CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - A little-known herbal supplement called "kratom" has become a popular natural painkiller.
But now, there's solid evidence that's its addictive, and the feds are doing what they can to stop its widespread use.
U.S. Marshals this week seized almost 90,000 bottles of a dietary supplement called Relakzpro from a manufacturer in South Beloit, just north of Rockford. The drinks contain kratom, an herbal supplement from Southeast Asia which has a long history as a mild painkiller. But in recent years, it has gained popularity among drug addicts who are trying to treat their addiction, but then find themselves addicted to kratom.
“The problem that we do see is people using this because it is available, and because they see it as natural, a natural alternative, and that it will help them, when it kind of causes more problems for them,” said Kathie Kane Willis of Roosevelt University Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy.
Nationwide, the laws surrounding the sale of kratom are definitely confusing. For example, one day after thousands of bottles are seized in South Beloit, we find kratom for sale in smoke shops in Chicago.
“The pain relief is the ultimate goal and that's what's there, that's what people come back for,” said Amit Ahlowalia, who owns The Smoke Shop.
The owner of The Smoke Shop in Lincoln Park says he sells a lot of kratom, but he's selling it in it's pure form, which is legal in Illinois. When kratom is mixed into drinks that are labeled as a dietary supplement, the FDA says those drinks can't be sold, because they've got a new ingredient hasn't been proven safe.
Beyond being addictive, the FDA says kratom can cause respiratory and stomach problems. The owner of The Smoke Shop says his kratom products are pure, not adulterated, and he's heard no complaints.
“Effectiveness? People are definitely happy. They all come back and you've got consistent customers, you know they are coming back for the same thing. It's clearly working no doubt about that,” said Ahlowalia.
Several states, including Indiana, have banned all sales of kratom. In Illinois, it can't be sold to minors.
Kratom is so popular in some parts of the country, like South Florida, that "Kratom Bars" are popping up where customers can buy kratom drinks that are brewed at different strengths.