Controversial tree leaf target of increased scrutiny

On the shelves of head shops and convenience stores across the region, a controversial botanical from Southeast Asia is causing a stir.

Advocates describe it as a mild-acting pain reliever that has the potential to help reduce symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Opponents characterize it as a potentially dangerous drug that can cause hallucinations and even psychosis.

It’s called kratom, and it’s legal for all ages in Pennsylvania.

“It’s pretty popular,” said Ann Marie Bossard, co-owner of Anthracite Newsstand in Wilkes-Barre. The store sells kratom in several forms, including powders, capsules and vapes. “A lot of people use it for arthritis, rheumatism, cramps and pain. They say that it takes the edge away. And we do sell quite a bit of it.”

Popular though it may be, government organizations have expressed serious concerns about kratom’s safety.