Here’s why I tell people I care about to steer clear of Kratom:
Kratom binds to the same receptors in the brain as opioids. So, although it does not contain opiates, it works the same way on the brain. More on that (and a link to the research) below.
I admit: I never have tried Kratom.
And I never would, based on what I have read and heard about it from people I interview.
Any herb can be incredibly dangerous. I say this admittedly being a proponent of medical cannabis.
But even medical cannabis, which is lacking research due to government restrictions, has plenty of research on the books demonstrating its relative safety.
Kratom does not.
Why? Most natural herbal supplements and the like have not undergone any sort of rigorous clinical trial on humans, so we don’t really know what’s good or what’s bad about them, or what’s the proper dose.
I once was assigned a series of “encyclopedia entries,” as I used to call them, by Healthline. My task was to research each herb then write largely positive reviews about how they can benefit your health.
For the first time I ever, I pulled out of the assignment. Indeed, it was the last paid assignment from Healthline I ever took.
I felt like I was being pushed to find the good in these herbs when all I really could find online was warnings about just how dangerous herbs can be because we know so little about them.
I did not feel comfortable with the assignment, particularly as it pertained to Chinese medicine for which there is so little research.
Kratom is a tree in Southeast Asia. There, its medicinal properties have been lauded and celebrated for centuries.
Indeed, just last year a review of existing research published in Human Psychopharmacology concluded, “Legal sanctions appear to have preceded serious scientific investigations into the claimed benefits of ketum (kratom). More objective-controlled trials and experiments on humans need to be conducted to validate self-report claims by kratom users in the community.”
The researcher reported, “Kratom has long been used by rural populations in Southeast Asia as a remedy for common ailments, to fight fatigue from hard manual work, as a drink during social interaction among men, and in village religious functions. Studies based on self-reports suggest that prolonged kratom use does not result in serious health risks or impair social functioning.
“Two recent trends have also emerged: (a) Kratom is reportedly being used to ease withdrawal from opioid dependence in rural settings; whereas (b) in urban areas, adulterated kratom cocktails are being consumed by younger people to induce euphoria.”
Kratom might actually LEAD to opioid addiction
In the context of the opioid epidemic, many people are experimenting with kratom in a well-intentioned effort to get off opioids.
But when it’s being used by someone already prone to addictive behavior, taking too much kratom could spell disaster.
And in fact, kratom may even LEAD to opioid dependence. More on that in a second.
And can I speak addict to addict? Even when we are of the mindset of getting off drugs, let’s be honest. “Well, if one kratom doesn’t do anything for me, I’ll take two. If two doesn’t do anything, I’ll take three.”
And the next thing you know you’re dizzy and throwing up. Maybe your heart is beating really fast.
Maybe somewhere in the mix you threw an opioid down the hatch on top of the kratom because you weren’t feeling relief from the kratom.
Kratom binds to the same receptors in the brain as opioids. So, although it does not contain opiates, it works the same way on the brain. You can read more about how kratom works on the brain in this Scientific American piece.
So, a person trying to get off opioids with kratom likely isn’t going to see much success. In fact, they may end up craving “the real thing” even more.
It’s sort of like giving a recovering alcoholic like myself benzodiazepines (valium, Xanax, Ativan) for anxiety…they work on the brain the same way as alcohol, so it’s just a really bad idea.
Here’s what FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said about Kratom in a statement to the news media in November:
The FDA knows people are using kratom to treat conditions like pain, anxiety and depression, which are serious medical conditions that require proper diagnosis and oversight from a licensed health care provider. We also know that this substance is being actively marketed and distributed for these purposes. Importantly, evidence shows that kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and in some cases, death. Thus, it’s not surprising that often kratom is taken recreationally by users for its euphoric effects. At a time when we have hit a critical point in the opioid epidemic, the increasing use of kratom as an alternative or adjunct to opioid use is extremely concerning.
It’s very troubling to the FDA that patients believe they can use kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms. The FDA is devoted to expanding the development and use of medical therapy to assist in the treatment of opioid use disorder. However, an important part of our commitment to this effort means making sure patients have access to treatments that are proven to be safe and effective. There is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder. Patients addicted to opioids are using kratom without dependable instructions for use and more importantly, without consultation with a licensed health care provider about the product’s dangers, potential side effects or interactions with other drugs.
There’s clear data on the increasing harms associated with kratom. Calls to U.S. poison control centers regarding kratom have increased 10-fold from 2010 to 2015, with hundreds of calls made each year. The FDA is aware of reports of 36 deaths associated with the use of kratom-containing products. There have been reports of kratom being laced with other opioids like hydrocodone. The use of kratom is also associated with serious side effects like seizures, liver damage and withdrawal symptoms.
Given all these considerations, we must ask ourselves whether the use of kratom – for recreation, pain or other reasons – could expand the opioid epidemic. Alternatively, if proponents are right and kratom can be used to help treat opioid addiction, patients deserve to have clear, reliable evidence of these benefits.
I understand that there’s a lot of interest in the possibility for kratom to be used as a potential therapy for a range of disorders. But the FDA has a science-based obligation that supersedes popular trends and relies on evidence. The FDA has a well-developed process for evaluating botanical drug products where parties seek to make therapeutic claims and is committed to facilitating development of botanical products than can help improve people’s health. We have issued guidance on the proper development of botanical drug products. The agency also has a team of medical reviewers in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research that’s dedicated to the proper development of drug applications for botanicals. To date, no marketer has sought to properly develop a drug that includes kratom.
So, what makes medical cannabis any better?
In states where it’s legal, especially Illinois, it’s regulated.
It’s heavily regulated in Illinois, in fact. No state is stricter. You know what you’re getting, where it came from, and what’s in it.
EVERYTHING is labeled, right down to THC and CBD percentages per harvest. What you’re about to consume has been tested, guaranteed to be all-natural, and even pesticide-free. It has been followed from seed to dispensary sack.
Kratom in its varying online forms is dangerous. There’s no regulation. It’s potentially addictive.
Stay away from it.