If you’re researching methods to help an opiate addict get clean online, there’s little doubt that you’ve come across kratom on websites or message boards. On the internet, there is always a lot of hype when it comes to “new” drugs, especially when they make boisterous claims of “magic” results and few side effects. Kratom, sold as a nutritional supplement and marketed to cure many ills, is not a “new” substance, although its usage is new to people in North America. In Southeast Asia, it’s been taken for centuries to cure pain and opium addictions. Now many online retailers sell the drug as an alternative to opiates, pain pills and even antidepressants.

Kratom is often touted as a “magic pill” that can cure everything from nerve pain to opiate addiction. What does the hype really mean? Is this drug really safe for addicts to use, and can it really help people get clean from heroin or other opiates?

The supplements sold online are made from the kratom plant, closely related to the coffee plant, which is where it gets its stimulant effects. However, there is no regulation to verify the contents of any one given supplement, leaving buyers with the added risk of impurities such as insecticides or fungicides common with large plant crops. Most of the supplements still originate from overseas dealers, where regulations are lax when it comes to consumer safety. In the US, usage has been linked to respiratory depression and seizures. Some people have even died when the drug was laced with morphine or hydrocodone. Because there is no regulation of kratom, you’ll never know what you’re getting.

The FDA and DEA are working towards a ban on the supplement. The DEA announced in August that it planned to add the psychoactive compounds in kratom to the list of schedule I drugs banned under the Controlled Substances Act. That plan was recently put on hold, due to a public outcry against the ban, pending an investigation by the FDA into any therapeutic properties and a time period for public comment. (It’s assumed, however, that the ban will eventually come to pass due to the drug’s opiate-like properties as well as dangerous side effects.)

So, what exactly is wrong with using kratom? How can something so “natural” be a drug? (For those who have used marijuana, the answer is simple: it gets you high.) If you’re still not convinced, however, let’s look at what WebMD says:

“In low doses, kratom acts as a stimulant. In large amounts, it acts as a sedative, and the DEA says it can lead to psychotic symptoms and psychological addiction. According to the CDC, about 42% of cases of kratom use reported between 2010 and 2015 involved non-life-threatening symptoms that required some treatment. About 7% of exposures were classified as major and life-threatening. The DEA says it knows of 15 kratom-related deaths between 2014 and 2016.”

“I heard kratom is safe!”

Anecdotally, kratom is touted as a harmless substance that can quell the anxiety, depression and body aches associated with opiate withdrawal. Chronic pain patients and people with mental illness say it makes their symptoms disappear. However, other anecdotes on the internet offer a grim reality of taking a substance with unknown side effects; some people complain of trading one addiction for another, while others say they develop a tolerance after a month or so. Allergic reactions, though seldom medically documented, have been known to occur. Because there is no medical supervision, and little research into kratom’s effects on the body and mind, it’s literally a crap shoot when it comes to the effects of the drug on an individual. Many people report it gets them high. Some people even enter addiction treatment centers because of their addiction to this “supplement.”

Kratom is marketed as a supplement by many online retailers eager to make a quick buck off of people suffering from a host of ailments. These retailers don’t have to deal with monitoring people or side effects, they’re just selling something they know some of the public wants to buy. The majority of them are in the kratom business for the money, and have little experience with addiction or any of the health problems that they claim kratom will cure.

Not sure you believe kratom is a drug?

Think about this: kratom was widely reported to be used as an opium substitute in Malaysia as well as Thailand in the nineteenth century. And when users start taking kratom to get off of one drug, they rarely cease use, partially because of the effects of stopping cold turkey. Many people on moderate dosages of kratom report nausea, muscles aches and pains, and other adverse withdrawal symptoms when they discontinue use.

As of 2013, there have been zero medical studies involving humans and kratom. While scientists say it may have the power to help battle chronic pain, the truth is that science will focus on the properties of kratom that seem to affect pain. Our pharmecueticals are rarely derived directly from a plant, usually due to adverse effects of other parts of the plant. Medical researchers learn what properties cause the desired effect and try to maximize that effect. No one knows what years of use will do to your body or mind. Anyone taking it may find themselves battling unknown side effects or health problems, as well as withdrawal after long-term use.


Image Credit: Psychonaught (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]