A leafy dietary supplement once hailed as a lifesaver for those getting off hard drugs, has now been linked to 44 deaths in a span of roughly seven years. But with the FDA’s recent report into this controversial supplement, the confusion has only grown.
Kratom supporters criticized the FDA report as just another smear campaign to get rid of the supplement, which has treated 3 million to 5 million Americans fighting opioid addiction and other health-related issues.
Said to bring balance and focus to a person’s life without the “high,” kratom and its success stories can be found all over the country. The FDA is convinced it’s as addictive as any drug and fights hard to label it as such. This led to a letter signed by a number of scientists who argued that kratom hails from the coffee family; its chemistry and effects on the body vary greatly from that of an opioid.
To make matters worse, the DEA labeled it a “drug of concern.” On one hand, regular kratom users scoff at the idea that the supplement is addictive and swear by its alleviative powers. On the other, the FDA says kratom could turn out to be a gateway substance causing ex-addicts to relapse and even draw new users to stronger drugs. This deadlock means that consumers are caught in the middle.
Here’s what you need to know about kratom, from its ancient background down to its modern form, health benefits and risks.
What you need to know about kratom
Kratom is a tropical tree that grows abundantly in South East Asia, New Guinea and the Philippines. Its leaves are crushed and chewed on by the agrarian masses to help increase productivity. For centuries, kratom has been an important ingredient in mixtures used during Thai socioreligious practices in order to treat morphine addiction and other medical afflictions. In Malaya, it is used as an opium substitute.
Kratom as we know it today is an herbal supplement that comes in the form of tea, pills and powder. Besides being the first choice for those suffering from opioid withdrawals, kratom is also known to alleviate stress, pain and anxiety.
In any drug support group there will always be one or more who moved onto drugs like heroin after being prescribed pain meds. For instance, opioid-based Percocet or Hydrocodone are common prescription drugs for patients suffering from acute body aches. Switching to kratom can reduce body pain. In regulated doses, it can help people lose dependence on pharmaceuticals and provide an all-natural way of staying fit.
Army veterans, amputees, lupus patients and many others have spoken out about how kratom has helped them with their physical ailments and stay clear of prescription meds.
When morphine is administrated, it binds with the opioid receptors quite strongly. With kratom, there is only a partial connection—thus the consequences are very different from stronger opioids.
For heavy drinkers and abusers of pain meds, kratom can work as a gradual substitute. There is much anecdotal evidence that it has helped people achieve balance in their lives by reducing the dependence on harmful substances.
Longtime users of kratom have said it has helped them with depression and anxiety. There is an assortment of pills prescribed for those suffering from chronic social anxiety and depression. If kratom offers a cleaner and safer way to manage these conditions, why not?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds.
Health risks of kratom
Kratom is said to be analgesic, anti-hypertensive and an opium substitute, but the FDA Commissioner’s stance is that kratom is “not a safe, benign plant” needs to be explored, as well.
A study of kratom alkaloids does bring up the possibility of addiction, especially for those who have a history of substance abuse. For instance, personal stories of people who have been addicted to opiates in the past say that kratom is just as addictive over a period of time. Concentrated kratom extracts are not the best option when compared to its natural form.
Seizure disorder and kidney and liver failure have also been associated with kratom. The FDA, in its public announcement, put it in the same league as other narcotics and said that recreational use of kratom hampers the ongoing war against opioids.
The FDA’s argument is that it’s better to clamp down early on a potential public health risk instead of waiting for it to blow out of proportion. To top it off, only last month, the FDA tested 66 samples of kratom-related products, of which 33 were found to contain Salmonella strains. Companies spread across a number of states had to recall their products; the FDA is currently working with the CDC to contain this outbreak.
When it comes to kratom, the verdict is still out on whether this supplement does more harm than good. Reading quality reviews, and consulting with medical professionals, will help you determine if the risk of addiction outweighs the potential upsides of kratom use.