Have you heard of kratom? As opioid dependence is reaching epidemic proportions in the US, kratom is getting quite the buzz as an alternative pain killer, especially for cancer victims, and others suffering from long-term chronic pain.
Kratom is named for the kratom tree from which it is derived. It is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family. It is native to Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and other South Asian countries.
Kratom leaves, or extracts from the leaves, have been used as a stimulant and a sedative. It’s also been reported for treating chronic pain, digestive ailments, and as an aid for withdrawal from opium dependence.
Interestingly enough, kratom is illegal in most of the countries in which it is grown. However it is legal in the US, usually sold as a tea or a nutritional supplement.
How Is Kratom Used?
Much like alcohol, kratom is both a stimulant and a depressant. At low doses, kratom has been reported to work like a stimulant. People who have used low doses generally report having more energy, being more alert, and feeling more sociable. At higher doses, kratom has been reported as being sedative, producing euphoric effects, and dulling emotions and sensations.
The plant’s dark green leaves are usually dried and either crushed or powdered. You can find fortified kratom powders, usually green or light brown in color. These powders also contain extracts from other plants.
Kratom is also available in paste, capsule, and tablet form. In the United States, kratom is mostly brewed as a tea for the self-management of pain and opioid withdrawal.
The active ingredient in Kratom is mitragynine, an alkaloid similar in structure to psilocybin – the psychotropic substance found in “magic mushrooms.” So, kratom has been known to produce similar euphoric and hallucinogenic effects. Such alkaloids are also known to have analgesic (pain relieving), anti-inflammatory, or muscle relaxant effects.
Kratom hasn’t been studied in-depth, so it hasn’t officially been recommended for medical use. They are, however, literally thousands of anecdotal reports online from people who swear they have been able to quit using heroin or prescription opioids by taking kratom capsules or drinking kratom tea. There have been several small trials that back up these claims, but much more research is needed.
While the FDA warns that kratom has not been approved in the US to be used as a pain killer, or as a way to get off opioids, the results of observational studies of kratom users in the US converge with case reports and descriptions of traditional kratom use in Southeast Asia, to suggest that kratom can be an effective substitute for potentially more dangerous classical opioids for treating pain, and as a way to curtail opioid abuse.
However, alkaloids such as the mitragynine have a strong physical effect on humans. While some of these effects can be positive, others can be causes for concern.
It is important to note that Kratom contains almost as many alkaloids as opium and hallucinogenic mushrooms. This is all the more reason why more studies of this drug are needed.
Have you, or anyone you know used kratom? Can you describe your experiences in the comments below?