It’s a legal and natural painkiller that produces a slightly euphoric feeling.
Or it’s a dangerous drug that may have killed a Longview woman on Monday and, earlier this week, perhaps caused a naked woman holding a baby to lunge at police with a hammer.
Maybe it’s both.
The Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office warned the public Tuesday about the potential dangers of a plant product known as Kratom, which is commonly used for medicinal purposes in Asia and is sold in at least one Longview store.
Sheriff’s spokesman Charlie Rosenzweig said a 31-year-old woman was found dead in the bedroom of her Terry Lane home. Rosenzweig said it will take weeks to determine the cause of death, but deputies found a pipe near her body and open packets of Kratom scattered around her room, suggesting she was a heavy user.
Just two days earlier, on Sunday morning, a 27-year-old Kelso woman was hospitalized after she ran through the street naked, screaming about Jesus. Police said she swung a hammer at them while holding her four-month-old baby in her other arm. Police wrested the infant, who was uninjured, from the woman. The woman’s father said she may have taken Kratom, and a Kelso police spokesman said Wednesday that police believe the drug caused her strange behavior.
“I don’t want to overreact,” Rosenzweig said Tuesday, “but based on what we’re seeing ... we want the public to know that this product may be very risky and maybe even deadly.”
“We don’t want any more calls like the one Kelso got,” he said. “That poor child.”
But others say Kratom is harmless and couldn’t be behind the Longview woman’s death or the Kelso woman’s behavior. The product is sold at Mary Jane’s House of glass, a downtown Longview head shop, in liquid, powder and capsule forms. On Tuesday, customers said it’s effective for weening addicts off opiates, is an effective alternative to pain pills and can help people concentrate and relax.
“I’m on it right now and I’m not freaking out,” said Shaun Knudsen, 29, of Longview, who was working behind the counter at Mary Jane’s, which sells marijuana pipes, hookahs and other related products.
Some people smoke Kratom or even snort it, but that has little effect, Knudsen said. He said the most effective way to take the drug, which sells for about $1 a gram, is to simply swallow it. People who take too much might throw up, Knudsen said.
A 48-year-old Longview woman, who declined to give her name, spent $28 on Kratom capsules at Mary’s Jane’s Tuesday. The woman, who said she doesn’t drink or use other drugs, said she’d been taking the drug for about two years.
“It makes me focus. It makes me in a good mood,” she said. “I take two a day. I’ve never had a side effect. Nothing weird.”
Another customer, a 34-year-old Kalama man who also declined to give his name, said he had back surgery in 2004 and uses Kratom to replace his pain medication.
“I don’t take it every day. It helps my pain,” he said. “It’s non-narcotic. You don’t get addicted to it.”
Law enforcement officials are lumping Kratom in the same category of “designer drugs” such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana known as “spice.” Those drugs have been known to cause erratic behavior and were recently outlawed. Their manufacturers continue to tweak chemical formulas in an effort to skirt the law and continue selling them at head shops and other retailers.
Authorities said a Longview high school student was recently taken to the hospital after he began chewing on himself and exhibiting other strange behavior during class. The boy’s fellow students later said he was on spice, but that couldn’t be confirmed, police said.
On Tuesday, Rosenzweig, the sheriff’s office spokesman, said Kratom and other similar products aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so consumers can’t know for sure what they’re ingesting.
Rosenzweig said Kratom packages, most of them open, were found scattered around the room of a 31-year-old woman who died in her Longview home Monday. The woman’s male roommate told authorities she woke up Monday, went downstairs and drank a cup of coffee, Rosenzweig said.
Later, she returned to her room and didn’t come out for some time. The roommate later found her unconscious and called 911. Paramedics couldn’t revive the woman, who was declared dead at the scene, Rosenzweig said.
Rosenzweig said the woman had medical problems, but they were not life-threatening.
“We cannot tell what role Kratom played in the woman’s death until toxicology reports are back, and that will be weeks,” Rosenzweig said in a written statement.
In the meantime, he said, “If people see some friends acting very unusual, like bizarre, and they have been using Kratom, they need to call 911 and get them medical help immediately.”