March 24, 2021

Health Information on Vendor Sites is "Poor," New Study Finds

In a new study, Canadian researchers investigated the quality of consumer health information on kratom vendor sites. They used factors like reliability, scientific corroboration, and bias to score the quality of information on a five-point scale. The average overall information score was 36.95 out of 75, which the researchers described as "poor."

In Canada, kratom is not approved for sale as a consumable good but can be purchased as a non-consumable product. As a result, Canadians typically turn to the internet to research and purchase the plant. Recognizing this, the researchers sought to investigate what type of information Canadians might be receiving.

To do so, the researchers used Google Search to simulate the experience of a typical kratom information seeker. They searched for keywords like “buy kratom online”, “buy mitragyna speciosa”, “purchase kratom online”, and “purchase mitragyna speciosa online.” They then listed the kratom vendor sites that appeared in Google Search results and excluded some based on their criteria. For instance, the researchers excluded purely informational sites like Kratomaton from the study.

To assess the quality of consumer health information that appeared on 51 eligible vendor sites, the researchers used the "DISCERN" system. It scores the quality of consumer health information on a five-point scale across fifteen criteria, with one representing the lowest quality and five representing the highest. The scoring criteria include assessment questions like:

  • Does the vendor site describe the risks of each treatment?

  • Does the vendor site provide details of additional sources of support and information?

  • Is it clear that there may be more than one possible treatment choice?

The highest-scoring vendor sites were Canada Kratom Express, which scored 51; Kratora, which scored 45.5; and Kratom Spot, which scored 44.

When assessing whether information on vendor sites was balanced and unbiased, 84% of sites received an average score of less than three. For the researchers, that score reflected "... the fact that many websites presented questionable information or promotional material on their website."

Additionally, of the assessed vendor websites:

  • 16% supported their claims about kratom with peer-reviewed literature or government websites

  • 33% scored three or higher for correctly describing the benefits of each treatment

  • 16% scored three or higher for correctly describing the risks of each treatment

  • 2% described how kratom might impact one's overall quality of life

With a low average overall DISCERN score of 36.95, the researchers concluded that "These online vendors often failed to provide consumers with high-quality consumer health information pertaining to kratom as a suitable product option." However, the researchers acknowledged that kratom vendors are dedicated to generating sales, which often precludes them from providing information that could negatively affect sales. The researchers also noted that the poor quality of information on kratom-selling sites isn't exclusive to kratom: Studies investigating other herbal product websites via the DISCERN system have also produced low average scores.

Nonetheless, the researchers believe their findings will help healthcare providers understand what kind of information might be motivating kratom use among their patients. "This study provides healthcare practitioners with a better understanding of the quality of information currently available to patients with an expressed interest in purchasing kratom. Physicians, among other healthcare providers, may use this information to better counsel their patients about the benefits, risks, and the quality of information surrounding kratom use."

Strangely, the researchers stated that they only evaluated vendors that ship kratom products to Canada. However, many (if not most) of the vendor sites they assessed don't currently ship to Canada.

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