All the hype has been around the legal substance known as kratom, and it has swept the nation in a bad way. While many advocates say that kratom doses helped them ease off opioid addiction, the reality is that others have not been so lucky. When the drug was still gaining momentum and becoming popular, it was not synonymous with overdose deaths. As it picked up some steam, there have been several deaths attributed to kratom. U.S. News Today mentions that kratom may be emerging as a small but dangerous piece of the nation’s ongoing drug crisis.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests kratom can be deadly, primarily when used in conjunction with other drugs. From July 2016 to June 2017, 152 drug overdose deaths of people who died tested positive for kratom. Among those fatal overdoses, kratom was listed as the main culprit in 91 of those cases. Researchers were quick to admit, however, that “the presence of additional substances cannot be ruled out.”
For many of the deaths, the ultrapotent opioid fentanyl was present along with heroin and benzodiazepines. As mentioned above, many believe kratom is the panacea that can help ease withdrawal from drug addiction. Unfortunately, it seems many people are finding out the hard way that it may not be the truth.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently regulate kratom nor has it been approved for medical use. The FDA has released several advisories about kratom, warning that it has a potential for abuse amid a nationwide drug epidemic that has killed more than 70,000 people in 2017. The FDA is concerned that kratom, which affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine, appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.
It’s difficult enough to regulate drugs that are considered illegal, and the United States can face a serious threat due to kratom. Unregulated opioid-like medicines that are easily found online are going to grow in popularity. When drugs are scarce, many may turn to these dangerous substances online and hurt themselves.
It is difficult to determine what you’re receiving is legitimate when the government does not regulate it, and when you purchase drugs online, it is like playing Russian roulette with your life. Because kratom is so similar to opioid drugs, even receiving real kratom has immediate dangers. If something is killing us and causing dependence, we must question why it is still legal, and why individuals are looking to consume it.
Kratom is a natural plant that comes from Southeast Asia, and it is sold in capsules or powders that claim to ease pain, anxiety, and drug dependence. Reports have mentioned that it causes euphoric effects like heroin, and with an increase in deaths and people trying to stop using opioids on their own, we are going to continue seeing a spike in kratom use.
Substance use seldom causes problems in the short-term, but the more that is being learned about kratom sheds light on the potential issues we can face moving forward long-term.
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Kratom possesses unique characteristics and chemicals, and the short-term effects of the drug are complex. The balance between stimulant-like and opiate-like effects are dependent on the consumed dose, and different people have given variable reports of their experience, even when taking the same dose.
At lower doses, stimulant like-effects are dominant, and they are felt within 10 minutes, and last anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. Most users indicate experiencing pleasant effects, but some have reported they were uncomfortable and filled with anxiety or agitation. The stimulant-like effects include:
Higher doses of kratom are where we start dealing with the opioid-like effects. Scientists are still researching the drug to determine how its effects can vary so much based on dose. Higher doses of the drug have been described as euphoric and less intense than opioids such as heroin or morphine, but some have mentioned their experience to be unpleasant, or dysphoric. Some of the short-term effects include:
Kratom has many side effects that are worthy of mentioning, and they range from inconvenient to deadly. The side effects are dependent on the dose that is taken and is similar to those found in amphetamines or opiate drugs. These include:
Severe toxic effects are rare occurrences when dealing with kratom, but there is not much information available to estimate the danger of its toxicity effects. The most harmful effects are attributed to high doses, which are 15 grams or more, and have been characterized by seizures.
While research is still being conducted to determine the severity kratom use has in the long-term, there is some research that has been released highlighting the dangers of long-term kratom use. Some of these include:
The data that has been presented examines long-term kratom use, particularly in individuals where the drug is indigenous. These studies highlight a physical dependence on the drug, which can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms upon abrupt cessation.
The initial withdrawal symptoms of kratom include:
The withdrawal symptoms peak shortly after the last use, and only last within a day or two in most cases. The duration with withdrawal syndrome is short and typically lasts between five and seven days.
Additional studies have shown benzodiazepines role in kratom withdrawal. Other medications treat specific symptoms such as pain are also recommended. The withdrawal syndrome appears to be the result of prolonged daily use of the drug as a tea, and less frequent use may not lead to tolerance or withdrawal symptoms.
Gaining control over kratom products can help ensure that the ingredients in the substance are what they are advertised as.
As mentioned earlier in the article, one of the issues is taking potentially dangerous non-regulated substances that are being marketed as kratom and result in death.
If you or a friend is consuming kratom daily and you are concerned about their use, they must consider getting treatment.
Treatment can provide medications such as low doses of benzodiazepines to help combat some of the worst symptoms experienced during kratom withdrawal.
While the long-term effects are being studied, little is known about the detox process, and instead of playing with fire, it will be in your best interest to get the help you need.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Kratom. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/kratom
Saingam, D., Assanangkornchai, S., Geater, A. F., & Lerkiatbundit, S. (2014). Validation of Krathom (Mitragyna speciosa Korth.) Dependence Scale (KDS): A dependence screen for internationally emerging psychoactive substance. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24853660
Office of the Commissioner. (n.d.). Public Health Focus – FDA and Kratom. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm584952.htm
Kratom-Linked Overdose Deaths Examined in CDC Study. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2019-04-11/kratom-linked-overdose-deaths-examined-in-cdc-study