Kratom is one of the most controversial medical substances on the market and was close to being classified as a Schedule I drug alongside marijuana and other illegal substances such as heroin and LSD. Its opponents say it is no better than the opioids that are killing thousands of Americans per year.
Its proponents say it is a life-saving drug capable of easing some of the most severe symptoms of various medical conditions plus it can help people wean off more harmful drugs such as fentanyl. So what is all the fuss about kratom? Read on to find out.
What Is Kratom?
The kratom (also known as mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical evergreen tree that belongs to the coffee family. It grows in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand and the leaves of the tree contain properties that resemble what is offered by opioids and stimulants.
The leaves of the kratom tree have been used to relieve pain by people in the aforementioned Southeast Asian nations for centuries. While some people eat the leaves raw, it is more common to crush them into tablets, liquids, and capsules for easier consumption. It acts as a stimulant in low doses and as a sedative in larger doses. While the usage of kratom in Europe and North America could hardly be classified as ‘widespread,’ it has become more popular in the western world since the early 21st century.
How does Kratom Work?
To date, there has yet to be detailed human research, so most of what we know about kratom comes from tests on mice. In these rodents, it targets the same part of the brain that responds to drugs such as fentanyl, morphine, and codeine; otherwise known as opioids.
Researchers have discovered approximately 20 biologically active chemicals in the drug including a number that binds opioid receptors in the brain; this could lead to dependence and addiction, and there are reports of kratom addiction in the United States; albeit far fewer than individuals addicted to opioids.
Otherwise, medical experts acknowledge that kratom is poorly understood at present. On the one hand, anecdotal reports suggest it could work well as an opioid substitute. On the other hand, there are instances where an overdose of kratom has proven fatal.
To experience stimulant-like effects, it is advisable to take no more than 1-5 grams of kratom. You should feel the effects within 10 minutes and experience them for up to 90 minutes. As kratom contains a unique mix of chemicals, its short-term effects are extremely variable. For example, you may feel a pleasant sensation with 5 grams of kratom one day; the same dose on another day could leave you feeling anxious and agitated.
Moderate to high doses of kratom (5 – 15 grams) provide opioid-like effects that last for hours although the euphoric ‘high’ tend to be less intense than with typical opioids. You should not consume more than 15 grams of kratom in a single dose as it could render you unconscious.
Legality & Controversy on Kratom
Kratom was first used as a substitute for opium in Malaysia in 1836 and had the same role in Thailand within a few decades. Its use spread to the United States, and its popularity grew in the early part of this century. However, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) viewed the drug negatively, and in 2013, it claimed that kratom had “no legitimate medical use.”
Its use was restricted in various countries in Europe, and by 2011, kratom was controlled in nations such as Sweden, Romania, and Denmark. The export, import, and sale of the substance was prohibited under the Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 in the United Kingdom. By 2013, it had been listed as a product that could not be used in health supplements and traditional medicines traded across ASEAN nations.
It seemed certain that the United States was about to follow suit as concerns about kratom grew. Finally, the DEA issued a ‘notice of intent’ to classify kratom as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin, LSD, and others in August 2016; it was set to temporarily place the drug on the Schedule I list pending further research on September 30. The DEA and FDA decided that kratom was an “imminent hazard to public safety” and it seemed as if users of the leaf would be forced to return to their opioids.
Then a funny thing happened; kratom users got very, very angry! Approximately 130,000 people signed a whitehouse.gov petition to stop the DEA from continuing its anti-kratom action. 51 House members signed a letter urging the DEA to delay the decision pending public comment. The pro-kratom movement grew so large, so quickly, that the DEA did the unthinkable and performed a volte-face. On October 12, the agency announced that it would allow six weeks of public comment before taking action.
At the time of writing, Kratom is banned in nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
What Does Kratom Treat?
At present, kratom is primarily used to treat the severe pain associated with a variety of symptoms. It is being championed as a much safer alternative to opioids such as oxycontin because the analgesic of the alkaloids and the kratom leaves’ nutrients impact the hormonal system quickly and relieve pain. You can mask the pain in your body by increasing the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the body, and this is what kratom leaves are supposed to do.
There is also a suggestion that kratom’s alkaloids have a beneficial effect on the immune system. Proponents of kratom also claim that it increases your energy levels by optimizing specific metabolic processes and impacting the body’s hormone levels. Other possible uses for kratom include:
- Sexual stimulant
- Reducing anxiety
- Improving cardiovascular health
- Diabetes treatment
Medical Research on Kratom
A 2016 study by Susrata Majumdar et al. looked at the impact of kratom on mice. The study found that while kratom targets the part of the brain that responds to opioids, it doesn’t lead to similar harmful side effects as drugs such as morphine (users can experience physical dependence, constipation, and respiratory depression). This is significant because a large proportion of opioid deaths are as a result of respiratory depression. According to Majumdar, “there is early promise, and scheduling is premature in my opinion.”
Several studies suggest kratom could be used to help patients wean themselves off harder drugs such as opioids, but perhaps the biggest body of evidence comes from users themselves. Sarah Blyth runs a DIY overdose center in Vancouver, Canada, and she says that kratom is extremely effective when it comes to helping patients drop harder drugs. Blyth claims there have been no negative reactions and while kratom sometimes doesn’t help, she believes it has saved a number of addicts.
Possible Side Effects & Overall Safety of Kratom
Perhaps the biggest issue people have with kratom is its apparent propensity to cause addiction. Walter C. Prozialeck, Ph.D., is the chairman of Illinois’ Midwestern University, and he conducted a review of over 100 kratom studies. He discovered that in practically every instance of kratom side effects, there were other issues such as the involvement of other drugs or existing health problems.
Prozialeck is astonished that kratom went from being sold as a health supplement with little or no regulation to almost being completely banned, with no middle ground. He confirmed that the vast majority of the scientific community believes that far more research must be conducted on kratom before anyone can jump to conclusions.
For the record, possible side effects when using kratom range from mild to dangerous and include:
- Nausea & vomiting
- Loss of motor coordination
Serious long-term side effects include:
- Hyper pigmentation
The CDC states that 42% of kratom use between 2010 and 2015 resulted in non-life threatening side effects that required treatment. In 7% of cases, the side effects were classified as ‘life-threatening’. The DEA says there were 15 kratom-related deaths between 2014 and 2016. Proponents of kratom will point out that up to 33,000 people die because of opioids each year.
Where Can You Purchase Kratom?
Given the controversy surrounding kratom, it is best to stick to the handful of reputable suppliers online. If you are taking kratom for the first time, make sure you keep the dose as small as 1 gram per day to see how it affects you. The best way to consume kratom is via capsules as you don’t have to worry about the taste.
CBDEssence is one of the few online suppliers that sell high-quality kratom in safe doses. It offers a 60-capsule container of kratom; each capsule has 1 gram of the substance which means you can begin with one a day and see how your body reacts.
Like all drugs, kratom is potentially harmful if used irresponsibly. However, in sensible doses, it could provide you with a pain reliever that is less addictive and harmful than opioids.
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