Kratom Tea is the Focus of a Florida Lawsuit—and FDA Scrutiny. Here’s Why

September 5, 2018, 10:01 PM UTC

Can herbal tea cause brain damage? Florida woman Mary Tabar says it can—and that her 19-year-old daughter Brette starting having “psychotic episodes and hallucinations” in March 2018, after regularly consuming herbal tea made with kratom over a four-year period.

A popular brew in recent years, kratom tea—the effects of which are not fully understood or regulated—was sold at a number of bars that Brette frequented. Tabar is suing three bars in the Tampa Bay area, alleging Brette experienced frontal lobe brain damage as a result of consuming kratom tea, and that the establishments serving the hallucinogenic brew should be held responsible, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Kratom is derived from a Southeast Asian tree, much like coffee, and is sold as an herbal supplement and marketed as a pain reliever that may help with opioid withdrawal. But kratom is more than an opioid substitute or withdrawal aid. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has called kratom an opioid, due to its similar effects, and warned of “potential for abuse, addiction, and serious health consequences, including death,” in February 2018. That warning followed a previous FDA advisory warning that contrary to labeling, kratom is not a safe or all-natural alternative pain reliever or opioid alternative.

The FDA reported in February 2018 that over a nine-year period, kratom has been linked to at least 44 deaths. Tabar’s lawyer alleges that owners of the Tampa Bay area bars failed to warn Tabar of the effects of and risks associated with kratom tea, making them liable for, among other damages, “bodily injury and resulting pain and suffering, aggravation of a pre-existing condition, mental anguish, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life, past and future medical and nursing care expenses and treatment.”

For their part, the bar owners say they use caution with patrons and explain the effects of kratom tea, even suggesting customers taking medication should avoid the strong brew. Levi Love, owner of Mad Hatter’s in St. Petersburg, told the Times he’s skeptical of the allegations in the lawsuit. “Being around people who drink kratom and use it regularly, I’ve never seen these symptoms or heard of them,” he said.

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