It is a well-known fact that the news in recent years has been flooded with horror stories of the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. Just as government agencies are doing their best to thwart the flow of illicit opioids such as heroin and oxycontin into the hands of drug users, addicts are finding replacements to fill the void. One of these replacements, kratom, has become a hot topic in the media and drug subculture alike. Although Kratom is not an opiate in the traditional sense, meaning it is not derived from the poppy plant such as heroin or morphine are, it reacts in the body much the same way.
Effects of Kratom vs. Opiates
The drug kratom is derived from the plant species Mitragyna Speciosa, a Southeast Asian, leafy evergreen tree. Like the ancient poppy, kratom has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to alleviate pain, increase stamina in laborers and induce sleep. As science has advanced, what was once a seemingly beneficial medicinal herb has been refined and concentrated, then marketed to drug addicts; either as a stand-alone recreational drug or as a method of alleviating withdrawal from opioids.
The main difference between classic opiates and kratom is the latter’s ability to create a stimulating effect in lower dosages with an opiate-like sedation only being achieved at greater dosages. For example, someone with a consistent, yet low dose kratom habit would exhibit side effects similar to a cocaine or methamphetamine user, whereas someone with a high dose habit would have much more pronounced opiate side effects, such as small pupils, nausea, vomiting and constipation. This can make detection as well as official classification of the drug difficult.
Kratom is Addictive
Another important factor to take into consideration when discussing kratom is that, just like opiates, it is addictive, and can lead to long-term mental and physical dependence sometimes causing addicts who are seeking relief from narcotics such as heroin to relapse in an attempt to fulfill the need created by kratom. Tolerance is another serious risk of kratom use, meaning that over a short period of time, a user will have to continue to up the dosage they take in order to experience the same effects they did with smaller doses. This phenomenon can often lead to physical dependence as well as accidental overdose.
Legality of Kratom
Until recently, the dangers of kratom use have been practically unknown. It first made it’s way into the United States being marketed as dietary supplements, sold in various forms such as pills, extracts or powders in health food stores as well as head shops. Because of kratom’s fairly recent appearance on the drug scene, only small amounts of research have been done on the negative side effects of the drug and it is still easily accessible, despite warnings issued by the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, kratom is illegal in only a handful of states, though in the majority of the nation it is completely legal.
Kratom is not currently scheduled by the DEA, though they are working towards cracking down on it in the future. This is concerning to many professionals in the health field because though kratom may seem harmless, in recent years examples of kratom-related deaths have increased substantially. Because of kratom’s ability to act like an opiate, when mixed with other central nervous system depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines like Xanax, the likelihood of overdose becomes that much higher. Until proper research can be done on a large scale, kratom continues to pose a health risk to those who use it recreationally and medicinally.
Who Uses Kratom and Why?
Primarily, it is believed that kratom is most heavily used in the population of habitual opioid abusers as a method of relieving the excruciating symptoms of withdrawal. While addicts may be experiencing temporary relief from detoxing by using kratom, most of the time they are further prolonging their abuse of other narcotics and reducing their chances of achieving complete abstinence from opioids. In regards to kratom’s medicinal value as an opioid substitute, the FDA stated in 2017 that “There is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder; there are currently no FDA-approved therapeutic uses of kratom…and the FDA has evidence to show that there are significant safety issues associated with its use.”
Because it is widely used in the addict population, kratom has become a popular method of recreational abuse because it is not as easily detected on traditional drug tests as other drugs and abusers can get away with using it if they are not being tested through a lab. Though this is true, laboratories are easily able to distinguish kratom present in samples.
People seeking relief from chronic pain also use Kratom, as the drug does have analgesic (pain relieving) properties. This being said, the risk of using kratom greatly outweighs the reward, as there are many other non-narcotic options for pain relief that do not have nearly as many negative side effects and are not habit forming, which kratom has been proven to be.
Kratom & The Opioid Epidemic
As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage American communities, drugs such as kratom and others like it will emerge from the fray, and be marketed as cures to addiction or “safe” alternatives. This could not be further from the truth, and the public should be wary of these kinds of advertisements. If you or someone you know is experiencing an addiction to kratom or any other substance, please seek help from a professional.