What is Kratom?
A recent Rolling Stone magazine headline read: “Kratom: Why Did the FDA Declare the Herbal Supplement an Opiate?” It’s a great headline that encapsulates an important debate. Is this an herb that the government should not regulate, or is it an addictive plant, like tobacco, that We the People, should regulate?
Kratom is marketed as an over-the-counter dietary supplement. But, it has more in common with opioids than it does with dietary supplements. Technically it’s an opioid analog, and it may be somewhat addictive. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stated that no kratom product is safe.
Kratom’s scientific name is Mitragyna Speciosa. It’s a tropical evergreen within the coffee plant family found in Southeast Asia. Its leaves have been used for hundreds of years to relieve pain. The leaves can be eaten raw, but more often they’re crushed and brewed as a tea or turned into capsules, tablets, and liquids. Traditionally, farmers used to chew the leaves of the plant to get an extra boost of energy while working in the fields. It was reported that Kratom reduces fatigue during manual labor and extreme heat. Users also believed that it can treat muscle pain, gut infection, coughing, and diarrhea.
Additionally, it has been used for self-treatment of opiate addiction. However, it was banned in Thailand in 1979 and in Malaysia in 2003 due to the harmful properties of the drug.
Kratom is currently circulating in the U.S. and many people experiment with using the drug to help with withdrawal from other drugs like heroin. This herbal product has also been used as an alternative agent for muscle pain relief and diarrhea. The safety and effectiveness of Kratom for these conditions has not been clinically determined. As a result, the FDA released an advisory regarding the associated deadly risks of Kratom in November 2017. The agency’s position is, “There are no FDA-approved uses for kratom, and the agency has received concerning reports about the safety of kratom. FDA is actively evaluating all available scientific information on this issue and continues to warn consumers not to use any products labeled as containing the botanical substance kratom.”
In addition, the FDA continues to warn manufacturers in California, Colorado, and Missouri about their sales claims. The marketers of these supplements must avoid stating that Kratom can treat any disease or healthcare condition.
Kratom acts as a stimulant in low doses, but it acts as a sedative in large amounts. Therefore, DEA says it can lead to psychotic symptoms and psychological addiction. Additionally, the FDA continues to assert that Kratom should not be used as an alternative to prescription opioids, even if using it for opioid withdrawal symptoms.
What are the Effects of Kratom?
According to many people, the effects of Kratom are very similar to opiate drugs. From a pharmacological perspective, this is not surprising because it contains alkaloids that act as opiate receptor agonists. Kratom does not appear to be nearly as addictive though it has a similar mechanism of action as many opiate pain medications. In fact, many people use this drug to overcome opiate addiction.
The Stimulant Versus Sedating Dose
Smaller doses of one to five gram stimulate the mind. But, if a person consumes 15 grams or more, it tends to have a mild sedating effect, make the individual less sensitive to physical or emotional pain, feel and look calm, and have a general feeling of comfortable pleasure. Some users even report experiencing a pleasant dreamy daydream. While the effect is much less potent, there are some parallels to the results of using opioids.
Kratom even makes pupils constrict and causes people to experience itching or sweating.
The onset of effects is typically felt 30 to 40 minutes after ingestion when taken on an empty stomach and 60 minutes on an empty stomach. The effects of Kratom usually last for about 5 to 6 hours.