The Crackdown on Kratom

Have you ever noticed signs on the side of the road, probably in front of a gas station convenience store, stating: “Kratom Sold Here”? Have you ever wondered ‘What is that?’ I had and what I found out is pretty disturbing…

In my search for info on kratom, I came across a New York Times article about a recovering heroin addict, Dariya Pankova. During the early months of her recovery, she discovered a brewed drink sold in a plastic bottle that resembled a bottle of fruit juice. It mellowed her body’s craving for narcotics. She thought she had found the solution to her dilemma until it wasn’t. The more she drank this drink, the more her cravings for heroin grew until she relapsed. Back in rehab, she discovered that the main ingredient in the drink she loved was a Southeastern Asian leaf called kratom which affects the brain like an opiate (such as heroin) and can be addictive too. With drug and alcohol abuse on the rise in America, is this new substance something to be aware of? 

What is Kratom?

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) a tropical evergreen tree from Southeast Asia is a member of the same family (Rubiaceae) as gardenias & coffee. The effects of consuming the leaves of this tree (via pill, capsule, smoking the dried

 leaves, or brewing the leaves into tea) are unique in that stimulation occurs in smaller doses and opioid-like (think oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine) effects occur with higher doses. Like the aforementioned drugs, kratom may be highly addictive. Many users have reported physical withdrawal symptoms when they stopped taking kratom.

According to Drugs.com “In the US, this herbal product has been used as an alternative agent for muscle pain relief, diarrhea and as a treatment for opiate addiction and withdrawal. However, it’s safety and effectiveness for these conditions has not been clinically determined, and the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) has raised serious concerns about toxicity and possible death with use of kratom.” As of February 2018, the FDA reported 44 related deaths linked with kratom use.

In 2016, kratom was due to be placed on the DEA’s (Drug Enforcement Administration) list of drugs and chemicals of concern. It was planning on placing kratom in the Schedule 1 category – the most restrictive classification of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I Drugs are deemed to have high abuse potential, are of no medical use and are unsafe. Examples of Schedule I substances include heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and marijuana. But due to political pressure from several members of Congress and the American Kratom Association (AKA) citing that listing kratom as a schedule 1 drug would prohibit it from being used in medical research, the DEA has put placing kratom on the Schedule 1 list on an indefinite hold.

That being said, kratom is marketed in a variety of forms (raw leaf, powder, gum, capsules, tablets, a concentrated extract) and is readily available to anyone on the Internet. It is totally unregulated. There is no way anyone can confirm the quality or purity of kratom from any Internet source. On February 20, 2018, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reported it was investigating a multistate salmonella outbreak – 28 salmonella infections in 20 states linked to kratom use. According to the report, 11 people had been hospitalized, but no deaths were reported. Those who fell ill consumed kratom pills, powder or tea, but no common distributors have been identified. Because kratom is derived from tree leaves some consumers are lead to believe that kratom is ‘all natural’ and 100% safe. While not all plants are dangerous, remember there are several dangerous drugs that do come from plants: cocaine (coca leaves), nicotine (tobacco) and heroin (opium poppy).

Is Kratom Safe?

The American Kratom Association (AKA), a nonprofit that advocates for the regulation and safe use of kratom products, stated that 3 to 5 million Americans have tried kratom in just the past few years. “Its popularity is growing,” says Pete Candland, executive director of the AKA. “People see it as a way to avoid prescription medications that feel increasingly dangerous to them.” In the US and Europe, its use is expanding, and recent reports note an increasing use by 18-25 year olds. People who have consumed Kratom have reported lessened fatigue, a decrease in anxiety, sharpened focus and pain relief. They have also used it to lower fever, lower blood pressure, even to lower blood sugar. BUT, none of these uses have been studied under clinical conditions or have been proven to be safe or effective.

 

As it’s popularity increases, so has the number of countries who have taken action: Myanmar, New Zealand, Poland, Malaysia, South Korea, Israel, and Lithuania have completely banned the sales and purchase of Kratom. As for the United States: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have classified kratom as a Schedule 1 substance. Kratom is also banned in San Diego County, California, Denver, Colorado and Sarasota County, Florida. According to Governing.com, legislation was considered last year in at least six other states: Florida, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina. 

“It’s a fascinating drug, but we need to know a lot more about it,” said Dr. Edward W. Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and co-author of several scientific articles on kratom. “Recreationally or to self-treat opioid dependence, beware – potentially you’re at just as much risk” as with an opiate.

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