Practices.
Kratom is sold at some smoke and head shops in Steamboat and at Health Works health food store in Craig. Health Works Manager Daniel Wright said his customers tell him they use kratom mostly for chronic pain relief due to injuries, but some people mention use for stress and anxiety.
Natural Grocers leadership chooses not to carry kratom. The company website notes that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lists kratom as a “drug of concern.” In addition, kratom is one of many substances not protected under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, and the Food and Drug Administration has not approved kratom for medical use.
According to the DEA, kratom has a long history of use in Southeast Asia, and in low doses, kratom produces stimulant effects such as increased alertness, physical energy and talkativeness. At high doses, users experience sedative effects.
“Like so many ‘illicit’ drugs, kratom has been called dangerous, addictive and of no medical value,” Person said. “There has only been a smattering of research, mostly because no one can make money by researching kratom’s value. As an informed adult, if you read the research, I think you can make an informed decision as to whether it might be beneficial and worth trying.”
Jacoby said along with kratom, she uses yoga and meditation to cope with chronic pain.
“I want people to know to do their own research first and foremost,” Jacoby said. “Know your body and how it reacts to certain substances and ask yourself why are you taking this in the first place and what are your other options such as adjusting your diet and lifestyle.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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