San Diego

Boutique Chula Vista ‘Drug Store' Offers Controversial Natural Remedy

Federal agencies warn of Kratom's dangers despite it's legal status in all but one local city

Tucked away in an Eastlake business center is a store unlike any other in San Diego County.

Bumble Bee Botanicals is a clean, airy and welcoming space that sells just one product in many different varieties and forms.

That product is Kratom, an unregulated drug made from the leaves of a tropical plant grown in Southeast Asia.

Andrew Graham, a Kratom entrepreneur, opened his store last week. He said business is already good, despite a location that's far from convenient for many county residents.

"A lot of people that take it are people with chronic pain issues," Graham told NBC 7 San Diego. "People who have had addictions to opiates, people who have had addictions to alcohol."

The American Kratom Association says four million Americans have used Kratom for a variety of other ills, including mild depression, anxiety and lack of energy.

Graham sells three strains of Kratom: red, green and white. Each strain has several varieties. Graham says the different strains have a different impact on the user's mental state, not unlike the different strains of marijuana sold in local dispensaries.

The Kratom powder at Bumble Bee Boutique is pre-packaged in capsules. It's also sold in powder form, by the gram, and as liquid extract.

"It's stronger than the powdered leaf," Graham said of the extract. "So you need to take much less."

Kratom can be bought, sold and used legally in 17 or 18 cities in San Diego County. It is illegal only in the city of San Diego, which has stricter laws governing the smoke shops where Kratom is most often sold.

Graham sees a big, untapped market for his product, and he makes no apologies for selling it.

"It's important that people have the freedom to choose what works for their body, what works for them," he said. "If they want to take it, if it's not harming anyone, I don't see an issue with that."

But the federal regulators couldn't disagree more.

The D.E.A. and F.D.A. are at war with Kratom, which they say is unsafe and potentially addictive. The F.D.A. recently cautioned that imported Kratom powder could be tainted with potentially deadly Salmonella.

The state poison control system has taken more than 100 calls for help from Kratom users who overdosed or had bad side-effects in the past three years.

And the San Diego County Medical Examiner linked 15 deaths to Kratom in the past four years. With one exception, all those who died had also abused other dangerous drugs.

But as long as it's legal, Andrew Graham says storefronts like his will be a dependable source for Kratom.

"It's good for business," he said. "And it feels good, too."

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