What’s Up with 15 Reported Kratom Deaths?

June 13, 2017 Articles, Kratom Alkaloids, Kratom Research


In August of 2016, the DEA’s Public Affairs arm issued an Intent to Schedule for Kratom. The press release stated that the DEA intended to place the active materials in the Mitragyna speciosa (kratom) plant into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a move which would make it illegal for online vendors to sell kratom.

In said press release, they claimed that they were aware of fifteen deaths related to kratom consumption. But there appears to be some internal confusion about these alleged deaths and the evidence points to one of two things: fabrication or miscalculation.

To put it more plainly, it seems as though the DEA are either straight up lying about these kratom-related deaths or ignoring the other details of these nebulous cases.

Here we’ll explore this subject in more depth to better assess what’s true and what’s not. Hopefully, this article will shed some light on the myths surrounding kratom as well as the reasons why the risks of irresponsible kratom use can be easily avoided.


The only thing we know for sure is that kratom killed nine young men in Sweden back in 2010 after taking Krypton Kratom. Not just any kratom product but Krypton Kratom, a specially-formulated kratom product that contained the kratom alkaloid mitragynine as well as a powerful mu-receptor agonist known as O-Desmethyltramadol.

The key to understanding why these unfortunate men met their demise at the hands of Krypton Kratom lies within the latter, not the former. As medical professionals have already determined on the record, it was the high blood concentrations of O-Desmethyltramadol, an active metabolite of the prescription pain killer Tramadol, that was responsible for each of the nine deaths.

This is hardly a shocker when we consider that Tramadol is a prescription drug and prescription drugs are responsible for an astronomical number of annual deaths.

As one user at Hacker News’s forums said, “There were 15 recorded cases of people dying from kratom from 2014-2016. To put that in perspective, 15,000 plus people die each year in America from NSAIDs like aspirin…The good that kratom is doing for people far outweighs its minimal dangers, which can be mitigated by educating people on how to use it safely.”

This is to say nothing of deaths that have occurred from prescription opioid use. In 2015 alone, more than 16,000 people died from opioid-related complications according to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even on its own, O-DSMT (O-Desmethyltramadol) is a dangerous substance as it is an opioid analgesic. O-DSMT’s effects can include nausea, respiratory depression, itchiness, urinary retention, constipation, pupil constriction, sedation and decreased libido.

But its acute interactions with other drugs are also well-documented. As a quick visit to Psychonautwiki will tell you, O-DSMT interacts poorly with depressants, dissociatives and stimulants.

Kratom is, of course, a natural stimulant, coming as it does from the coffee family of plants. So it is hardly surprising to find that those taking a substance containing both kratom and O-DSMT should prove fatal for some users. But to place the blame on kratom is both ignorant and naive.

And don’t take it from me! The experts have been vocal about this as well. In a case report published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology four doctors from the National Board of Forensic Genetics and Forensic Toxicology ruled that the cause of death in the aforementioned cases was “unintentional fatal intoxications of Mitragynine and O-Desmethyltramadol.”

Post-mortem results were very clear on the fact that there were higher concentrations of O-DSMT than there were of kratom’s active alkaloid. Furthermore, the results were clear on the cause of death—“We believe that the addition of the potent mu-receptor agonist O-desmethyltramadol to powdered leaves from Kratom contributed to the unintentional death of the nine cases presented,” they wrote.

There it is in black and white! O-DSMT was the key factor in each death. Period…or not? One would think the controversy would have ended there, but the media can be a monster and misinformation is rampant in the age of the Internet.


If there’s one thing the Internet does well it’s open up public discussion and provide people a platform for amateur sleuthing. Nowhere is this more true than on Reddit where countless posters do loads of independent research and investigation to suss out the truth about vague cases and allegations.

In October of 2016, one Reddit user had this to say about the DEA’s claims that fifteen people had died as a result of taking kratom. “I contacted the DEA about this, and they did not have an actual source for those 15 deaths.

“They found reference to the 9 deaths in Sweden, but implied those were not the ones counted in the 15 number. I was referred to the FDA regarding this, and they said they are unable to assist anyone who is not a member of the news media and to file a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request instead.”

If you’re a Netflix binge watcher, you’ve probably seen how filing a Freedom of Information Act request worked out for the amateur investigators in the trending docu series The Keepers. If you haven’t, I can tell you that they repeatedly reached out to this end, only for no information to be forthcoming.

If we go on the experience of this Reddit poster, the picture becomes pretty clear. The source of the supposed death toll are not talking and neither is the press. Thus far, the media outlets are burying the details of these alleged cases.

In the DEA’s three-factor analysis, they claim to have found that at least one of these supposed deaths was directly attribute to kratom alone, but the Medial Examiner reporter noted that the decedent had a history of cardiopulmonary arrest.

So where does that leave us as a community concerned about the future availability of kratom? Well, luckily, a strong case has been made for kratom to remain legal. As we reported in the past, the DEA has since delayed their proposed ban after opening up the subject to public comment.

And as any noot nut’ll tell you, kratom deserves to remain unregulated since it is a potent, all natural alternative to prescription pain killers and other harmful controlled substances.

What can you do to keep kratom legal? You can support kratom advocacy groups like Kratom Freedom, the Botanical Legal Defense and the American Kratom Association. The latter’s official website appears to have been taken down, perhaps by force, but that shouldn’t stop you from doing your part.

You can also use kratom responsibly if you are taking kratom as a folk medicine. That is the number one way to give kratom a good name.


The best way for us to get the onus taken off of kratom is to use it according to recommended dosages. To avoid kratom overdose or any undesirable side effects, such as kratom hangover, users should stick to moderate kratom doses.

A starter dose of kratom is generally somewhere between 2 and 3 grams. This is the perfect amount for a first-time user who needs to acclimate to kratom and its effects. A moderate dose of kratom is generally considered to be approximately 3.5 to 4 grams.

On the other hand, a potent kratom dose is 5 grams and users are not advised to take more than 5g at any given time. Likewise, users should abstain from using kratom more than once daily and should be sure to take a break from taking kratom, carefully cycling their doses to avoid tolerance or addiction.

By following these steps, most users should be able to enjoy the many health and wellness benefits of this ancient healing herb without suffering any side effects that would further stigmatize this important herbal panacea.

Be safe, be smart and be well!

Bob Freville
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