Kratom comes from the leaves of the tropical evergreen tree, Mitragyna speciosa. Photo by Twenty20Photos.
In Southeast Asia, Natives have long used the leaves of the Kratom tree as a stimulant to sustain energy throughout hard day labor, as a painkiller, an anti-diarrhea medicine and a recreational drug.
Traditional and modern applications overlap because of the effect of the leaf extract, which has gained popularity in the U.S. and Europe in the last two decades, according to the Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation Journal.
While there have been efforts in the U.S. to outlaw kratom, there are many who believe it has lots of benefits. At the same time, there has been significant opposition to kratom in the U.S.
What Exactly is Kratom?
Kratom comes from the leaves of the Kratom tree, a tropical evergreen tree (Mitragyna speciosa), reports Mayo Clinic. It commonly grows in Southeast Asia, including countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Many use this natural plant compound as an herbal supplement. It’s also frequently used in medicine, and consumers report advantages such as increased energy and pain alleviation.
People who advocate for the use of kratom believe that it alleviates not just severe pain, but also stress and anxiety. There have been a number of scientific studies indicating that kratom may be effective in treating addictions, especially opioid addiction.
A study published in the Current Drug Targets Journal, shows that besides its analgesic properties, kratom can also be an agent to overcome opioid withdrawal. It contains natural alkaloids such as mitragynine, MGM-9 and 7-hydroxymitragynine, which are affinitive to opioid receptors. This makes kratom a substitute therapy in treating addictions from opioids.
In places where officials have not presently prohibited kratom, individuals may purchase it over the internet. It is usually available as an extract or gum.
Is it Legal in the U.S.?
In general, kratom is now legal in the U.S., but there are a few details to be aware of. The most crucial point to know is that, regardless of whether kratom is federally lawful, several states have outlawed it or are in the process of regulating or prohibiting it.
For instance, in Alabama, as of 2016, kratom is a schedule I substance, according to the Recovery Village. Also, in that year, officials added kratom to the controlled substance list in Arkansas. It was also added to the same list in Tennessee. In Indiana, kratom is considered as a synthetic drug and is banned. Additionally, in Wisconsin, kratom’s alkaloids are classified as schedule I. In California, kratom is legal, but in San Diego a local ordinance outlawed it.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is still debating whether or not to federally permit kratom. There are calls for U.S. officials to make it illegal since it has psychotropic effects and the potential to become addictive.
But supporters argue that it might be the answer to fighting the nation’s opioid problem.
The Extract’s Effects
When used in small quantities, kratom acts as a stimulant, says the DEA’s drug fact sheet. In large quantities, it usually serves as a sedative, interacting with the brain’s opioid receptors, which is how the plant creates effects such as relaxation, pleasure, and pain alleviation. However, when someone consumes a small amount of the plant’s extract, it works as a booster on other brain receptors. Consequently, the individual who takes it will typically feel more energized, alert, and talkative.
While kratom acts on the brain in the same way that opioids do, it does not cause some of the most severe side effects of drugs, such as slowed oxygen intake and digestive problems, according to Very Well Mind. But research on the substance is limited, and the question about potential side effects remains unanswered.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted an 18-month evaluation of 27,000 overdose fatalities ending in December 2017. Medical examiners determined that kratom is a cause of death in 91 of 27,000. However, this number pales in comparison to the mortality toll from opioids, which was over 48,000 in 2017, according to federal data.
Many individuals may use kratom because they have an untreated mental condition, according to the Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal. It also might help them overcome their anxiety and become more calm or social. Besides that, kratom may reduce side effects of other serious illnesses, such as insomnia, nausea and constipation.
According to the Addiction Journal, individuals also use kratom to replace addiction to other opioids. For example, a study in the aforementioned journal suggests that kratom may assist those who are addicted to opioids such as heroin. This is because it binds to the same receptors in the brain.
Many users take kratom to get the benefits without having to worry about it showing up on a drug test; kratom is not detectable by the same drug tests that detect illegal substances like cocaine or cannabis. This has made its use appealing among some groups of people whose employers constantly drug test them, such as military personnel, transportation and logistics workers, and hospital staff, according to the Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation Journal.
Is Kratom Addictive?
The DEA and the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are now actively monitoring it and refer to it as a “drug of concern.”
While it is not officially a restricted substance, officials believe it is potentially addictive. As a result, people can acquire a physical dependence to it, especially if they misuse it on a regular basis. The reason for this is that, like heroin and other highly addictive drugs, kratom acts on the opioid receptors in the brain, which may become dependent on it, according to the American Addiction Centers.
“Kratom appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse and dependence,” warns the FDA.
While many promote and sell kratom, it’s still a dark street in the city of U.S. drug administration.
But all in all, the research is so minimal that even the government doesn’t know how to schedule it.