You may already be familiar with kratom or Mitragyna Speciosa, a herbal supplement used for ages in S.E Asia for boosting energy and helping alleviate muscle and bone pains. Extracted from a kind of evergreen plant, kratom is packed with alkaloids called 7-hydroxy mitragynine and mitragynine.
While kratom has a mild stimulating action when consumed in low amounts it can also trigger an opiate-like high when consumed in high doses. Kratom is currently classified by DEA as a “drug of concern”, and has not been accepted for any medical purpose by the FDA.
Other names for Kratom products: Biak, Ketum, Kakuam, Ithang, Thom, Herbal, and Ketum.
The common effects of kratom include pain alleviation, relaxation, spiked mood, raised energy, nausea, sweating, nausea, constipation, more frequent urination, and suppression of appetite.
How to Identify Kratom
Kratom appears in the form of fresh or dried leaves and can be turned into green powder, gum, or pill form. Packages often bear the label “not for human consumption.”Users chew the leaves, brew or turn them into powder to take as tea, food ingredients, or smoke them.
According to FDA studies, kratom acts as an agonist that is attached to mu-opioid receptors inside the brain. These are the same receptors triggered when you use opioids, like heroin or prescription painkillers.
Kratom is a natural opioid. Similar to all opioids, it also bears the risk of dependence, addiction, and withdrawal.
It’s believed that kratom compounds may help alleviate pain by binding to these receptors, which in turn, decrease pain sensitivity.
Kratom has grown in popularity as an opioid alternative as well as a natural alternative to common painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. In several cases, kratom has been used to control chronic pain that results from chronic conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis.
The outcomes of an online survey in 2014, found that the average users of Kratom in the U.S. were middle-class and middle-aged people suffering from chronic pain. More of the 8K+ study respondents claim that they were taking the substance to control their pain and boost their energy and mood.
A smaller but considerable portion claimed they were using it to help them withdraw from opioids or to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms.
What the Experts Claim About Kratom
Advocates of kratom support that the herbal could act as a solution to the opioid epidemic, both by being an alternative to chronic pain relief and by helping those battling to end their opioid dependency.
Published findings of kratom’s potential benefits as a pain controller and opioid alternative though are limited.
The existing research includes a study featured in the International Journal on Drug Policy in 2010, which involved 136 participants who actively took Kratom and found that the herb was described as affordable, easily accessible, and without any adverse side effects from its use. This study did not include any evaluation of kratom’s side effects or potential risks.
However, a more recent report conducted in 2014 featured in Drug and Alcohol Dependence involving 293 subjects who frequently used kratom has found that more than 50% of these users have developed serious addiction symptoms associated with its withdrawal-like sleep problems, muscle spasms, anger, and anxiety.
A rat-based trial published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry in 2016, suggested that kratom may not retard breathing to the same degree as other painkillers like morphine. Because deaths associated with opioid overdose are typically from respiratory depression, the study’s findings indicate that extra research on the active compounds of Kratom is required.
A 2019 review has found that kratom offers some prospective benefits but has a high risk of abuse and negative side effects. The study also indicated that placing the herb behind the drugstore counter could serve as a middle ground between banning the substance and allowing its legal circulation.
The future legal state of Kratom remains uncertain, although the DEA’s previous statements on the matter gave us some signs of what may happen. In 2016, the DEA announced its plans to place two of the active compounds of the herb on its “Schedule I drug list”. Two months later, the DEA took back its notice of intent and released instead an official public commenting period.
Schedule I drugs like heroin and MDMA are currently considered as having no approved medicinal value and a high risk for abuse. Both Mitragynine and 7-hydroxy mitragynine are the Kratom compounds that would be categorized as Schedule I drugs, making ownership or sales of the plant unlawful. Kratom would also remain on the Schedule I list for a minimum of two years.
The DEA’s plans to put mitragynine and 7-hydroxy mitragynine on its “Schedule I drug list” were received with fierce backlash. In mid-September 2016, for instance, protesters held a rally at Lafayette Park in Washington D.C., and showcased a petition with 120K people signs opposing the ban,
At the protest, Botanical Education Alliance director Travis Lowin commented that the DEA has failed its people in its plans to fight the opioid crisis, and scapegoating kratom will only make matters worse.
According to those against the ban, adding kratom’s key compounds on the Schedule 1 drug list would demand extra research on the compounds.
Besides DEA’s stance, the FDA has also released warnings about the possible risks of the substance. In 2017, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, published a public health report on the risks associated with kratom use. From that point, the FDA has amplified its warnings, referring to robust evidence that the uncontrolled herbal substance has opioid-like effects. In the past 18 months, kratom was a determining factor behind more than 90 deadly overdoses. However, in many of these cases, users also took heroin and fentanyl.
In 2018, STAT stated that the Department of Health & Human Services had suggested a ban on the chemicals found in kratom.
Since 2020, state regulation remains pending, as the controversy over the herb goes on. The FDA sends warnings to sellers of Kratom in the U.S. that sell and promote the drug as a natural supplement to alleviate addiction, pain, depression, anxiety, and other health problems. Only FDA-certified drugs can legally make such treatment claims. The future legal state of Kratom has yet to be determined.
Typical Side Effects of Kratom
Although case studies have reported irritability, elevated blood pressure, concentration problems, sleeping problems, palpitations, dizziness, hepatitis, and coma in extreme cases, it’s unclear how many of these are directly associated with kratom use alone.
Side effects seem to be more pronounced when the herb is consumed in concentrated liquid form, combined with other narcotic substances, drugs, or when it’s used by those suffering from alcohol or heroin addiction, or specific chronic health conditions.
Possible adverse effects include:
- Cheek discoloration
- Dry mouth
- Increased social activity
- More frequent urination
- Insomnia/sleep problems
- Loss of appetite
- Psychotic episodes (hallucinations, delusion, confusion)
- Sensitivity to sunburn
- Talking too much
Based on reports by the U.S. poison effect control lines, calls for kratom overdoses have multiplied 50X from 2011 to 2016. In the majority of cases, Kratom was taken with other narcotics. If you or a loved one are currently suffering from overdose symptoms, call 911 immediately or the Poison Control helpline at 800-222-1222.
Signs that someone is using Kratom
If a loved one is taking kratom, it’s paramount to watch out for common signs such as mania, raised social behavior, loss of appetite, itching, dizziness, as well as mental symptoms like mood swings and abnormal changes in social behavior, appearance, and general mental state.
Frequent Questions About Kratom
Many people assume that because kratom is a herb, it’s generally safe to use. However, it’s best to keep in mind that herbal supplements aren’t controlled by the FDA before they hit the shelves.
Therefore, there is no assurance that a supplement will contain all the compounds listed on its label or that those ingredients will show up in the given amounts. Infiltration with other narcotics, herbs, and supplements is also possible. For example, in 2018, more than 199 Americans got sick after taking Salmonella-contaminated Kratom.
Kratom Sensitivity, Dependence, and Withdrawal
Kratom bears a risk of sensitivity, addiction, and withdrawal. People using kratom can develop a tolerance or the requirements to take more to get the desired effect and encounter withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance.
How Long Does Kratom Stay Inside Your Body?
More studies need to be conducted to find the exact half-life of kratom. Similar to other substances, the existence of kratom in your body depends on the following parameters:
- Body fat and mass
- Metabolic rhythms
- Kratom class
- Water and food consumption
Kratom’s key active compound, mitragynine, can be found in a urine test.
DEA states that kratom overuse can trigger addiction and lead to psychotic symptoms like confusion, hallucinations, and delusions.
Not every user will develop addiction in the same manner; however, many general indicators and symptoms suggest kratom addiction. Other common indicators of Kratom abuse include:
- Changes in friends and acquaintances
- Changes in mood, sleeping habits, weight, and physical activity levels
- Financial problems
- Loss of previous interest in hobbies, social events, or job or school
- Secretiveness, lying frequently about behavior, stealing
- Keeping piles of drugs or paraphernalia
- Difficulty recovering or stopping drug
- Spending more and more time getting, taking, and scaling back from the drug
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
People who consume large doses of kratom multiple times daily are at a higher risk of developing mild to severe withdrawal symptoms. In most cases, however, these symptoms are less intense compared to opioid withdrawal and may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Hot flashes
- Pronounced muscle spasms and pain
- Mood imbalances
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
How To Get Help For Taking Kratom
Living with chronic pain is challenging. If you suffer from pain, you may already realize the deep mark it can leave on the quality of your life.
If you are thinking of trying kratom, you should consult your doctor first. Some pain management healthcare centers use both conventional and alternative treatment modalities to mitigate pain. For instance, practicing mindfulness may help some people manage their pain despite their daily struggles.
If you chose to use kratom as a DIY treatment and have noticed that it has started to take control of your life, don’t wait anymore to seek help. A trusted healthcare provider can help place you on the right track towards recovery.