Kratom, also called Mitragyna speciosa, the psycoactive, pain reducing/stimulant herbal compound has been popular and controversial almost since the start. For example, is kratom a drug or supplement? Is it legal? Despite the controversies, some say it's safe while others say its addicting and dangerous. Odds are, you are already aware of what kratom is, so I won't review that here. Instead, let's address the elephant in the room –can kratom kill you? Some say yes. Others say its a scam by big pharma to scare people. Here are the reports of kratom deaths. Decide for yourself.
Also see the Full Kratom Review which is a deep dive into many kratom-topics.
First Off: Can You Trust Me?
I don't have a dog in this fight. While I do think people should be cautious, I really just want to give you evidence and let you decide. So, I want to say up front that:
- I am unbiased.
- I don't sell kratom.
- I don't work for big pharma – or big supplement.
- I don't work for the FDA, FTC, DEA or any government agency.
- I go where where the evidence takes me.
- My litmus test is facts – especially clinical evidence.
As a disclaimer, I will say:
- I believe kratom can be addicting. There's irrefutable proof of this.
- I believe kratom companies have quality control problems. There is evidence for this too.
But I have not -yet – formed an opinion on whether someone can die from this drug. I'm presenting these reports for you – that person who wants to try mitragyna to reduce pain or other reasons – but does not know who to trust. I present this information so you can form your own opinions.
If you are new to this drug, do read the kratom review also for much more insights.
Kratom Death Reports
First up, here are 3 things to know:
- The focus will be reports of people who died while taking only kratom.
- I will try to not include reports where people mixed kratom with other drugs.
- I will not name the people who died, out of respect of their families.
See my original review where I detailed the deaths of those who were taking kratom as well as other medications.
In March 2014, a 36 year old man in Colorado died of an apparent grand mal seizure. His death certificate stated he died from “apparent acute mitragynine toxicity.” The phrase “grand mall seizure” was the phrase used by his mother. I could not tell if this person had a history of seizures. In the story appearing at Fox31 news, his mother said he told her he became addicted to kratom after 3 weeks of use.
In August 2017, reports surfaced of a 27 year old police officer from New York who died while taking kratom. His cause of death was stated to be due to a buildup of blood and fluid in his lungs (hemorrhagic pulmonary edema). Basically, the lungs start bleeding, building up fluids. By all accounts, the police officer was healthy. The only odd substance found in his body was a high level of kratom.
According to a report appearing at the Press Replication newspaper, the coroner stated the police officers level of mitragynine was “five times higher than any other reported death.” The amount listed was 3,500 ng per ml.
Reports also state the police officer was making his own concoction, grinding kratom into a paste and eating it. The reasons for why he was eating kratom are unknown. Because kratom can have stimulating effects, it is sometimes used by weight lifters as a preworkout supplement. I cannot determine if the officer was a bodybuilder at the time of the incident.
In November 2017 the Denvorite newspaper reported the case of a 25 year old student at Metro State University. He was also found with fluid in his lungs. His cause of death was listed as “mitragynine intoxication.”
Except for caffeine and naloxone, used to revive people from overdose, no other substances were found in his body. Bank records show he made 3 purchases of kratom the week before he died.
In December 2017 a 28 year old man in St Lucie Florida passed way. This man also had fluid in his lungs. No illegal drugs were found in his system.
According to the autopsy report, the man had alcohol caffeine and an antidepressant called Citalophram (Celexa) in his system as well as mitragynine, which is thought to be one of the active ingredients in kratom. His level of kratom was 13 ng/ ml. His cause of death was attributed to ” toxicity.”
In February 2018, the FDA issued a press release stating kratom has been implicated in the deaths of 44 people. That is up from 36 deaths they reported in November 2017. This report probably contains cases of those who were using other drugs. I'm adding it to the list because it may also contain cases in which only kratom was used.
In April 2018, a 37 year old man from Coatsville PA died. His cause of death was determined to be “mitragynine toxicity with hypertensive cardiovascular disease as a contributing condition.”
In June 2018, a 25 year old man from Chester County PA died from “acute mitragynine intoxication.”
One problem with this list is it was not possible to find autopsy reports for all these individuals. As such, I am not sure if other drugs were also used. It's also possible there may be other reports I missed. This list will be updated as I become aware of more relevant cases.
Kratom and Pulmonary Edema
Notice some of the reports have mentioned people accumulating a buildup of fluid in the lungs. This is referred to as hemorrhagic pulmonary edema.
Hemorrhagic pulmonary edema is an issue kratom advocates have a problem with. They bring up the fact the FDA did not mention fluid build up in the lungs as a possible side effect of kratom use.
Advocates contend something else is causing the deaths.
Autopsy reports do tell when someone is using illegal drugs. They test for drug use. In some of the reports, people seemed to be taking no other drugs – legal or illegal. Given the lack of human research, is it possible kratom is associated with lung fluid buildup?
Or is it possible the fluid build up in the lungs was caused by a contamination in kratom which was not screened for by medical examiners? As reported in my original review and in the video below, several kratom products have been found to contain salmonella – food poisoning!
Salmonella contamination is obviously due to poor quality control in the drug preparation. This brings up the question of might there be other contaminating substances present as well?
Researchers in 2011 noted 9 deaths associated with a product called Krypton which contained both kratom and a substance called O-desmethyltramadol (Desmetramadol), an active ingredient in the narcotic drug tramadol.
Toxicology screens often test for known substances like this. But, in instances where only mitragynine was found, is it possible there was something -not yet known – causing these people to die?
I don't know.
Reports like this make it more important for companies to funnel money back into product development to better ensure safe products are made.
Is Kratom a Supplement or Drug?
I found this fascinating video from the TV Show “The Doctors.” Skip ahead to 1:45 minutes to hear Dr. Danial Fabricant, former head of the FDA and now with the Natural Products Association. Dr. Fabricant says Kratom “is not a supplement.”
If its not a supplement, this puts Kratom is a very precarious situation. Kratom advocates say its not a drug – but the supplement industry is saying its not a supplement either.
So which is it?
Risk of Death Is Low
Proponents of this drug make a really good point when they say the risk of dying is much less than with other things like prescription drug abuse, aspirin overdose and alcohol abuse. That's all true. But, it's also true these things are more widely available – and more people know about them. I'd bet most people have not heard of kratom.
Regardless of this debate, I think even 1 death is too many.
I'll be honest. One of the things which frustrates me is the lack of human research on kratom effects. Few people want to take this stuff into the lab, give it to people and watch what happens.
Not even the American Kratom Association seems to want to fund this kind of research. Instead, they hire consultants to publish a review in 2018 on the abuse potential of kratom. The lead author of that report was Jack Henningfield, a respected researcher.
While I welcome this paper, it is not the type of research I'm looking for. I think the American people deserve original, clinical research which involves humans.
- Not rat studies.
- Not test tube research of cells.
- Not review papers.
You deserve human clinical research.
So Can Kratom Kill You?
There is no doubt healthy people have died while taking this drug. What is controversial is whether kratom was responsible or a unknown contaminant in the product they were taking. In either case, the direction for the future is clear: do real research – on humans – and let's get to the bottom of this.
If you believe kratom is safe, what you need to do is clear: pressure your local elected officials – AND the American Kratom Association – to fund the right kind of clinical research. At the very least, you need a safe product and proper dosing instructions.