COLUMBUS, Ohio- You may have seen the name Kratom when you are out and about, plastered in store windows, sometimes alongside others prompting potential customers the establishment carries both it and CBD oil.
Kratom has been around a while. Here in the U.S., it's only been a few decades. But in Southeast Asia, where it is grown indigenously in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea, it's been used for medicinal purposes since the 19th century. It comes from the leaves of a tropical evergreen tree from the coffee family.
Research into its use is hard to come by, but anecdotally some people with chronic pain and opioid withdrawal say it helps them.
It is currently a controlled substance in 16 countries and the FDA wants to ban it here in the U.S. too. Several states have already done so. But because of a lack of research on the effects of the plant and the personal stories that it is helping Ohioans, State Rep. Gary Scherer is going to start a conversation about what to do with the supplement here in Ohio.
Recently, the Ohio Pharmacy Board pulled up short of recommending rules be created to schedule the substance like an illegal narcotic.
Scherer was there for that hearing where dozens of Ohioans came out to testify in favor of the substance and for how it was helping them.
One of the people that testified that day was a lawmaker from Utah and friend of Scherer's.
In Utah, he had proposed legislation to regulate the substance. The bill Scherer has brought to the Ohio Statehouse is modeled after it.
The bill allows for the sale of Kratom here in Ohio to adults 18 and over. Sellers would also have to ensure the product being purchased is pure Kratom and not tainted. There are also several packaging and labeling standards involved.
Scherer wants to make sure the Kratom is tested for safety before it is put on the shelves. He said his bill is putting fairly significant restrictions on Kratom.
Scherer doesn't know what will happen with his bill, and he carries no anticipations about that either. He syid he just wants to get a dialogue going.
"Early on in this process, I was actually correctly quoted saying I'm not sure whether I'd vote for this bill or not myself; but my intent is to open the dialogue," Scherer said.
It is important for him to get this dialogue started because other products, like CBD and vaping, have been demonized as a result of bad actors.
"You know we see a headline; we see a name; a brand of a particular product and automatically assume that every single product like that is either bad or a good thing," said Scherer. "That's why I do believe that we just ought to open the conversation."
From 2014 to the present, roughly 40 people have reportedly died with Kratom in their system. Scherer said he believes all of them also had illicit narcotics in their system as well.
The Ohio Pharmacists Association does not have an official position on whether the substance should be banned, regulated or left alone at this time. It said it's complicated when you're dealing with any drug that doesn't go through the FDA approval process.
Kratom is not subject to FDA approval because it is considered a supplement.