COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Jack Smith says Kratom saved his life.

“After I got to clean about three and a half years ago, a buddy of mine from Indonesia called me and said, “Jack you have to try this. I know how depressed you are,” Smith described. “So he sent it to me, and I literally cried the first time I tried it. It was the first time I felt like the Jack I knew years ago before I started the pills.” 

Kratom is already illegal in a handful of states and cities throughout the United States, and now, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy is recommending the same thing. Smith says he believes the pharmaceutical industry lobby is pushing for it.

“If you ask me, it’s going to affect so much of pharmaceutical sales. That’s just my heart, when you affect somebody’s income… Suboxone, the pain pills, opiates… whatever it is. I get it but to come in and say, “we’re making this a schedule one drug.”

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Smith was a NASCAR driver. In 2007 he broke his neck. He was put on pain pills and got addicted.

“I lost my contract. I was making $2.5 million a year, and I lost my contract because of my opiate problem,” said Smith.

He also says he has seen Kratom save the lives of thousands of other people.

“I had people coming in fully withdrawing off of heroin, as sick as can be. I know how that feels. I don’t wish that on anyone in the world. That’s the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my life. I would make them a drink. It would stop their withdrawals in 15 minutes. I’ve had grown man cry…. I’ve seen it hundreds of times.”

That kind of transformation doesn’t happen in the shop anymore. In the fall of 2018, Smith’s shop, Life of Kratom, was shut down for violations. He was giving out what the state of Ohio says is medical advice by telling people how to use Kratom powder and the ailments he says it can help treat.

He’s very careful with how he talks about the product now.

“It’s just a leaf from Indonesia and Thailand. It’s been around for thousands of years. It’s really just catching on in the last five years or so here in the United States. I have to be careful; I’m not a physician, so I can’t tell you any claims,” Smith said when asked to describe the product.

“My biggest thing that I fight right now is agriculture and pharmaceuticals, because when I have people come in into the store and they ask, “what is Kratom?” or “how do I take it?,”  I’m trying to live by all the rules and make everyone happier, and I can’t tell them,” Smith explained.

Smith says people can’t OD or die from Kratom, but he says if they take too much, they can get dizzy and vomit.

“It’s a shame that I can’t tell people that,” he said.

However, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy says Kratom is listed as the cause of death for six people in 2016 and 2017 and has recommended it be added to the list of Schedule 1 drugs.

Smith disputes that claim but does say the industry could benefit from regulations.

“You can’t die from this stuff. Every case they’ve had from someone passing away, some other drug was in it… opiates, fentanyl, Xanax… there was always something in there. It was never just Kratom,” he said. “So I tell people, to me [the Ohio Board of Pharmacy] is using it as a scare tactic. And I think, in the next year, you see all the studies coming out, they’ll find out the truth about it.”

“If there are regulations on it, I think there needs to be regulations on testing and making sure the stores are legit,” Smith added. “I’m probably going to get a lot of flack over this, but I don’t think it needs to be head shops and stuff like that.”

People use Kratom for a variety of reasons and to holistically treat ailments. Chronic pain, anxiety, lethargy, and insomnia are just a few examples.

“What really amazes me is 40 percent of my business is 60 and over,” Smith said. “It’s amazing how many elderly people are coming here and using more holistic ways of managing… whether it’s pain… whatever it is.”

Smith has a message for those who think Kratom should be made illegal: “I tell pharmaceutical… I tell anybody… the politicians… come sit in my store. I welcome you. Come sit in my store for a day, three days, and just listen to the stories. I’m not a physician, I will tell you that, but what I can tell you is it’s amazing the number of people that come in here and how it’s changed their lives.”