According to the federal government, kratom has no “legitimate medical use in the U.S.” However, many seek out the opioid-like substance for its energy boosting and painkilling effects.
For centuries, the kratom tree’s leaves have been used by laborers and farmers through Asia. Taken in very small doses, kratom acts like a stimulant by increasing alertness and focus. In high doses, the plant performs more like a sedative by numbing pain.
These effects are caused when the active ingredient in kratom, known as mitragynine, attaches itself to the opioid receptors in the body. According to Dr. Ed Boyer at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the plant is substantially more potent than morphine. Additionally, kratom does not have many of the side effects commonly associated with other opioid drugs like hydrocodone or heroin.
Natural pain relief
Sold as a dietary supplement, kratom leaves are ground into pills and powders and can be easily purchased in head shops and online. Since the herb falls under the supplement category, the Food and Drug Administration is in charge of regulating it.
The popularity of the plant continues to grow as more people discover its pain-relieving properties. Leonard Rodda started taking the supplement nearly two years ago after suffering severe side effects from taking doctor-prescribed narcotics.
Rodda said he noticed the difference shortly after beginning the new pain treatment.
“Before I changed over to kratom, my life was almost suicidal. I couldn’t drive. I was sleeping all the time. If I went to a movie, I was asleep within a little while. It wasn’t a way to live. I’ve always been active. I always worked out. When I started taking kratom, I noticed some of my old self come back: work out in the yard, ride a bike, you know, that kind of thing. Quality of life is a big thing, and I think kratom has been great for me.”
The answer to the opiod addiction crisis?
According to Dr. Boyer, many kratom sellers are claiming the supplement helps people withdraw from opioid addiction. Typical treatments for the addiction include using synthetic drugs like methadone and buprenorphine, frequent trips to doctors as well as counselors, and putting up with health insurance hassles.
Since the herb can be bought without a prescription at a store, using kratom avoids these issues. However, Dr. Boyer points out there is a risk for kratom addiction.
Currently, the effects of taking kratom are not completely understood. There are a small number of reports of people experiencing seizures after taking the herb as well as some deaths, but these cases generally involved the combination of the other drugs in the user’s system.
Since the plant is generally unregulated, it may be possible these reactions were caused by impurities mixed in the product. Overall, pure kratom appears safe to use on a regular basis.
Six states, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin currently prohibit the supplement. New York is currently in the process of banning it.
While the federal government has not officially labeled kratom under the controlled substances act, the DEA considers it a “drug of concern.” Two years ago, the FDA identified the herb as a substance that potentially poses “a risk to public health” and authorized U.S. customs agents to seize kratom without a physical examination.
For now, kratom use for either recreational or medicinal purposes is legal and offers an attractive alternative to other drugs like fentanyl and oxycodone. After ingesting the herb, expect to experience a slight euphoria about 30-40 minutes later, which should last about three hours.
[Photo via Jigme Datse Rasku/Flickr]