Kratom, a plant indigenous to Southeast Asia, which has been used both recreationally and in the treatment of pain and opioid dependence, has received little scrutiny in the United States and almost none in Canada. We analyzed calls to the British Columbia poison centre to describe caller-declared exposures to kratom and the acute health effects of these exposures.
For this descriptive analysis, we accessed electronic records, including transcriptions and extracted variables, of calls specifying kratom exposure managed by the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre (DPIC) from 2012 to 2019. We describe changes in case numbers, reasons for exposure, concurrent drug exposures and clinical outcomes over the study period.
We identified 32 cases during the study period. In 23 cases (72%), the DPIC was consulted by a health care worker. Case numbers increased from 0 in 2012 to 9 in 2019. Numbers were highest for males in their 20s ( n = 17, 53%). A total of 27 cases (84%) involved ingestion, with online distributors and local stores named as sources of procurement. A concurrent drug exposure was identified in 13 (41%) cases. There were no deaths; in 1 case, the exposed individual was intubated to manage agitation following kratom withdrawal.
We observed a steady increase in kratom-related poison centre calls from 2012 to 2019, especially in young adult males. Rising call numbers may reflect increasing availability of kratom and may be a consequence of BC’s opioid crisis, with kratom used by some to lessen symptoms of opioid withdrawal.