Most Americans have not heard of kratom, but that’s changing based on anecdotal reports that it helps with opioid withdrawal, a major issue nowadays. Made from the leaves of a tree in the coffee family, kratom has been widely used in Southeast Asia for centuries. The big question is whether it is beneficial or a risk to public health, something that requires further study.
Kratom is made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa, a tree that is native to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea. It has been used in traditional medicine in these areas going back to at least the 19th century. However its use has been banned in Thailand since 1943, which some claim is due to government control of the opium market. The Thai government has considered legalizing kratom in 2004, 2009, and 2013 as a safer alternative to meth, but this has not yet come about.
Use of kratom is also prohibited in Malaysia, where the plant is indigenous.
Over the past decade, kratom has become a recreational drug in Southeast Asia.
Kratom has been used as an opium substitute and as a tool to help wean users dealing with opioid addiction, as it appears to be a less costly and perhaps less addictive alternative to expensive prescription opioids. However, kratom appears to be as addictive as opioids.
In traditional medicine, kratom is used to relieve musculoskeletal pain; increase energy, appetite, and sexual desire; heal wounds; and as a topical anesthetic.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence about the efficacy of kratom, but at present there are no in depth studies to verify these claims or show them to be unsubstantiated. If you choose to use kratom, you should be aware of this.
Low levels of kratom may produce anxiety, agitation, itching, nausea, loss of appetite, and other symptoms in users. A moderate levels, it functions as a stimulant and side effects may include dizziness, hypotension, dry mouth, and sweating. High levels of kratom use can cause tremors, anorexia, seizures, and psychosis.
Heavy users may experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to give up using kratom.
Kratom in the Western World
The Mitragyna speciosa plant is prohibited in some nations, but not in others. It is currently controlled in Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Sweden, and it is banned in the UK under the Psychoactive Substances Act.
Australia and New Zealand
Kratom is a controlled substance in Australia and regulated in New Zealand.
Kratom is not illegal in Canada, but it is illegal to market its use by ingestion.
In August 2014, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) attempted to classify kratom as a Schedule I drug, the same category used for marijuana, heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and several other drugs with high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. This drew strong public protest, with 51 Representatives, 9 Senators, and around 140,000 citizens addressing their objections to the DEA. In October 2014, the DEA withdrew its petition, which is where matters stand today.
The DEA has asked the FDA to provide a scientific and medical evaluation of kratom.
At present kratom is illegal in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. The US Army prohibits its members from using kratom as well.
Because kratom is not regulated in the United States, it is unknown how widely it is being used.
In the end, you have to draw your own conclusion. The links below provide a good starting point for further reading on the subject of kratom.
- Mitragyna speciosa, Wikipedia
- The Dangers and Potential of ‘Natural’ Opioid Kratom, C. Michael White. November 19, 2017. The author is head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Connecticut.
- Should Kratom Use Be Legal?, Larry Greenemeier, Scientific American, September 30, 2013.
- What Is Kratom? Why Has the DEA Wanted to Ban It?, Jennifer Clopton, WebMD, updated October 12, 2016.