In the midst of the largest opiate epidemic to ever hit the country, a whole new market has emerged, growing rapidly with the population of addicted individuals. The market I am referring to—legal drugs. As substance abuse has become increasingly more prevalent, users have turned to a cheaper, more readily available set of drugs, usually only to supplement an existing addiction, but sometimes as a sole means of intoxication. Over the last couple of years, countless new substances, usually marketed as “safer” alternatives have hit the shelves and the internet, drawing a crowd enticed by the seemingly legal status and the lack of detection on most drug tests. While the myths surrounding a lot of these drugs have been debunked, such as the controversy surrounding the man-made cathinones labeled as “bath salts” or the chemically sprayed plant material sold as “K2”, one substance has largely maintained its reputation as a safer, healthier alternative—Kratom.
Where can you get Kratom?
Found online and in any number of seedy head shops or even some health food-stores, Kratom has gained increasing popularity given its neurological similarities to poppy-derived opiates such as heroin or morphine. Usually purchased in powdered extracts, the dried plant material comes from the Mitragyna Speciosa plant which is native to Southeast Asia. The tropical evergreen tree from the coffee family has been utilized as a traditional medicine for hundreds of years in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Natives have utilized the plant for its analgesic (pain killing) qualities and partial stimulating effects by chewing on the leaves or making teas from the dried material. Much like cocaine, the drug’s potential for harm remained relatively low until recently, when the psychoactive chemicals were extracted from the leaves in extreme potencies.
How does Kratom work?
The active chemical in Kratom, Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, work on the brain as a selective full mu-opioid agonist. This means that it stimulates the activity at the receptor site of certain opioid neurons, specifically the ones that largely contribute to the feelings of euphoria that users will experience with various illicit and prescription opiate narcotics. As such, it can also lead to a lot of the same negative withdrawal effects as users will become chemically dependent on the drug with prolonged use, ultimately required higher and higher doses to achieve the same effects. So despite common claims that there are no addictive qualities to the active chemicals that are found in Kratom, all of the pharmacological properties would indicate otherwise.
What are the effects of Kratom?
The effects of Kratom are very odd, as they change fairly dramatically with varying dosages. Smaller doses of Kratom cause a slight stimulant effect, leading to a decrease in appetite, lack of need for sleep and an increased sexual drive. These effects are usually produced at doses of one to five grams of dried plant material (non-extracted). At doses of five grams and above, Kratom begins to have the inhibitory, sedating effects that are traditional of opiates. These include feelings of euphoria, analgesia, depressed respiratory functions, dizziness, itching and sweating. Given the localized activity at the opioid receptor sites of the brain, Kratom can pose many of the same, granted slightly less harsh, withdrawal symptoms as many other common opiates.
How is Kratom used?
Traditionally, Kratom has been a staple of southeast Asian countries, particularly amongst farm workers, who have utilized the plant for many years for its ability to mitigate aches and pains caused by excessive manual labor, and also for its anxiolytic (anxiety relieving) and mood-enhancing properties. Kratom has also been used for hundreds of years for a number of medicinal purposes, but also to curb the withdrawal effects caused by the cessation of opium. Because of this long history as an aid for withdrawals, vendors have capitalized greatly on Kratom’s marketability as a “safe alternative” to opiates. Of course, there is almost no research to back those claims, and many believe that Kratom is almost equally as addictive as traditional opiates. As with many other “alternatives” that have flooded the market in the last few years, kratoms semi-legal status makes the drug easily accessible and nearly impossible to regulate. This has lead to a major increase in reports of Kratom abuse here in the United States, from healthcare professionals, researchers and individuals who have experimented with the drug.
How can you abuse Kratom?
Despite what many online sources will tell you, most of which are either written or directly sponsored by vendors, Kratom has an exceptionally high potential for abuse. Many individuals discover Kratom as a means of bypassing drug-testing for any number of reasons. Even though it is not tested for on common 12 panel drug tests, Kratom can be tested for at almost any reputable lab-testing facility. The drug will offer many of the same pleasurable sensations as heroin or oxycodone, without the risk of legal repercussions. In that same light, many individuals become exposed to Kratom as a means of stopping or slowing an addiction to harder opiates. Although some have had success in ceasing their opiate addiction by a titration of Kratom, most find that they either simply transfer addictions, or end up going back to the drug which they were originally trying to discontinue.
What are some myths of Kratom use?
There are those too who are introduced to Kratom for its “medicinal purposes”. Millions of people in this country struggle with chronic pain, usually the result of some other medical issue such as cancer or arthritis, and are forced into a lifetime dependency on medications to maintain any quality of life. With the opiate epidemic breaking headlines, it is no longer any secret that traditionally prescribed opiates have a huge potential for addiction and abuse, leaving a huge number of people looking for another solution to their medical issues. This is where Kratom stepped in, marketing itself as a “naturopathic” and “non-narcotic” remedy for pain. But just like less severe opiates like Vicodin or codeine can precipitate a major problem with stronger narcotics like morphine and heroin, so can Kratom. Users who become physically addicted, and particularly those who enjoy the sensation produced by the substance, will often seek out stronger narcotics the fill the void created by an increasing tolerance.
So what can be said about Kratom, which has gained exponential popularity in recent years?
While some may argue that it is not a drug, this statement hold no truth, as it is by every definition, a psychotropic drug. Beware of false claims of medical benefits and its potential to save those from the grips of addiction. If you, or somebody you know is struggling with Kratom, please seek help from a medical professional.