In August of 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced plans to classify the drug kratom as a “Schedule I” drug, which would place the substance in the same category as heroin, LSD, ecstasy and marijuana. Schedule I drugs, as defined by the DEA, are “drugs, substances, or chemicals with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The announcement was unpopular with kratom vendors, advocates and researchers, who have claimed kratom has medicinal benefits and can be used to treat chronic pain and help those being weaned off of alcohol or opioids. The DEA has since retracted their announcement, stating that it will place the ban on hold in order to give the public and scientific community time to voice their concerns. The DEA has also asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide an evaluation of the drug’s active chemical compounds. Once the FDA’s recommendation has been received, the DEA will revisit the decision. At the time of writing, the drug is legal and unregulated in the US, but it remains to be seen whether it will continue to be in 2017 and beyond.
What we know about kratom
Kratom (Mitragynine) is derived from a tropical tree native to SE Asia and Africa. Kratom has been used by natives of southeast Asia for decades, but in 1943 the Thai government made planting the tree illegal. Several US states have banned the substance and it is also currently illegal in Australia, Denmark, Malaysia and Myanmar. Kratom comes as powder, leaves, or gum – It is ingested, smoked or brewed into a tea. At low doses, Kratom acts like a stimulant, but at higher doses the drug has the exact opposite effect – it acts like a sedative. Once ingested, the onset is 5-10 minutes and the effects last 1-5 hours. Side effects include:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Aches in muscles and bones
- Emotional lability
- Muscle jerks and tics
There are documented cases of kratom-induced psychosis that included hallucinations and delusions.
Is kratom addictive?
Proponents of the substance assert that kratom is a healthier alternative to opiate painkillers and that it’s a safe treatment option for those looking for relief from chronic pain. Many in the addiction recovery field, however, dispute that notion, arguing, “a drug is a drug”. They claim that while kratom may not be as harmful as other “harder” drugs, it is not a healthy option for treating addiction or chronic pain. Or, as drugabuse.com has stated, “Kratom is like jumping from the fire into the frying pan. You will survive the flames, but still get burned.” Current scientific research would appear to support this claim. One scientific study reported that kratom affects the same brain receptors impacted by heroin or oxycodone use, resulting in an “opioidlike high” for kratom users. Another study that looked at the affect of kratom on rats found that repeat kratom use affected memory and other cognitive abilities. Repeat use also caused withdrawal systems, resulting in hypersensitivity and an increase in anxiety. Is kratom addictive? The DEA thinks so. Citing results from a study on long-term kratom users in Thailand, the DEA concluded that “kratom consumption can lead to addiction”.
LVRC’s take on the issue:
In the “pain management” program we offer at Las Vegas Recovery Center (we prefer the term Pain Recovery), we help clients recover from their chronic pain symptoms by teaching them the skills they need to lead balanced and centered lives. In doing so, we remove any need or desire to rely on substances (illicit or otherwise) by helping clients replace their old coping techniques with new, more effective ones: such as mindfulness, mediation, yoga and healthy eating. Thus, at LVRC, whether or not a drug is “addictive” or “harmful” becomes a moot point because no substance—whether legal or illegal—can help reduce chronic pain as effectively as living a healthy, balanced life.
The bottom line:
While kratom is not as potent as other pain-relieving drugs, current research suggests it could be harmful to those predisposed to addiction. People who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder should exercise caution when using any substance that triggers the brain’s pleasure center.