kratom (copy)

Kratom products sold in St. Joseph are shown.

Multinational drug companies could learn a thing or two about kratom.

We’re not talking about the plant’s potential to relieve pain or treat withdrawal of opioid drugs. It seems kratom has built up a cult following, some of it developed through social media. That kind of grassroots support contrasts sharply with the more polished and costly advertising from companies like Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline.

One person who hasn’t bought into the hype is Dr. Timothy Murphy, a St. Joseph physician who treats adolescents. Murphy, who sees the first-hand impact of teenage substance abuse, said kratom behaves like an opioid in larger doses and deserves to be regulated like mainstream drug products.

That is to say, kratom, like morphine or oxycodone, shouldn’t be for sale to anyone at any gas station. The City Council took Murphy’s thoughts into account when voting to restrict kratom sales to adults who are 21 and older.

We believe this was a reasonable move, one that balances the uncertainty about this substance with the views of those who vouch for kratom’s ability to relieve their pain and improve their lives.

Right now, kratom dwells in the murky world of unregulated supplements, meaning it’s widely available but it hasn’t been subjected to clinical trials to determine effectiveness and side-effects.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration urge tighter regulation on the federal level, citing the risk of addiction as well as deaths associated with kratom. Others view this plant as a safer alternative to opioid drugs, which have been widely abused.

Take away the competing views on safety, for now. Even studies that take a benign view of kratom acknowledge legitimate concerns about lack of quality control.

Councilman Brian Myers believes teenagers will buy kratom the same way some are able to access alcohol, despite a similar age restriction. Myers, the lone vote against an age limit on kratom, misses two vital points.

One is that teenagers and young adults who experience physical pain should get treatment advice from a doctor instead of a drug store clerk or the internet.

The other is that any teenager who gets access to alcohol (something we don’t condone), has a reasonable expectation of the product’s contents. We know what will happen, for good and ill, when consuming an alcoholic product. The same can’t be said about kratom, which comes with “buyer-beware” strings involving purity levels and possible contamination with other substances.

One could argue, as we have, that adults are entitled to a similar assurance. The council wasn’t ready to go that far, but it took a step toward reasonable restrictions when it voted to keep our youngest citizens from kratom.