An herbal supplement known as kratom is facing scrutiny in Monument after Police Chief Jacob Shirk said he had concerns with kratom’s health effects.
The Monument Board of Trustees approved a six-month ban on issuing licenses to businesses wanting to sell kratom, an herbal supplement derived from the leaves of a tree native to Southeast Asia. Taken in pills or brewed as a tea, the pain-relieving compounds in kratom are used by some to treat depression, anxiety and opioid withdrawal.
Matthew Frank is the owner and founder of Laughing Lion Herbs, a business that sells various wellness products including kratom. Kratom is harvested from plantations and forests in Indonesia where the plant is dried and ground into a powder. Once it arrives at Laughing Lion Herbs, Frank sends the kratom to a third-party lab where it’s tested for purity and contaminants like salmonella and E. coli.
The testing process takes about two weeks before the kratom can be sold to customers.
During the temporary ban, Monument will not be accepting or approving licenses for new businesses planning to sell kratom within the town limits. The emergency ordinance says this ban is “necessary for the immediate preservation and protection of the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens and visitors of the Town of Monument.”
Businesses that currently sell kratom in Monument will not be affected by the temporary ban.
The issue came to Shirk’s attention when he was reviewing Frank’s business application to open a new store in Monument that would sell kratom, coffee and bath products. After doing some personal research and contacting an agent with the Food and Drug Administration, Shirk said he had some concerns about kratom.
“We don’t know what kratom really is or what it really does to the mind and body,” Shirk said during a town hall meeting last week.
Shirk said that banning new businesses from selling kratom will give the Town of Monument time to consider future regulations on kratom sales.
Experts at the FDA draw parallels between kratom and opioids and warn that kratom could lead to addiction and substance abuse. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned that kratom’s proclaimed health benefits are not backed by science and research.
“There have been no adequate and well-controlled scientific studies involving the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use withdrawal or other diseases in humans,” Gottlieb said in a 2018 press release.
In April, the FDA found dangerously high levels on nickel and lead in samples of kratom that could increase the risk of cancer, result in high blood pressure and cause nervous system or kidney damage. Frank said the kratom sold at his business is rigorously tested for these heavy metals before it’s sold.
Though kratom is not approved by the FDA, it is legal to possess kratom in Colorado. There are various locations throughout Colorado Springs that sell kratom to customers who use the herbal supplement to treat pain, overcome anxiety and alleviate symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Frank estimates that 40 percent of his 8,000 customers nationwide say they’ve used kratom to overcome their opioid addictions. The majority of his customers who use kratom suffer from chronic pain.
“I believe in the right of every American to choose what they put into their bodies so long as it’s not something that has been proved harmful,” Frank said.
Frank says he was once on 11 prescriptions to help him treat chronic pain. Unable to function on his medication and spending much of his days in bed, he turned to kratom for relief. He now spends his time practicing karate and camping and rock climbing with his family.
“That freedom of discovering what kratom could do for me is why I do what I do because I want to make kratom available to people at an affordable price,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study in April that analyzed the types of drugs present in overdose victims. Of the 27,338 bodies tested in the study, 152 tested positive for kratom. But the majority of those who tested positive for kratom also tested positive for other drugs like cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids.
These results are highly misleading, Frank said, because the presence of other drugs makes it unclear that kratom was the cause of death.
Kratom’s future in Colorado is unclear. Denver banned the sale of kratom for human consumption in 2017, and the Drug Enforcement Administration lists kratom as a drug of concern.
But despite selling kratom at his business, Frank keeps an open mind about the controversy. He said he supports Monument’s temporary ban because it encourages people to have an open dialogue about kratom. If he were shown strong evidence that kratom is harmful, Frank said he’d immediately stop selling it.