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Kratom: Healing herb or dangerous drug?

The federal government will soon decide whether to ban a controversial supplement despite public outcry.

Advocates and many who publicly commenteed believe Kratom can be a safe replacement for powerful opioid-based pain medications.

>> Read more trending stories

Earlier this year, the DEA announced its intention to ban kratom, classifying it in the same way as heroin and LSD.

Public backlash prompted the agency to back down and collect public comment before making a decision. More than 8,000 comments about kratom were submitted to a federal database.

Comments vary from describing the supplement as a healing herb to a dangerous drug. Many comments include personal stories about how kratom changed lives.

The comment period ends December 1st.

The DEA isn't likely to make an announcement at the end of the comment period because it's waiting on the Food and Drug Administration to complete its own evaluation.

Kratom as a lifeline

Andrew Turner takes a scoop of kratom every day and mixes the powder into his tea. He orders the supplement from a supplier he says he vetted on the internet.

Turner, a Navy veteran, suffers from Meigs Syndrome, a rare disease that causes ticks and stuttering. He also suffers from migraines, PTSD, depression and anxiety from his military service. At one point, he was taking five to six pharmaceutical medications a day.

"It got to be a pretty miserable existence," Turner said. "I'm completely disabled, trapped on my sofa most days because I can't move because of all the medications I'm taking. I'd sit and drool on myself."

Turner didn't see life getting any better until he found kratom. Now he says, "I'm getting quality of life back."

Turner gets his health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. He says if the DEA moves forward and bans kratom, he will stop taking it.

"I can't afford to be a criminal," said Turner.

"If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is."

Dr. Daniel Fabricant is with the Natural Products Association. He was with the FDA when the agency first looked at kratom.

He questions whether it's addictive.

"While it behaves like an opiate, we don't really have anything in the food supply that's an opiate," Fabricant said. "Some people think that because it is natural that it can't harm you, but there are a lot of drugs from nature that can do severe harm and are addictive."

Fabricant has seen and heard personal stories about the supplement, but says kratom must be looked at cautiously.

"You have a lot of claims out there that are largely untested. These claims are not substantiated," Fabricant said. "People are talking about their personal anecdotal experiences. That can be problematic because it can prevent people from getting real medical treatment if they need it."

The DEA says side effects from kratom can include seizures, hallucinations. Fifteen deaths reported nationwide from 2014 to 2016 were attributed to kratom use by the DEA. In many of those cases, kratom wasn't the only substance found in the deceased person's system.

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