Spike in calls to poison control for psychedelic plants and herbs

Calls to US poison centers for people who have ingested marijuana, kratom – an opioid-like herb – magic mushrooms, and nutmeg have surged in the past six years, a new study reveals. 

Natural treatments have become trendy and are all too often presumed ‘safe’ simply because they come from the earth. 

Meanwhile, certain drugs, like marijuana are being more broadly legalized, meaning they’re more accessible to more adults, and risks that their children will get their hands on the substances, too, are increasing. 

Overall, calls over psychoactive – or mind-altering – natural substances have fallen since 2011, according to the new study from the Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s.

But some standout substances have gone dramatically in the opposite direction, including kratom, for which calls have skyrocketed by 5000 percent. 

Poison Control experts say their findings underscore the need for Americans, and parents especially, to treat these natural substances like they would any other drugs: with care. 

Calls to US poison control centers for exposures to 'magic' mushrooms (left) have increased in recent years, accounting for 16% of calls for psychoactive plants, while marijuana-linked (right) calls have surged by 150% since 2000, a new study reveals (file)

Calls to US poison control centers for exposures to ‘magic’ mushrooms (left) have increased in recent years, accounting for 16% of calls for psychoactive plants, while marijuana-linked (right) calls have surged by 150% since 2000, a new study reveals (file)

Although they’re all ‘natural,’ marijuana, kratom, ‘magic’ mushrooms and certain plants like jimson weed still act on the brain.  

Marijuana is now legal in 33 states for either medical or recreational purposes and a record number of Americans now try the drug each year. 

And as a result, more people are overdoing it, or leaving it accessible to inexperienced children and teens who accidentally ingest the drug or unintentionally ingest too much of it. 

For the most part, it was adults who consumed too much of the various substances, making up a 41 percent majority. 

But teenagers weren’t far behind, with 13- to 19-year-olds accounting for 35 percent of the calls. 

‘With edibles and infused products especially, curious children are mistaking them for kid-friendly candy or food, and that poses a very real risk for harm,’ said study co-author and director of the Central Ohio Poison Control Center, Henry Spiller. 

Between 2000 and 2017, marijuana poisonings increased by 150 percent, as measured by calls to US Poison Control Centers. 

Those calls accounted for nearly half (47 percent) of all calls to poison control centers. 

‘As more states continue to legalize marijuana in various forms, parents and health care providers should treat it like any other medication: locked up, away, and out of sight of children,’ Spiller said. 

Magic mushrooms, which have had something of a renaissance in recent years, were responsible for 16 percent of calls and anticholinergic plants – those that cause central nervous system effects, like jimson weed – led to 21 percent of calls. 

This group, combined with the opioid-like herb, kratom, were the most dangerous, leading to the greatest number of hospitalizations. 

Bizarrely, nutmeg, which can cause hallucinations if taken in high enough doses, made the highlights, with a 64 percent increase in poison control calls seen between 200 and 2017.  

No substance had such a startling rise as did kratom, surging by 5000 percent, compared to a 150 percent increase for marijuana. 

Kratom has become a scourge upon the US, a high priority for the Food and Drug Administration which has warned that the drug has no approved uses, despite false advertisements that it is a ‘natural’ opioid withdrawal treatment. 

Long used in traditional medicine in Southeast Asia, kratom is a supplement derived form the tropical tree, mitragyna speciosa, which grows natively in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea. 

Farmers in those countries historically used the kratom as a stimulant, and it was also sometimes used as medicinal herb to treat everything from diarrhea and coughing to pain. 

But some used it for its ability to provide a high. 

In many of the countries where it grows naturally, including Thailand, kratom is now banned, in part due to its health effects. 

It’s recently become trendy in the US, sold as an herbal supplement or a ‘natural’ reliever for opioid withdrawals.  

In fact, US officials discovered that kratom shares enough properties with morphine to make it addictive and dangerous and are now warning against it.

Eight out of the 42 total deaths from psychoactive substances reported in the new study were linked to kratom, according to the findings published in the journal Clinical Toxicology. 

‘These substances have been associated with a variety of serious medical outcomes including seizures and coma in adults and children,’ said Spiller, as he warned that the natural psychedelics need to be treated as drugs, too.     


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