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A growing trend in America today is to experiment with various “legal” drug-like substances. Many of these are home grown plants or supplements that are marketed as legal and harmless. As many are witnessing first hand, however, there are many risks when it comes to using experimental supplements, especially to someone who is already recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction. Even though some of these substances are described as having the ability to help wean an individual off opiates or other drugs, these claims are almost always exaggerated and should be examined more closely.

Traditional Use of Kratom and Legislation

Kratom is an ancient substance that is getting much attention today because of its resurgence in America. According to the DEA, Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa korth), is a tropical tree indigenous to Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar and other areas of Southeast Asia. It is in the same family as the coffee tree, and has been used by those living in Southeast Asia for decades. When the leaves of this plant are chewed in small amounts, it works as a stimulant, providing users with increased alertness, physical energy, talkativeness and sociable behavior. When used in larger amounts, kratom mimics opioids, providing pain relief, sedation, and a feeling of euphoria.

Kratom traditionally was used by Southeast Asian farmers to increase their energy so they could work longer, harder hours, while also providing them with pain relief. It is also used in a compound by Thai militants and young Muslims to make themselves more bold and fearless. However, there are several dangers associated with the use of kratom, and the substance has been banned in several countries:

  • In 1943, the Thai government passed the Kratom Act 2486 that made planting of the tree illegal.
  • In 1979, the Thai government enacted the Narcotics Act B.E. 2522, placing kratom along with marijuana in Category V of a five category classification of narcotics.
  • In January 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) placed a ban on the import of products containing kratom, stating that there is no legitimate use of this substance as a dietary supplement.
  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has not yet listed kratom as a controlled substance, but it is now listed as a “drug of concern.”

Dangers of Kratom

Easy to obtain and use: The leaves of the kratom plant are chewed or ground up and dissolved in drinks. The effects of this substance usually occur within 5 to 10 minutes of ingestion, and may last for 2 to 5 hours.

Kratom today is legally sold in the United States as an over-the-counter dietary supplement at convenience stores, music stores, and gas stations, as well as through the Internet. A growing practice is for bars to sell kratom in a drinkable tea form for recreational use. These establishments market the drug as a legal substance that will help relax the person while increasing their energy.

Other names kratom is known by:

  • Thom
  • Ketum
  • Biak
  • Kakuam
  • Thang

Harmful to physical health: Contrary to the belief of many who experiment with it, kratom is not a harmless substance. It can cause a range of immediate and long term side effects that are hazardous to the individual’s health and wellbeing.

The DEA reports that “Long-term use of kratom produced anorexia, weight loss, insomnia, skin darkening, dry mouth, frequent urination, and constipation. A withdrawal syndrome was observed, consisting of symptoms of hostility, aggression, emotional lability, wet nose, achy muscles and bones, and jerky movement of the limbs. Furthermore, several cases of kratom psychosis were observed, where kratom addicts exhibited psychotic symptoms that included hallucinations, delusion, and confusion.”

Immediate side effects of kratom include:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Itching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Dry Mouth
  • Increased urination

Long term use of kratom can lead to more serious side effects, including:

  • Anorexia
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Liver disease
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Addiction

Addictive: Some claim that kratom is able to help addicts overcome a heroin or other opiate addiction because of its ability to mimic the effects of these drugs. However, studies show that kratom, when used over a long period of time, is addictive itself. Those who use this substance to treat an existing drug addiction usually just end up replacing one dangerous drug for another.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recently published a study that reported on psychiatric illness and significant withdrawal symptoms in Thai individuals who abused kratom for a long period of time, citing muscle aches, insomnia, and irritability as the most common symptoms. In addition, hallucinations, paranoia, trouble feeling pleasure, and decreased cognition were also reported.

Withdrawal symptoms of kratom:

  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Runny nose
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Decreased cognition

Kratom’s Use for Treating Addiction

While some people state that kratom is helpful for treating opiate withdrawal symptoms and allowing them to safely withdraw from these drugs, most experts simply disagree. This makes the substance even more dangerous for those in recovery, as people put their hope in a substance that they believe will magically solve all their problems. As we have seen, kratom comes with its own set of problems, including addiction, and must be treated with care.


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