“Kratom for sale here!” blare signs in front of convenience stores around the state. For the uninitiated, these signs are a bit puzzling, but for those in the know, kratom is serious business.
Kratom, pronounced in various ways, is the name of a tree in the coffee family, found in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Thailand. Traditionally, the leaves were chewed or made into tea to help people stay alert and productive.
Some substances in kratom work on the opioid receptors in the brain.
In recent years, extracts from kratom leaves have become a popular herbal remedy, which users say can help with pain, fatigue or opioid withdrawals.
The Food and Drug Administration, however, disagrees and considers the substance dangerous. In 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement, “There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use.”
A bill currently going through the Oregon legislature would create regulations, including labeling and a minimum age requirement, for products containing kratom.
House Bill 2646 would direct the Oregon Department of Agriculture to adopt rules to carry out the regulations and allow civil penalty for some violations of those rules. The bill would make it a crime to sell kratom to anyone under 21.
The bill is the second attempt by Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer to get Oregon lawmakers to agree to a legal framework for the substance.
He started his effort when some in Oregon’s kratom industry came to him, looking for ways to make the product safer for consumers and themselves.
Kratom as it’s sold now is not labeled in any way, meaning it can be adulterated with many substances.
“There are no safeguards for consumers whatsoever,” said Jenn Lauder, the director of marketing and advocacy at PDX Aromatics, a Portland-based company that imports kratom from Indonesia and makes it into capsules and extracts.
Lauder is one of the backers of the bill.
The narrative around kratom can be bad, she said.
Deaths have been attributed to the substance, though supporters of kratom attribute that to adulteration. And the product has been recalled for salmonella. PDX Aromatics itself has had salmonella issues.
“We’ve been working really hard to counter the narrative,” Lauder said.
According to Post, it is kratom producers that are pushing for rules. “The industry wants to pay the state to say, ‘Your kratom is pure,’” he said.
Post himself is a kratom believer. Lauder gave him some capsules to try while she was educating him about the substance, he said.
It helped his back pain, Post said, and “I’ve been using it ever since.”
— Lizzy Acker