Kratom Highs: Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Sellers Hide Addiction Risks

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Kratom proposed class action lawsuit: Ashlynn Marketing Group Inc. allegedly concealed addictive nature of herbal drug.

You’d think a herbal supplement made from tropical tree leaves, readily available over-the-counter, and marketed as natural and safe would be just that, but you might have to think again. A new lawsuit is accusing Ashlynn Marketing Group Inc., a company that sells kratom-based products, of hiding the dangerous truth about kratom. 

By concealing the addictive nature of the substance and relying on customers' lack of knowledge, the company is getting people hooked on a drug that activates the same receptors as opioids such as fentanyl and morphine, the lawsuit alleges. 

Allegations of burying the truth

Two kratom users named J.J. and C.D. filed the proposed class action lawsuit in California claiming they started using kratom largely because of Ashlynn’s marketing saying its products were safe and non-addictive, Law360 reported. They allege they used kratom daily until becoming highly addicted and suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms that stopped them from being able to give up the plant-based product. J.J. and C.D. say had they known what would happen to them, they would have never started using kratom.

"Because the manufacturers and advertisers do not disclose the addictive potential of this drug, many users have found themselves blindsided when they wake up one morning in the throes of withdrawal after having stopped using what they thought was an innocuous supplement," the lawsuit alleges. "They then discover just how painfully dependent they have become on kratom." 

What is kratom and how does it affect the body?

Kratom comes from the kratom plant of Southeast Asia, and, because it is a plant-based product, it contains more than one active ingredient, according to University of Connecticut Distinguished Professor of Pharmacy Practice C. Michael White. The plant contains alkaloids that cause psychoactive effects similar to opioids, and kratom effects the same opioid receptors in the brain making it highly addictive. People usually take kratom in capsule or powder form, or brew the leaves as a tea, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says

It is reported to have both stimulant-like effects, like increased energy, alertness and rapid heart rate, and effects that are similar to opioids and sedatives, including relaxation, pain relief and confusion. NIDA says rare but serious side effects have been reported, including psychiatric, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and respiratory problems.

A Texas mother has even filed a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from her son’s kratom use, Washington Post reported. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says long-term use can cause anorexia, weight loss, and insomnia. According to the lawsuit, the withdrawal symptoms of kratom use are similar to those of opioids, including irritability, depression, dysphoria, and muscle pain and spasms.

When did kratom come to the US?

While kratom has been used in Southeast Asia for centuries, its use in the United States has become more popular over the past two decades, NIDA says. According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 1.7 million Americans aged 12 or older used kratom in 2021. 

While NIDA says there is still much to learn about the short- and long-term health and safety impacts of kratom use and kratom’s potential therapeutic uses, the lawsuit alleges given the wealth of existing research into the drug there is no way Ashylnn can claim ignorance. Researchers and scientists in the U.S. have documented the drug's addictive qualities since at least the 1980s, the lawsuit claims, adding that Ashlynn had a duty to disclose that information. 

"Nothing about this packaging would lead reasonable consumers to believe they were purchasing compounds similar to opioids, that function on the same mu-opioid receptors in the brain," J.J. and C.D. allege in the Kratom lawsuit. "It looks as innocuous as a vitamin supplement."

So why is it still legal?

The Food and Drug Administration recommends against using kratom, saying it can potentially cause overdoses, severe withdrawal symptoms and other serious health issues and there are no uses for kratom approved by the FDA. The FDA says it has taken steps to limit the availability of unlawful kratom products in the U.S. “We will continue to work with our federal partners to warn the public about risks associated with use of kratom,” the agency says.

However, Americans are getting their hands on the products at convenience stores, gas stations, and other outlets to manage drug withdrawal symptoms and cravings (especially related to opioid use), pain, fatigue and mental health problems, according to NIDA. The institute says it is currently doing research into the drug’s potential effects, and possible benefits, and they will use that research to inform kratom policy. See more NIDA-funded projects related to kratom, and learn more about clinical trials involving kratom.

What’s next

J.J. and C.D. want to represent U.S. and California residents in their proposed class action lawsuit, which they are filing for alleged violations of California's Unfair Competition Law, Consumers Legal Remedies Act and False Advertising Law, as well as breach of implied warranty, unjust enrichment and fraud by omission.

As with any over-the-counter drug, and especially those not approved by the FDA, if you plan to take kratom talk to your doctor first. The drug affects people in different ways and can react to medications and preexisting health conditions. 

The plaintiffs and the proposed class are represented by Monique Olivier and Christian Schreiber of Olivier & Schreiber LLP.

The proposed Kratom class action lawsuit is J.J. and C.D. et al v. Ashlynn Marketing Group Inc., Case No. 3:24-cv-00311-GPC-MSB, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

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