TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Kratom is in the coffee family and is an herbal supplement grown mostly in Southeast Asia.
Some states have banned it after the federal government raised questions about its safety. The safety questions arose not from the supplement but from what it was laced with — which Florida lawmakers took the first step Tuesday to prevent from happening.
Kratom is legal but unregulated in Florida. It is a big seller at the Natural Life chain of stores, according to owner Gabe Suarez.
“And every day, we get testimonials from people how this plant has changed their life for the better, and we hear it multiple times a day, every day,” Suarez said.
Suarez said he requires what he sells to have been tested by a third party to ensure it’s pure and safe.
“You name it, we’re searching for it,” Suarez said.
But there’s no requirement to do that in law yet.
“It is used as a popular product in the United States today by 11 to 15 million people,” Mac Haddow, the senior fellow at the American Kratom Association, told lawmakers.
Kratom has gotten a bad rap in the past. Sarasota County banned it in 2014 after reports it could be dangerous. Haddow said nothing is further from the truth.
“It is perfectly safe. It is not dangerously addictive unless it’s been adulterated with very dangerous substances, including fentanyl, morphine and heroin,” Haddow said.
And because of that, the American Kratom Association supports regulation and testing.
“About a third of the Kratom population use it like a cup of coffee in the morning for an energy boost and increased focus, another third use it to reduce anxiety and then the final third are people that are finding that it can help you wean off very dangerous opioids,” said Haddow.
Sarasota is the only county that has banned Kratom. This legislation would undo that ban.
Under the legislation, distributors would be required to test and certify the supplement before shipping it to retailers, said sponsor state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota.
“I think people should have access and have the availability. You just want to eliminate the bad actor and those people who are turning the product into something that it is not,” Gruters said.
The legislation cleared its first committee unanimously.
Researchers at the University of Florida, which has half the research grants for Kratom in the U.S., found it delivered significant pain-relieving benefits and reduced opioid withdrawal symptoms.