The use of kratom, a plant that is indigenous to the South Pacific, has become known mostly through word of mouth as a way to manage withdrawing from opiate painkillers. More people are learning about the beneficial properties of the plant and prefer to go the natural route to break the shackles of addiction. The more people talk about kratom, the more legislators are growing concerned with the plant being widely available.
With about 2.4 million Americans ages 12 and up addicted to opiate painkillers (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2014) and more becoming addicted each year, the pharmaceutical industry stands to lose a great deal of revenue.
Numerous people are kicking painkillers to the curb and embracing a natural approach to alleviating pain. This plant is now being scrutinized as the “new legal high” and is the subject of a media frenzy, with journalists jumping at every opportunity to get a story. Even at the cost of potentially turning the public against kratom, articles are cropping up left and right with misinformation, presenting it as a designer or synthetic drug.
So what exactly is kratom?
Commonly available as a powder, or crushed leaves, kratom, known also as mitragyna speciosa, also comes in capsule form, resin and extracts. The most common method of consumption is by drinking it, like a tea, or with water or juice. The plant has dose-dependent effects ranging from mildly stimulating to moderately sedating with some strains used to combat pain, anxiety and chronic fatigue.
Those who tout its benefits are becoming increasingly disturbed with the scare-tactics used to dissuade the general public.
The FDA has not approved kratom for human consumption, but that hasn’t stopped many from consuming the plant. Also, because the government has a great deal of control over what we consume in the United States, retailers have to be cautious in how they market the product. Many vendors use the disclaimer “Not for human consumption” in order to distribute the product without facing legal ramifications.
What Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know
In addition to helping those with chronic pain, kratom has many advantages promoting a sense of well-being and relaxation. It is also reported to have many health benefits such as improving circulation and lowering blood pressure (Kratom, 2015).
Kratom is fairly affordable and a prime choice for those who cannot purchase more expensive, brand name prescription medications.
“Kratom helped fill the gap when I could no longer work and couldn’t afford my $360 a month prescription for breakthrough pain.” states Tammy, administrator of a kratom related facebook group.
There are many people who are able to meet the demands of life, work and family without having to suffer financially by shelling out hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month on prescription narcotics.
Kratom breaking the chains of addiction
Robert, who suffers from a chronic liver condition, shared his story about his history with drug use ranging from marijuana to heroin. He regards kratom as a god-send.
When asked about how he heard about kratom he said “I met a heroin addict whom was taking this stuff called white rabbit kratom. He suggested I try it and guess what? Damn if it didn’t work. The more different strains and extracts I’ve found to beat pain killers, even heroin hands down and that’s the truth coming from me.”
Robert, who is considering importing and marketing kratom on a professional level has been sober from illicit drugs for almost a year. “I’m not a bad person. [Just] one who made many bad choices.” He added.
When it comes to taking kratom, dosage is highly individualized and needs to be adjusted so the effects are right for the person taking it.
“Sometimes if I drink too much I will get shaky, same as if I drank too much coffee.” Robert said.
There can also be incidences with slight headaches and irregularity. With the right diet and lifestyle changes, one can happily and responsibly consume kratom with little to no adverse effects.
A kratom enthusiast, Jim, who has a masters degree in social work says he doesn’t experience many side effects but that “It makes me a bit slower in my cognitive thinking.”
Results may vary from person to person and every situation is unique. Jim added “I guess everything has a trade off but this has been a great thing for me.”
The trade-off with opiates doesn’t fare well for most with chronic pain. They have few choices and resign themselves to living a life of being addicted to painkillers in order to manage their pain.
The opiate stigma
The truth is, many pain sufferers who are prescribed opiates frequently become stigmatized by their health care providers, often suspected of lying and abruptly discontinued of their prescriptions. With this uncertain circumstance, many people who take opiates are always hanging in the balance between a rock and a hard place. Kratom puts control back into the hands of the patient, where it belongs.
In medical journals, studies show kratom has provided a method for those who wish to stop taking opiates, while bypassing harsh withdrawal symptoms (Boyer, 2007).
Boyer, Babu, Adkins, McCurdy, and Halpern (2008) states “Although mitragynines agonize mu-opioid receptors, respiratory depression, coma, pulmonary edema and death have not, to our knowledge, been associated with human kratom ingestion.”
Why is the media attempting to create mass-hysteria?
A number of people with a history of substance abuse look to kratom to help alleviate their addiction issues and address the physical symptoms of detox and withdrawal. It offers an alternative from opiates and prescription painkillers to those who don’t want to be chained to the numerous side effects of opiates.
During withdrawals from opiates, the body releases excess amounts of cortisol, a stress hormone that causes a person to become plagued with anxiety, pain, high blood pressure and malaise. Using kratom eases the production of cortisol and provides balance during withdrawals, making the process much more attainable and successful (Khor, 2011).
Tom, who has been a kratom aficionado for 13 years says that he realizes he takes more than most people and emphasizes that his dosage is not the average.
“When I started taking kratom, for years my dose was 5-6 grams twice a day. After 10 years my tolerance went up. Most people start with about a gram, or a teaspoon and then gauge their response from there.” says Tom.
On average, discontinuing kratom will result in mild symptoms but can range to moderate discomfort on some occasions.
When asked about symptoms when stopping kratom, Tom added “When I stop taking it I have trouble sleeping for 3-5 days, [I have] some stomach discomfort, and restless legs. But that’s about the worst of it, and I dose pretty high compared to most. Low dosing I don’t thing would cause much of any type of withdrawal”.
There are some claims that withdrawal symptoms from kratom include irritability, yawning, runny nose, diarrhea, anxiety, restlessness, tremor, sweating and cravings (Suwanlert, 1975). Prior substance abuse and addiction problems are factors when an individual is experiencing withdrawals from kratom. And most will say that withdrawals are more prevalent with an addict because of the psychological aspect they have to contend with.
Regulating kratom and its use
Within the kratom community, there seems to be growing concerns about how legislation on a state level is moving toward banning the use of the plant entirely. There also exists some concerns about the lack of regulation as well.
“There definitely needs to [be] an age requirement. Plus some type of literature people receive when buying kratom that warns of possible side effects or dependency. Something honest. Not too light nor too ridiculous” says Mike, who stated even his 85 year old father benefits from taking kratom and that “The vicodins they give barely help him. Knock him out and then pain is back in [a] couple hours. One serving of kratom gives him tremendous pain and fatigue relief all day”.
A diverse group of people in the United States enjoy consuming kratom for its therapeutic benefits, ranging from the recovering addict to the consummate professional looking to mitigate stress, alleviate pain and attain a sense of well-being.
The promise of reducing the use of prescription opiates, assisting those suffering from addiction and providing the chronically ill a way to live a better quality of life is on the horizon. Being informed is key alongside sharing knowledge and opening the lines of communication between caregivers and their patients.
Prescription Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-drugs/trends-in-prescription-drug-abuse/how-many-people-abuse-prescription-drugs
Kratom, F. (2015). Kratom & Its Use for Opiate Withdrawals. PHILICA.COM Article number 454. (2015, January 12). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://www.philica.com/display_article.php?article_id=454
Boyer, Edward W et al. “Self‐Treatment of Opioid Withdrawal with a Dietary Supplement, Kratom.” The american journal on addictions 16.5 (2007): 352-356.
Boyer, E, Babu, K, Adkins, J, . McCurdy, C, & Halpern, J (2008) Self-treatment of opioid withdrawal using kratom (Mitragynia speciosa korth). Addiction, 103(6), 1048-1050. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2008.02209.x
Khor, Beng-Siang et al. “Mitragynine attenuates withdrawal syndrome in morphine-withdrawn zebrafish.” PloS one 6.12 (2011): e28340.
Suwanlert S. A study of kratom eaters in Thailand. Bull Narc. 1975;27(3):21–27.
Nina Cacic was born and raised in New Jersey and currently resides in St. Petersburg with her husband and two children. She holds a certification as a surgical technologist with surgical experience spanning over 10 years. Having an intimate knowledge of medicine and the human body, Nina understands how to apply a natural and holistic approach to preventative healthcare. She is also a doula that helps women to acheive a healthy pregnancy, childbirth andpositive postpartum experience. Nina can be reached at [email protected]