Energizing in small doses and sedating when consumed in larger amounts, kratom seems like a wonderful substance. One that has a extremely low risk of overdose and has been traditionally used in Asian medicine for centuries. Being a legal, natural plant substance makes kratom seem like the perfect drug.
Kratom is a substance that can reduce pain and make the process of getting rid of a drug habit much more simple for a person. It minimizes the withdrawal symptoms experienced by addicts when not given their drug, and can be the answer to the raging drug problem in the United States. Given that many youngsters are getting involved with dangerous drugs like heroin and opium, kratom is a much safer alternative with no major side effects. Studies have shown that kratom is not harmful on its own.
While kratom is cited as an effective and safe painkiller by thousands of patients and numerous advocates, the New York Times recently published an article portraying the substance in a bad light, calling it a ‘path for addicts to relapse’. But this is not the case. Although kratom can be slightly addictive like other drugs, its effects are short lived and not dangerous. This means that former drug addicts can be weaned off a drug using kratom with no negative impact on their health. Some states have considered banning kratom, but statistics suggest that banning kratom might do more harm than good. Studies have shown that better ways of controlling recreational drugs need to be put in place to protect the public from harm.
Kratom has been used extensively in parts of Asia including Thailand, where it was used to cure diarrhea and as a painkiller and sedative. It was also very effective at relieving withdrawal symptoms from opium. In fact, it was so effective that the Thai government banned the drug as their export of opium was adversely affected.
In the USA, the Drug Enforcement Administration has classified kratom as one of its ‘drugs of concern’, but the substance is legal in all states except Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and Indiana. Although it is presently legal, its inclusion in the concern list makes it a viable candidate for being outlawed. Lawmakers from several states including New York, Florida and Alabama are considering banning kratom in their states. This might not be the best idea, considering that opioid abuse is killing Americans at an astounding rate.
Kratom, a substance derived from the plant Mitragyna speciosa is usually consumed in form of a tea. The active ingredient in the plant is mitragynine and closely related 7-hydroxidemytragynine. These chemicals affect opioid receptors in the body, similar to what heroin and opium do, but its effects are generally much weaker. Kratom also has considerably less symptoms of withdrawal and is not as addictive as opioids.
Unlike opioids, kratom gives the user a rush of energy, similar to one a person experiences after a cup of strong coffee. This is explained as kratom belongs to a plant of the same family as coffee. In larger quantities, the energizing effect of kratom begins to wear off into a calming sedative state.
Another major difference would be how much of each substance is required to overdose. In 2014 alone, a staggering 28,647 American citizens died of overdose. Although many of those involved more than one drug to overdose, the CDC states that opioids alone can be lethal as well. This is much more dangerous than the risk of overdosing on kratom, which has only led to death when used with other drugs. Even a mixture of kratom and other drugs does not kill in the same way as opioids, which cause death by stopping breath. A report by the professors at University of Florida has stated that direct deaths by respiratory failure have not been reported due to kratom overdose.
This might be due to the fact that kratom tea and powder induce nausea, and it is very difficult for a person to consume a large enough quantity of the substance for it to be dangerous. Besides, any dangerous effects of kratom must have been reported by now, considering that it has long been used as a medicine in many Asian countries.
Due to the substance still being relatively new in the US, its effects are little known. Not much research has been done on its positive or negative effects. In a research done by professors at the University of Rochester Medical Center, most users seemed to report about its positive effects. But the research points out that users also reported addiction, and a major side effect of the drug included nausea and stomach upsets, with 16% of users reporting the same. But the addictiveness of kratom is mild compared to other opioids, and it does not last as long either. However, there have been some cases of liver problems and seizures, while 2 of the participants in the study reported severe complications such as hepatitis and jaundice. Due to the lack of research into it, the long term effects of kratom remain unknown. And rare side effects sometimes manifest themselves only after a substance or drug has been consumed by many thousands of people. In order to properly understand the harmful effects of this drug, proper clinical trials need to be put in place.
Such a drug poses a dilemma. Had this been a synthetic substance to help with addiction, most people would not have allowed it to be sold at stores without proper clinical trials being carried out. But being a herbal substance with a history of being used in alternative medicine, it is widely accepted by many.
This is due to a law that states that herbs can be sold over the counter without any clinical trials or testing even if they contain active ingredients, if it has been used in medicine. This holds true as long as the plant does not cause harm or claim to cure any disease or disorder. The FDA on the other hand, demands that medicines undergo testing and trial before being deemed safe. Only upon passing these tests can those drugs be sold in the market.
The process carried out by the FDA is usually pretty good at balancing public safety with ensuring that drugs are safe for use. But the laws controlling supplements is riddled with loopholes which can be exploited fairly easily. The only way the government can control the use of recreational drugs is through complete prohibition. For any drug to get approved, there is a lot of money that goes into the process, which can take many years. The drug should also be viable for the pharmaceutical market or they might not take the risk of putting it out. In the case of kratom, one cannot patent it as it is a herb, so the process is not worth the time or effort.
There have been an unprecedented number of deaths due to opioids in the past few years. This epidemic of opioid misuse is killing a large number of people very quickly, so it seems odd that the government is willing to ban a substance that is much safer than the alternatives in the short term. But the media has portrayed kratom in a much more sinister light. The New York Times came out with the headline “Kratom, an Addict’s Alternative, Is Found to Be Addictive Itself”. Kratom has been projected as a path towards relapse, a substance that might cause people seeking to get clean to fall back into the dark void of drugs.
With opioid alternatives such as methadone and buprenorphine used for helping with withdrawal symptoms being potentially lethal, kratom does not seem that bad of an option. Surely it’s not proven to be safe, with numerous unknown risks and it should not be made available to kids. But maybe it is for the best if the federal government leaves users and distributors of this drug alone for now, like it has done with legal weed states. With that said, research needs to be done to come up with the safest form of opioid painkiller and what might be used to help people prevent from relapsing into drugs.
Perhaps we should learn from countries such as the Netherlands, where the sellers have come up with a solution that might help prevent the use of kratom get out of hand. The ‘smart shops’ that sell kratom there allow customers to voluntarily enroll themselves into blacklists for a certain period of time, during which they are not allowed to buy or use kratom, even if they opt out of the list. This can help keep the usage of kratom in control and prevent the customer from becoming dependent on the drug.
Such measures and protocols should be introduced in the US as well, to reduce damage done by drugs, instead of constantly putting prohibitions that lead to more lives lost.
Check out Vice’s piece on Why Banning the Controversial Painkiller Kratom Could Be Bad News for America’s Heroin Addicts