Kratom is an herbal medicine that comes from a tropical tree indigenous to Southeast Asia, where it is widely known as “nature’s Vicodin.” In the United States, it has become increasingly available and used for its stimulant, analgesic and opioid-like effects for the self-treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings, chronic pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the American Kratom Association (AKA).
What is kratom?
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tree in the coffee family that is native to countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia. The leaves of the tree are often chewed, crushed into powder, smoked or made into a paste that can be swallowed or mixed with foods or other liquids.
Kratom has been used for centuries to combat fatigue and boost work productivity. In some countries, kratom has been used to treat a number of medical conditions including opioid dependence.
At low doses, the consumption of kratom leaves can produce stimulant effects including increased alertness and physical energy, while at higher doses, kratom produces sedative effects and even psychotic symptoms (e.g., confusion, delusions, hallucinations), according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Current legal status of kratom in the U.S. and worldwide
Kratom is currently banned in Malaysia, Myanmar, Finland, Poland, Lithuania and Australia, according to Frank L. Greenagel, Jr., MSW, LCSW, LCADAC, an adjunct professor at the Rutgers University School of Social Work. In the United States, kratom is banned in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin, Sarasota County, Florida, and San Diego County, California.
Currently, the DEA lists kratom as a “Drug and Chemical of Concern,” and reports that the substance is not controlled under the Federal Controlled Substances Act and that the drug has no legitimate medical use. In addition, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) has also identified kratom as an emerging drug of abuse, as a number of case studies have documented withdrawal effects, seizures, psychosis and deaths that have resulted from taking kratom.
Furthermore, a July 2016 report by Mehruba Anwar, M.D., and colleagues, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that poison center calls have increased by ten-fold for kratom from 2010 to 2015. As the use of kratom is increasing, it appears that the reports of negative consequences and side effects have increased as well.
Americans have increasingly used kratom as an herbal alternative to traditional medical treatments for self-managing chronic pain and opioid addiction; however, it is important to note that, similar to other herbal and homeopathic medicines, evidence regarding the safety and efficacy of kratom is not widely available. Kratom’s therapeutic potential for use as an adjunctive, or even an alternative, treatment for certain prescription drugs, including prescription painkillers, seems promising, just as its ability to treat opioid cravings and withdrawal would indeed be beneficial for fighting the opioid epidemic. Yet with any herbal medicine, there are risks and negative side effects involved, including addiction. It is important that people are aware of the current status of kratom and of the risks involved in taking it.
Illicit drug abuse and dependence has remained one of the most significant causes of morbidity and mortality in the state of California, leading to hospitalizations, chronic medical problems and death when left untreated. Sovereign Health of California offers comprehensive behavioral health treatment programs for patients with alcohol and drug addiction. For more information about the treatment programs offered at Sovereign Health of California, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.
About the author
Amanda Habermann is a staff writer for Sovereign Health. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. Her master’s thesis was written on “The effect of parental codependency on elementary school children’s social and emotional development,” and her research has been accepted for poster presentations at the Western Psychological Association. She brings to the team her extensive clinical background and skills in psychological testing and assessment, clinical diagnosis, research and treatment, and recovery techniques for patients with mental illness. She is a passionate researcher and enjoys staying up to date on the newest topics in the field. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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