Kratom is made from the leaves of an herb plant native to Southeast Asia and belonging to the coffee family. Kratom can be chewed fresh, ground up and swallowed, used to make tea, or mixed into juices or applesauce in powder form. Long used as a stimulant in low doses, a sedative in high doses, a painkiller and a medicine to treat diarrhea, kratom is becoming known as an opiate substitute that can relieve pain and improve mood.
While Thailand made kratom illegal over 70 years ago, the country is now looking at the possibility of legalizing kratom in order to help curb the population’s dependence on methamphetamines. Kratom is currently illegal in Australia, Myanmar and Malaysia, and is noted as a drug of concern by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration because it lacks legitimate medical use and has a high abuse potential. However, some researchers are trying to determine whether kratom may be a useful and better alternative to opioid painkillers.
Research of Kratom
Researchers are studying the possibility of kratom’s use in weaning addicts off strong drugs like heroin, cocaine and even methadone. However, like many drugs before it, kratom is possessed of qualities that make it a double-edged sword – while possibly useful in treating pain and stronger drug addictions, kratom itself can also be abused.
Scientific American outlines the story of a 43-year-old software engineer who used and abused kratom. In a tale that is often heard these days, this individual experienced chronic pain and began to self-medicate with pain pills before switching to OxyContin and then to Dilaudid, which is a narcotic pain reliever. When his wife discovered that he was injecting himself with very high doses of Dilaudid on a daily basis she insisted he quit, at which time he did some research and began his use of kratom. Drinking kratom tea, this individual noticed a reduction in his opioid withdrawal symptoms, and increases in his ability to work longer and be attentive. However, he became interested in further boosting his alertness and he started to add modafinil – an FDA-approved stimulant medication – to his kratom tea. Shortly thereafter he began experiencing seizures and was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital. After his hospital stay he quit his $15,000 a year kratom use, and experienced kratom withdrawal in the form of a runny nose.
The tendency to further the effects of one drug by finding a stronger alternative drug or taking additional drugs is typical of addictive drug abuse. While it cannot be argued that studies and personal stories have shown some beneficial effects to limited kratom use, the same argument could be made of other drugs that also cause dependency and addiction and have dangerous side-effects, like heroin and cocaine.
Some of the reported side-effects of kratom use include itching, sweating, nausea, and sudden sleepiness. Some of the known withdrawal symptoms include muscle aches, irritability, crying, runny nose, diarrhea and muscle twitching. Using kratom with other drugs and medications can increase the risk of dangerous side-effects.
Solving the real problem
There have been attempts in the past to substitute one drug for another in the hopes of lessening addiction and withdrawal symptoms; the history of heroin is a perfect example. Developed in 1874 in Germany, heroin was promoted as a safe, non-addictive substitute for morphine addicts, and yet heroin has earned the title of one of the most dangerous, addictive and difficult drugs to quit. So while kratom is being studied as a drug that may be useful in weaning addicts off opiates with minimal side effects, that same hope has existed and perished before with other drugs. Holistic rehabilitation programs with high success rates continue to be the safest and surest solution to resolving drug addiction.