Just a few years ago, hardly anyone had heard of kratom, and although many people still have never heard of this substance, it is becoming better known and is appearing in the media nationwide. Why? Well, some people consider it a natural miracle drug, and sing its praises for its ability to treat pain, inspire focus, and lessen the negative side effects of opiate withdrawal. On the other hand, some report negative experiences up to and including death, and as a result, some people are calling for it to be added to the federal list of Schedule I Controlled Substances. So what is it, then? Is kratom good or is it bad? Read on to find out more about this substance, and to form your own opinion about whether or not kratom is right for you.
What is Kratom?
Kratom is a brownish, greenish powder made from the leaves of the mitragyne speciosa tree, a tropical evergreen tree that is native to Southeast Asia. This plant, which is a member of the coffee family, is indigenous to Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea specifically. It has been used in traditional medicine in that region since at least the 1800s for conditions such as coughs, diarrhea, and intestinal infections, as an anesthetic, and in the areas of mood and sexual enhancement. In most cases, it is ingested orally, and because of its intensely bitter taste, it is usually combined with a sweetener. Once eaten, its effects begin in five to ten minutes, and last for between two and five hours.
It is interesting and difficult to classify because it has properties of both opioids and stimulants. These two types of drugs seem to be polar opposites, so it is confusing to imagine that something can be a pain reliever and a stimulant at the same time. Unfortunately, there has been little research on kratom, and the research that does exist is of poor quality and is rarely peer reviewed. However, despite the limited scientific investigation into this substance and its possible benefits, the Food and Drug Administration announced in February of this year that there is no evidence than kratom is effective for anything, and it is unsafe.
Many users, however, would beg to differ. People in the United States and other countries similar to ours are using kratom to self-treat various ailments – chronic pain and to treat opiate withdrawal in particular. Other people use it recreationally. Kratom is a controlled substance in sixteen countries, and is banned in six states (AL, AR, IN, TN, VT, & WI), and in the District of Columbia, but there is no federal law outlawing it or even regulating it currently. In 2016, the United States federal government did move to list it as a controlled substance, but public outcry – including some congressional support – has kept it legal for now, at least.
Benefits of Kratom
Proponents of kratom claim that it has a wide variety of medical uses, and many feel very strongly that using kratom has changed their lives. There are countless first-hand accounts by people who have been helped by kratom and these people want to see it remain legal for consumption by the public without a doctor’s prescription or interference. The conditions kratom can help are numerous and varied.
- Pain reliever. Kratom leaves, when chewed, or the powder made from them, when ingested, is said to be a fantastic natural pain reliever. Pain relief is the primary use of kratom among users. Taken in small doses, it can treat muscular pain, pain from multiple sclerosis, and bone and joint pains.
- Energy booster. The leaves of the mitragyne speciosa tree are popular with some laborers in countries it grows in Southeast Asia because chewing them helps give them additional energy from working. It is believed that the increased circulation that is initiated by these leaves is the cause; it helps to more quickly spread oxygenated blood to all parts of the body.
- Anxiety reducer. Some people use kratom to decrease their anxiety levels without using a narcotic or other pharmaceutical. Kratom helps to regulate the hormones in our bodies, thereby helping people to remain calm and avoid mood swings.
- Sexual stimulator. Based on at least one study using mice in a lab, mice given kratom had higher quantities of sperm and their sperm was more viable than mice who hadn’t taken kratom, too. These factors, combined with the energy booster aspect of this substance, lead to many users ingesting kratom to help them stay energetic for sexual activity or to increase the likelihood of conception.
- Blood sugar regulator. Kratom leaves have been used to treat diabetes. Some research has shown that the alkaloids found In the leaves of the mitragyne speciosa tree are able to regulate the amount of insulin and glucose in the blood, leveling out the ups and downs that diabetics often face.
- Opiate/opioid withdrawal reliever. One of the most popular uses for kratom is to help people through withdrawal when quitting opiates or opioids. In fact, some reports suggest that as many as 70% of people using kratom are using it for that purpose. Medium doses (5-15 grams) have been shown to produce euphoric and pain relieving sedative effects that allow some people to replace opioids and manage pain. In the countries where the mitragyne speciocsa tree is indigenous, individuals suffering addiction to opium often chew the leaves for a similar sensation without the comedowns or negative side effects. In this way, people trying to get off opiates in Western countries now emulate this behavior with similar goals.
Sounds like a miracle substance, doesn’t it? All of these benefits are clearly amazing, and it seems that there may be some excellent medical applications for kratom. However, there has been little research on the effectiveness or safety of its use at this point, and that is where the potential danger lies.
Fears and Concerns About Kratom
Although there seem to be many benefits to using kratom, there are also many apparent risks, although most reports suggest that the worst of the negative side effects are usually due to taking too much. A small dose of kratom is usually in the range of one to five grams, and a medium dose is between five and ten grams. In most cases, kratom only becomes dangerous when an individual ingests fifteen grams or more at one time.
The negative effects can be extremely negative – in some cases, deaths have even been reported. When the FDA was moving to regulate kratom, it said it was aware of thirty-six deaths in the United States involving it. However, later reports suggested that these deaths were actually due to other things such as suicide or deep vein thrombosis, and that kratom being in the deceased’s system may have been irrelevant. However, other countries that have outlawed kratom also believe it to be deadly, although most research indicates that even in foreign cases, the deaths usually occurred when kratom was mixed with opioids.
However, taking large dosed of kratom can result in some confirmed conditions including nausea, vomiting, and constipation. Individuals who are severely effected by its ingestion could experience respiratory depression, seizure, and psychosis. Doctors have reported users presenting with high heart rate, high blood pressure, and difficulty sleeping, as well.
Further, there are some indications that kratom itself may be addictive, since users often report some withdrawal symptoms when stopping use. Insomnia, aches and pains, watery eyes, hot flashes, decreased appetite, decreased sexual drive, insomnia, and fever are just a few of the potential withdrawal symptoms. However, these symptoms are not that intense, and are likely not much different from the withdrawal that many individuals experience when they quit caffeine.
It is difficult to say yet whether kratom is a safe and effective remedy for various ailments, or if it is a dangerous plant for human consumption. Clearly, a great deal more research needs to be done and should be done into both its positive and negative effects. It is possible that kratom can help a great many people, but hopefully researchers will study it deeply to determine whether or not it is safe for use in both the short and long term. Until then, use it with caution. It is important that, as someone in recovery especially, you take time to evaluate the benefits and risks of taking something that is not widely studied and is not regulated. As a consumer, you must embrace the concept of “buyer beware” and don’t take any risks without thinking them through. However, its also possible that kratom will be a great help to you. You decide, and good luck.
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