#165: Much Ado About Kratom

January 27, 2017

Kratom, a drug made from the leaves of a tree native to Southeast Asia, has been in the news lately due to a proposed moved by the DEA to classify it as a Schedule 1 drug — the same classification as drugs like heroin and LSD.

But is a supplement derived from a plant related to coffee really similar to heroin?  In episode 165, Jesse talks to Dr. Alicia Lydecker, a toxicologist at UMass, as well as an anonymous kratom user, about what all the fuss is about.

What is Kratom?

Kratom is derived from Mitragyna speciosa, a tree in the coffee family indigenous to Southeast Asia.  Kratom is a nickname for the drug derived from the plant, the same way that marijuana is a nickname for the drug derived from the cannabis plant.

It’s been used for centuries in Asia to enhance productivity and also as a substitute for opium.

The Benefits of Kratom

Modern uses for kratom include relieving pain, increasing sex drive, treating restless leg syndrome, and just plain old recreation.  Kratom is also known to increase motivation and help people get things done.

Its most important medicinal use is as an unofficial substitute for methadone to help people get off heroin.  For many addicts, kratom provides an appealing solution, since you can just order it online, instead of going into a methadone clinic.

Unfortunately, there haven’t been any trials looking at the efficacy of kratom vs methadone, so we can’t say for certain whether it’s a viable alternative.  But based on online forums, it is an efficacious substitute.

How to Take Kratom

Kratom can be taken as many ways as marijuana can be.  You can crush it into powder and stir it into a liquid, put it in capsules, chew kratom gum, take a resin, and chew on the leaves.  User beware:  the powder is very bitter, so you’re going to want to put it in a capsule or mix it with something.

At low doses, kratom functions as a stimulant like cocaine, while at higher doses it has an opioid effect.  You’ll start feeling the effects of kratom within 5 to 15 minutes of consuming it, and the effects usually last 2 – 5 hours.

Side Effects

Kratom is generally safe but it’s not completely benign.  Some people experience “hangovers” and it can cause typical opioid side effects like constipation, itchy skin, dry mouth, and dizziness.  Other side effects are more commonly found with stimulants:  tremors, seizures, and weight loss.

More serious reported side effects include liver issues, heart arrhythmias, facial skin darkening, kidney problems, and bleeding in the brain.

Is Kratom Legal?

The outcry from users who rely on the drug has caused the DEA to delay its decision and solicit public opinion.  The public comment period just ended on December 1, 2016.  For now, kratom is still a legal supplement, unregulated, while users wait to hear the final outcome.

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One comment

  1. Here is to hoping the FDA maintains the ban-reversal. As much as I agree that kratom carries a host of risks, it would be a shame for so many people to lose what could be life-altering natural medication. Unfortunately, many will abuse it, but that is the same as anything else…

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