By WENDY WIECKI
Cloud Peak Counseling Center 

What is kratom?

 

August 24, 2023



Kratom is a popular herbal supplement derived from the dried leaves of a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family. People use kratom to treat chronic pain, depression and anxiety. And some use it to lessen the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

Anyone can buy kratom online, and it can be found at convenience stores, gas stations and vape shops. About 1.7 million people 12 and older used kratom in the United States in 2021, according to the National Survey on Drug Use.

But kratom is not without risks. I recently read an article that talked about a bright young man, J.D. Butler, who lost his life due to kratom. According to the article, “A subsequent autopsy revealed that J.D.’s fatal seizure was brought on by mitragynine toxicity, caused by long-term ingestion of the widely used herbal supplement kratom.” Other articles I reviewed that involved deaths from kratom reported the same conclusion, “mitragynine toxicity.”

Although many users swear by kratom for mood enhancement and fatigue reduction, safety issues and questions about its effectiveness abound. According to an article by the Mayo Clinic, “At low doses, kratom acts as a stimulant, making users feel more energetic. At higher doses, it reduces pain and may bring on euphoria. At very high doses, it acts as a sedative, making users quiet and perhaps sleepy. Some people who practice Asian traditional medicine consider kratom to be a substitute for opium. Some people take kratom to avoid the symptoms of opioid withdrawal and because kratom may be bought more easily than prescription drugs.”

Many people hold the belief that because it is plant-based, it is natural and safe. However, because the active ingredient in kratom can vary from plant to plant, it can be very dangerous. In an article by the Mayo Clinic, “Poison control centers in the United States received about 1,800 reports involving use of kratom from 2011 through 2017, including reports of death. About half of these exposures resulted in serious negative outcomes such as seizures and high blood pressure. Five of the seven infants who were reported to have been exposed to kratom went through withdrawal. Kratom has been classified as possibly unsafe when taken orally.”

The reality? Kratom poses serious health and safety concerns that include the potential for addiction, overdose and death. People who regularly abuse kratom often require addiction treatment. If someone is using kratom that was in active addiction to other substances, I think they really have to question if they are indeed in recovery or if they are merely substituting a plant-based substance that can give them a similar effect like their previous drug of choice.

The FDA warns against kratom use. Because kratom affects opioid receptors in the brain, the FDA believes that kratom puts people at risk for addiction, dependence and abuse. The FDA has not approved kratom for any uses. They stress that more research is needed to fully understand the safety of the drug and the risks associated with consumption.

If you are a kratom user, I would encourage you to do some research and really weigh if the risks are worth it as research indicates that those who use kratom regularly may risk becoming dependent.

 
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