Kratom: Harmful Banned Substance or Safe Drug for Chronic Pain?

kratom leaves

There has been lots of buzz about kratom lately. This botanical substance is often used to get people off hard drugs like heroin and opioids. Lately it has been labeled as potentially dangerous by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

 

Why?

 

Because despite its effectiveness at curbing addiction to certain drugs – there is now some evidence that users can become addicted to the kratom itself. It may be even more dangerous – one study in 2018 found that it may be linked to side effects like agitation, irritability, rapid heart beat (tachycardia), withdrawal symptoms and possibly even death (especially when mixed with alcohol).

 

EXACTLY WHAT IS KRATOM?

 

Because of its nature as a possible abusive drug, as well as its side effects that are possibly harmful to humans, the FDA has banned the drug. The DEA has debated categorizing it as a schedule 1 substance – just like hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.

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As of November 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services also recommends a ban on the chemicals in kratom – based on evidence that it is an opioid and has been linked to dozens of deaths. On the other hand, kratom users strongly argue against the illegalization of this potentially life-saving plant.

 

Kratom is similar to CBD in how it is treated in society. Both are technically banned by the government but are readily available. It is sold usually as “kratom bars” – crushed and dried… in general stores all over the country.

 

It produces a euphoric “high” and is thought to lessen the effects of withdrawal from opioids. Many reports show that kratom is very helpful for people struggling with debilitating pain, addiction to pain medications and addiction to cocaine or heroin.

 

The opioid painkiller epidemic has become the number one cause of death for Americans under the age of 50 – with over 70,000 fatalities in 2017 alone. A natural botanical like kratom seems to be a potentially beneficial means of treatment. But this has become an issue for much debate among the FDA, DEA, lawmakers and the public.

 

Despite calls for a ban, fierce arguments are being made on both sides of the issue in state governments. It is possible to buy kratom online and in selected shops today – but with all the controversy, many wonder if kratom does more harm or helps its users.

 

THE HISTORY OF KRATOM

 

Kratom is scientifically named Mitragyna speciosa – it is a topical tree in the coffee family and is native to parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. The herb has been valued in traditional medicine since the 19th century. The most common uses today are for pain relief, self-treatment of drug addiction and to ease drug withdrawal symptoms.

 

Traditionally, kratom leaves were crushed and made into tea – or were chewed or smoked to get a high. Today, the plant is made into kratom capsules as well as pills and powders.

 

The FDA status of the plant is very confusing right now. Kratom contains over 40 compounds and more than 25 alkaloids. The main active alkaloids are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine – which can have a range of stimulating and depression effects. Talk about confusion! The plant itself has been shown to have painkilling and anti-inflammatory effects.

 

WHY THE FDA BANNED KRATOM

 

A few states are considering a ban on all kratom products. However, it is still legal in most parts of the U.S. This means that anyone can buy, sell or possess it without fear of being arrested. This also means that a prescription is not needed to purchase it.

 

The FDA clearly and currently prohibits the sale of kratom as a health product because of its alkaloid content. It allows the sale only for research purposes. This restriction also means that a supplier can not market kratom supplements as a health supplement.

 

INTERESTING FACTS ON HOW KRATOM IS TREATED…

 

Kratom has become very popular in the natural health market for the use of addiction treatment and a dietary aid. It is interesting that it is used to help with addiction issues since it an addictive substance itself!

 

Because of the lack of reliable studies on the safety of kratom in conjunction with the booming import market, the FDA issued an alert in 2014 for the DEA to confiscate any shipments of kratom. The DEA reports that street names include thang, kakuam, thom, ketum and biak.

 

In January 2016, the U.S. Marshals seized $ 400,000 of dietary supplements from Illinois-based Dordoniz Natural Products that were thought to contain kratom. Subsequently, more shipments were seized because authorities are specifically concerned about the uncontrolled nature of the plant.

 

In August 2016, the DEA announced a plan to move kratom and its alkaloid mitragynine to schedule 1 status along with cocaine, heroin, LSD and fentanyl. Schedule 1 drugs are considered to have no legitimate medical uses and a high potential for abuse. This announcement sparked a lot of backlash and opposition from patients who have benefited in managing addiction and chronic pain. After a march and demonstration at the White House, a petition was sent to then President Barack Obama along with several congressman, congresswomen and senators asking to reconsider the new kratom status… the DEA announced that the ban would be placed on hold.

 

In October 2016, the DEA announced its decision to withdraw its intent to ban kratom and its main alkaloid because of the numerous comments from the public that offered opinions on the pharmacological effects of the plant.

 

During November 2017, the FDA made yet another announcement about kratom. The agency strongly warned consumers not to use the Mitragyna speciosa or kratom strains because of the risk of addiction, abuse and dependence. It appears the plant targets the same opioid receptors as morphine. Additionally, the FDA urged consumers to be on the lookout for kratom’s psychoactive compounds mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine and steer clear of products containing these derivatives as well. The administration remained worried about the plant’s safety.

 

WILL KRATOM BE ILLEGAL IN THE FUTURE?

 

Although there is currently no ban on kratom and products containing the active ingredients are available to U.S. residents, it’s important to know that these products are completely unregulated and consumers can’t be certain of the strains or dosages they’re getting. There are reports that show kratom has been laced and contaminated with potentially lethal drugs in order to intensify the effects. The lack of regulations and standardization of kratom products is proving to be more dangerous for people who rely on them to fight their chronic pain or drug withdrawal symptoms.

 

The FDA released a statement in February 2018 revealing that the active compounds in kratom are indeed opioids. FDA scientists did a computer analysis of the chemical structures. The results show that kratom activates exactly the same receptors in the brain as opioids. This data confirms that two of the five most prevalent compounds are proven to activate opioid receptors.

 

Eight deaths associated with kratom have occurred since November 2017, increasing the total number of known deaths from 36 to 44. Among these deaths, only one has been proven to have not used other opioids. Among the other deaths, it is suggested that kratom was mixed with other drugs (including drugs that affect the brain, prescription opioids, over-the-counter medications and illicit drugs).

 

In addition, the FDA cautions that “kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as a substitute for prescription opioids. There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use. And claiming that kratom is safe because ‘it’s just a plant’ is shortsighted and dangerous.”

 

In February 2018, kratom was linked to a salmonella outbreak in the U.S. Twenty eight infections were reported across 20 states. Of the 28 cases, 11 reported taking kratom in either pill, tea or powder form. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is currently investigating how the kratom became contaminated. Salmonella is usually contracted from eating foods contaminated with animal feces that carry the bacteria. Person-to-person contact can transmit the infection if an unaffected person comes into contact with someone contaminated with salmonella. With the CDC investigation still ongoing, the FDA continues to warn the public to avoid consuming kratom.

 

During November 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended a ban on the chemicals found in kratom that would make kratom illegal – just like heroin, fentanyl or LSD. They also recommended making kratom a Schedule 1 drug. Their recommendation is based on the fact that the chemicals in kratom have a “high potential for abuse” and currently there is no currently accepted medical use for them.

 

The DEA still needs to make an official ruling about how the drug will be classified. This process can take anywhere from months to years according to some experts. Depending on the final decision, anyone who buys, sells or uses the plant may face arrest and jail time. Researchers who use the active ingredients to try to uncover ways to help those addicted to opioids would need to receive special DEA permission.

 

13 POSSIBLE KRATOM BENEFITS

 

People like Brandon Bird from Paradise Valley, Arizona, claim that kratom saved him from a deep spiral of addiction to prescription drugs. He also thinks it helped manage his PTSD as well as chronic pain from when he broke his back during a bodybuilding competition.

 

CNN recently reported on the positive impact that kratom has had on the lives on those suffering from addiction and chronic pain. According to Christopher McCurdy, president of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, the alkaloids in kratom can bind to opioid receptors in the brain and cause a release of dopamine – just like opioid painkillers do. He claims that kratom does this at a more manageable level than prescription pills or heroin, so the withdrawal is mild or nonexistent.

 

Additional research from CNN shows that the majority of the plant’s chemicals are not addictive – so in reality the abuse potential is very low. Unlike prescription pills, kratom does not appear to cause breathing problems – which is a dangerous side-effect of opioids in that they can stop breathing during an overdose.

 

Despite kratom’s potential dangers, it has positively helped many people suffering from addiction. Some conditions that seem to be helped include:

 

  • Pain relief
  • Opioid withdrawal relief
  • Mood lifting
  • Increased energy
  • Anxiolytic (anti-anxiety)
  • Depression relief
  • Stimulation of the immune system
  • Nootropic (improved thinking)
  • Anti-leukemic
  • Anti-malarial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Lowered blood sugar (glucose)
  • Enhanced sexual function

 

There are 3 types of kratom… whose leaves comes in different colors: red vein, white vein or green vein. This is dependent on the color of the stem and vein on the leaf. Different colors have varying effects on the mind and body.

 

IS KRATOM SAFE?

 

Kratom has been used as an extract for centuries – and many have documented the negative effects it has on the body. It is only in the last few years that it has entered the U.S. market and recently has become available online.

 

The positive effects of the plant can ultimately be reversed to negative when the dosage is increased. There is also a phenomenon called “kratom hangovers” where the symptoms are very similar to ingesting too much alcohol.

 

Some factors to consider regarding safety include:

 

 

  • Risk of addiction: As kratom has become more readily available in the U.S. and Europe, there are an increasing number of reports of individuals becoming physically dependent or addicted. Documented studies show that kratom’s properties can cause the user to get hooked. The opioid-like analgesic effects are the main reason for possible addiction. The “high” from kratom is less intense compared to other drugs like heroin and LSD. Chronic use in high doses can cause unusual side effects such as hyperpigmentation of the cheeks, tremor, anorexia, weight loss and psychosis. Tolerance of the plant seems to be associated with chronic high doses – and withdrawal symptoms were noted when the plant was stopped. These symptoms included: dysphoria, nausea, high blood pressure, insomnia, yawning, nasal discharge, muscle pain, diarrhea and arthritis. There have been a handful of deaths due to overdose. Drug addicts often try to self-medicate with kratom and this can be fatal.
  • Digestion and liver problems: chronic use of kratom has led to adverse side effects like stomach upset and vomiting, which can lead to severe dehydration. There have also been reports of liver problems and seizures. A study in the Journal of Medical Toxicology reported on the case of a young man who had liver failure and severe itching after using only kratom for just two weeks.
  • Chronic or Prolonged Use: when taken in doses of 10 – 25 grams of dried leaves ( a large sedating dose), the initial side effects include sweating, dizziness, nausea and dysphoria. Shortly thereafter, these effects change to calmness, euphoria and a catatonic state that can last for 6 hours.Chronic use side effects include: loss of weight, tiredness, constipation and hyperpigmentation of the cheeks.
  • Psychological effects: the physical effects will often disappear within a week or two as the body builds up tolerance to the plant. The psychological effects can be much more damaging – including delusions, hallucinations, loss of sexual desire, anxiety, severe mood swings, episodes of panic, loss of appetite, crying spells, lethargy, psychotic episodes, aggressive behavior, addiction and paranoia.
  • Withdrawal symptoms in newborns: experts are worried about pregnant mothers following a broad trend to use kratom in place of opioid painkillers such as morphine, heroin and oxycontin. In two cases in the U.S., newborns began showing withdrawal immediately after birth. Another reported case showed a 33 hour old baby exhibiting withdrawal symptoms including sneezing, jitteriness, excessive sucking, scratching at the face and irritability. The mother reportedly drank kratom tea daily during her pregnancy to help her sleep.

 

 

HOW TO USE KRATOM – AND HOW ITS PRODUCED

 

The leaves are harvested from trees that can be either evergreen or deciduous depending on the climate and then dried and ground up before being used. Sometimes the leaves are chewed straight up which is called “indigenous use.”

Dried leaves are made into a powder or tea. Most of the powder is sold in the form of capsules and are green to brownish in color.

 

Sometimes these capsules are formulated with other botanical extracts and are readily available online. The powder can be boiled down in water to form a paste and applied to wounds or taken orally. Often, lemon juice is added to the paste or tea in order to aid in the extraction of the alkaloids. It is also possible to smoke the leaves.

 

The effects of the leaf are dependent upon the dosage. Small doses of up to 10 grams tend to give a high similar to opioids. Larger doses over 10 grams have a sedative effect.

 

The traditional method of chewing kratom leaves usually leads to stimulating effects. In Thailand, most men chew between 10 and 60 leaves daily. One study found that 70% of Thai men chew kratom, or ketum as its called in Malaysia. They often remove the stems and sprinkle salt on the leaves to avoid getting constipated.

 

Those who suffer with anxiety should start at moderate doses… the reason being that some strains are much more energetic at low doses. High doses can cause tolerance to build, diminishing the effects.

 

The laws in Thailand dictate that traffickers of the substance be arrested since the black market varieties are very potent. Thai youth often mix kratom cocktails… which are a mixture of kratom leaves and any variety of cough syrup, sodas, mosquito spray or the fluorescent powders used to make road signs and are called “4X100.”

 

FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT KRATOM…

 

Obviously, having read this far, the biggest take away is that kratom needs more research and is very controversial. Legislators struggle with new laws and often get conflicting information on the safety and effectiveness of kratom.

 

As with most drugs, kratom is used to treat the symptoms of the patient – whether its pain, anxiety, depression, brain fog or lack of energy. In other words, as soon as the kratom is stopped, the problems usually quickly return.

 

An alternative is to use Functional Medicine – which runs tests to check hormone levels, digestive problems, food sensitivities or parasites in the gut. This gets to the root cause of the problem. In the hands of an experienced Functional Medicine practitioner, the sufferer is able to correct these issues – often permanently. This usually leads to a higher quality of life with few, if any, health issues lingering. Functional Medicine is much safer than using kratom (or other prescription drugs). It also frees the person from being a slave to doctors, pharmacies and drug dealers.

 

PS: If someone is suffering and are looking for an alternative way to handle their health issues, a free 30 minute consultation is available. Just visit www.stopneckpainnaturally.com and click on “Get One-On-One Help.”

 

– Howard

 

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