Kratom is a substance found in the Kratom tree native to Southeast Asia. When consumed, it causes psychotropic (mind-altering) effects, yet it is not illegal. In fact, it can easily be found through the internet or sold in vitamin stores. Kratom also goes by other names such as Biak, Ketum, Kakuam, Ithang, and Thom. It has been advertised as many things, including a mood enhancer, pain reliever, energy booster, and even an antidote for opioid withdrawal.
There are multiple ways to ingest kratom. The leaves can be chewed and then swallowed dry, or brewed into a tea. The extract of these leaves can be used to make a liquid product that is marketed as a treatment for pain. Kratom is also marketed to treat panic attacks or suppress appetite. At low doses, kratom is a stimulant that does indeed give the user a boost of energy, which varies with the dosage amount. With higher doses kratom can reduce pain and even possibly bring on a state of euphoria.
Kratom is not only used as a vitamin supplement or a pain reliever, it is also commonly consumed at music festivals as a recreational stimulant. The assumption is that this is a safe stimulant because it is a plant substance, and therefore natural and safe to use. The issue is with assuming that just because it is plant-based, it is safe to use without a doctor’s order. According to the Center on Addiction, the Food and Drug Administration has warned users about ‘deadly risks’ that can be associated with consuming kratom and that it should be treated as seriously as other addictive substances like opioids. Kratom is also listed as a controlled substance in sixteen countries and banned in several states in America.
Regardless of being a substance found in nature, there are still concerns about the effects it has on the brain and body. One of the issues is that the levels of active ingredients within kratom plants can vary greatly, and this makes it difficult to gauge the effects of each given dose. Mayo Clinic cited that poison control centers received around 1,800 reports involving kratom use from 2011 to 2017, which included reports of death. Half of these reports had serious negative outcomes such as seizures and high blood pressure. These issues arise because kratom messes up the natural process of the synapses in the brain. How?
According to DrugAbuse.gov, the effects of kratom on the brain are similar to both stimulants and opioids. Kratom contains two compounds that interact with the opioid receptors in the brain. Much like opioids, kratom reduces pain responses and causes sedation, depending on the amount taken. While doing this, kratom also interacts with other receptors in the brain which produces stimulant effects. Small amounts of kratom seems to have the opposite effect, leading to an increase in energy and alertness. While these are the desired effects, the side effects make many experts feel that the potential for negative effects offset any benefit that kratom may have.
Kratom’s known side effects include:
· Liver Damage
· Dry Mouth
· Chills, nausea, and vomiting
· Muscle Pain
· Weight Loss
· Loss of Appetite
Kratom does not only have physical side effects, but it can also affect the mind and nervous system. Side effects include:
· Hallucination and Delusions
· Breathing Suppression
Many people seek out kratom as a safe alternative to opioids and other pain killers, but studies have shown many safety concerns and no clear benefits of use. Reports of it’s use come with statements of abnormal brain function when taken with prescription medicines. The reports of abnormal brain function include a severe headache, loss of the ability to communicate, or confusion. Kratom is also sometimes used as a treatment for opioid withdrawal symptoms. A study was run testing this theory and the results showed that people reported the same withdrawal symptoms similar to those that happen after opioid use, some even began to become addicted to the substance.
The addictive properties are common with other substances which also have opioid-like effects. Studies on kratom show that users become dependent and feel physical withdrawal whenever the substance is not entering their system. Withdrawal from kratom comes with similar symptoms to other opioid-like drugs as well. Those symptoms include:
· Emotion Changes
· Muscle Aches
· Jerky Movements
While the symptoms of addiction and withdrawal from kratom are similar to those of opioid-like substances, there are no medical treatments currently for the addiction to kratom. There are reports of behavioral therapy being helpful, but there is not enough research done for this to have an accurate treatment method.
According to acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless during a statement made in June 2019, “We have issued numerous warnings about the serious risks associated with the use of kratom, including warnings about the contamination of kratom products with high rates of salmonella that put people using kratom products at risk, and resulted in numerous illnesses and recalls”. Dr. Sharpless also stated that companies continue to sell this substance and make false medical claims that are not backed by research or any medical evidence.
In conclusion, while there are many claims that kratom has several benefits for health and wellness, it is still not a regulated substance. This means that it has not gone through the proper channels to prove that it is safe for one time or even long-term use. According to Dr. Peter Grinspoon, the issue with lack of kratom regulation is not only a lack of research on the substance but if you buy it there is no way of knowing what you are truly purchasing. Sellers can put whatever they want into a capsule and claim it is kratom because of the lack of oversight on growth, packaging, production, or sales. This is one of the many problems surrounding kratom and what makes it so dangerous.
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