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Kratom: Helpful Herb Or Toxic Substance? 

by Suzette Gomez ❘  

What Is Kratom?

Kratom (Mitragyna Speciosa) is a tropical tree from Southeast Asia. It is traditionally used as medicine by Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea natives. Recently the drug has been marketed and sold for recreational use, pain relief, and as treatment for Opioid addiction. However, it is not FDA approved for use and is illegal in 6 American states. The herb is typically found in capsules, tablets, or extract form. It can also be smoked, chewed, or boiled into a tea and has various nicknames like Herbal Speedball, Thom, and Biak. If used in high doses, Kratom reacts like a depressant while inducing euphoric effects. When used in low doses, the drug creates a stimulating effect on the body.

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Kratom And Opioids

Though it is not medically recommended, Kratom is sought out for its Opioid-like properties. The drug’s sedative-inducing compounds mitragynine and 7-a-hydroxy mitragynine attach to the brain’s Opioid receptors and produce a form of pain relief much like Codeine and Morphine. Some have used the drug as a form of medical treatment for alcohol and Opioid addiction. According to Kratom lobbyists and advocacy groups, the herb curbs Opioid cravings and urges to use. However, there is no scientific evidence that the tropical plant is a safe form of therapy.

The Side Effects

Although there are people who believe in Kratom’s value, researchers argue otherwise. For example, from 2011 to 2017, Americans reported around 1,800 Kratom-related incidents to US poison control centers. Over 50% of those reports resulted in seizures, high blood pressure, and even death. Kratom’s accessibility and lack of regulation adds to the already considerable uncertainty of its health risks. When taken without medical supervision, the tropical leaves can have serious side effects which offset any potential benefits.

Some of Kratoms physical side effects include:

  • Nausea 
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Muscle pain
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Thyroid problems
  • Tongue numbness
  • Changes in urination and constipation
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Liver damage
  • Coma
  • Death

It also can result in mental and psychological side effects like:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusion
  • Depression
  • Aggression
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures 

Controversial Kratom Evidence And Findings

In the US, Kratom is commonly sold as an energy booster, mood enhancer, and treatment for Opioids. However, the herb is listed as a drug of concern by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Though it is not a controlled substance, recent findings show that Kratom is dangerous and addictive when taken regularly. According to a 6-month cross-sectional survey of 293 regular Kratom users, almost 50% of participants developed severe dependence problems. The other half showed a moderate dependence. Nearly 100% of the individuals who participated in the study developed a level of Kratom dependence, and many later battled withdrawal symptoms.

Unfortunately, much like Opioids, Kratom can be highly addictive. Research shows that it is associated with drug dependency, the development of withdrawal symptoms, and cravings. The longer a person uses the drug, the likelier they are to experience severe withdrawal symptoms. A different study surveyed 150 people and discovered that 70% experienced mild anxiety after quitting Kratom while 30% battled moderate anxiety. The study also found that 81% of respondents reported mild depression. In comparison, 19% were confirmed to have moderate depression after quitting Kratom use.

Lack Of Regulation

Kratom’s lack of regulation has led to companies taking advantage of its popularity. There are several companies selling products with Kratom labeled as pain relievers. Many others are making “deceptive medical claims” like it is effective against cancer. However, there is no scientific evidence to support these declarations. Such unproven claims instead spread misinformation and negatively influence patients from seeking adequate care.

Final Verdict

As of now, Kratom is not a safe alternative for Opioid treatment or any other condition. The drug is not federally regulated. There is little to no control or reliable information on its growth, processing, or labeling. The uncertainty surrounding the herb only adds to its undeniable health risks and amplifies its high addiction rate.

Treatment For Kratom Addiction

If you or someone you love is using Kratom, please reach out for help. There are no FDA-approved uses for Kratom. Based on recent findings, the drug’s Opioid-like properties may lead to addiction, abuse, and dependence. If you notice that you have developed a dependency or someone you know, there is support available. Contact a treatment provider to discuss options for treatment or if you have rehab-related questions. Do not continue using Kratom without consulting a medical professional. Find help today.

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