Law, health officials warn about 'kratom' craze

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The latest over-the-counter high is popping up in stores throughout the Kansas City metro.

The craze known as “kratom” has law enforcement and health officials concerned.

It’s not illegal, but it is listed on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of “Drugs and Chemicals of Concern.” They also warn that it can be addicting.

One shop in Kansas City has a sign advertising the substance in bold green letters on the door.

41 Action News found out how easy it is to get a packet of the substance.

We sent a producer into a Kansas City tobacco store. The clerk checked to make sure he was over 18 years of age, and then the clerk showed him their selection of kratom.

Kratom is a tree native to Southeast Asia. The leaves produce both stimulant effects (in low doses) and sedative effects (in high doses). According to the DEA, the effects of kratom are similar to those of psycho-stimulant drugs.

The “powder” cost $10.

Vicky Ward, Manager of Prevention Services at Tri-County Mental Health, warns parents about the dangers of these products.

“Youth, whose brains are not fully developed, anytime they take any substance that is addictive then they can develop lifelong issues with addiction,” said Ward.

Kratom may be legal, but it isn't regulated.

“That's just it, you don't know. You do not know what you're getting," Ward stressed.

Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd works to get ahead of changing drug trends.

“These new designer drugs, the problem is, you end up a victim of an overdose and go to an emergency room, and emergency room personnel don't even know where to start,” said Zahnd.

Zahnd also warns just because it’s not banned doesn’t mean you can’t get in trouble.

“If you're caught driving with it and impaired because if it, you'll be charged just like somebody who was charged with an alcohol DWI," he said. 

Kratom is native to Thailand, but it’s been banned there since 1943.

Shannon Halligan can be reached at shannon.halligan@kshb.com .