The Kratom Controversy

I first heard about Kratom about two years or so ago. Maybe even longer. Time is somewhat of a blur for me. Anyway, so I found out about it through one of my husband’s coworkers. He heard that I was going through surgeries and dealing with pain and he suggested it to my husband and told him that he had used it to come off of opioids years prior.

When my husband and I first heard about it, we were pretty excited. A natural plant that can mimic the pain relieving effects of a pain killer without the crazy stigma and possible side effects? Count me in! Unfortunately, for me it wasn’t so easy.


What Is Kratom?

You might have heard of this plant in the news either recently or about a year ago. In both cases, the FDA put out strong warnings about the plant and the DEA has it’s sights set on banning the product completely. It’s already illegal to buy or sell in many states.

When they started the conversation last year, the fire was quickly quelled by an outpouring of rage from concerned citizens and Kratom users alike. As could probably be expected, they are finding themselves facing similar backlash this year, too.

Kratom is a tree that belongs to the coffee family and grows naturally in South Asia. The leaves have been used for centuries by locals for their sedative (in high doses) and stimulative (in smaller doses) effects.

Although it is not an opioid, it is an opioid agonist, meaning it binds to certain opioid receptors in the brain, giving a euphoric feeling similar to opioids. However, because it doesn’t bind to the same opioid receptors, these effects are not as potent as with an opioid.


Who Uses Kratom?

Although it has been used as a traditional medicine for centuries in South Asia, these days when used in the United States it is generally used for one of three reasons:

  • To treat chronic pain
  • To ease opioid withdrawals
  • Recreationally

Because it acts similarly to opioids, it is a very effective pain reliever for many people. Especially in this time of opiophobia, when pain patients are being cut off left and right by fearful physicians. If they are aware of Kratom, they will likely try to get this first before seeking opioids elsewhere, like on the street. That is a good thing, by the way.

For others, it is used as a tool to help opioid withdrawals not suck so much. One of the main causes of relapse are withdrawals because they. Are. Terrible. Cold sweats, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, depression, etc. When you’re in the middle of them the only thing you can think about is relief; whether that comes by more opioids or death, you don’t care. So, if you find something that helps and isn’t an opioid, you’re going to use it.

The third group is more controversial because they kind of mess it up for everyone else (kind of like those who use opioids recreationally). They use it just to get high. Although the effects may not be as strong as an opioid, they are still pretty noticeable. So, some people use it as a way to wind down – like they would with recreational marijuana – and some people eventually become addicted to it.

Addiction is a risk with any substance that affects the parts of our brain associated with rewards.


So, Why Ban It?

The DEA says they want to ban it because it isn’t approved by the FDA (plenty of FDA approved products are dangerous) and that there are multiple deaths associated with its use. That said, they do not specify whether or not other drugs were involved in these deaths. The issue I have with this is that some people mix Kratom with other drugs, like opiates or alcohol, meaning that any of these deaths could be related to other substances.

But even if 36 people have died from a substance that can be legally obtained online without a prescription, that is nothing compared to the thousands of people dying every year due to heroin and/or fentanyl overdoses, which are not nearly as easy to obtain. Alcohol kills thousands of people every year, yet it is still legal because we know what happened when we tried to ban it.

Now, I understand the whole “it’s not regulated so you can’t know what you’re getting” aspect of it, but the majority of supplements – including the multivitamins in medicine cabinets across the country – aren’t regulated, either, and have done serious harm to people. Yet, there’s no ban.

Between the lack of a reasonable explanation and the fact that Glaxo/Smith/Kline, who pays Scott Gottlieb (Trump’s FDA pick) a lot of money to sit on their Product Investment Board, and the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine have patents on different Kratom alkaloids, I’m really beginning to wonder if there is something more sinister happening here.


My Experience With Kratom

Alright, back to my story. So, my husband found out through his coworker where we could buy it and we placed our order. It came in a few weeks later and we got right to trying to figure out how to take it.

We bought it in powder form and were told to mix it with a flavored tea. I’m pretty sure the coworker left out how absolutely disgusting it is on purpose. I almost threw up with every swig. However, I kept it all down and waited. And waited. And waited. Until my face started to itch – but not in the way that opioids might make you itch. It was just one side of my face and when I touched it, it was hot.

I looked in the mirror and discovered that a rash had spread from my head to my torso to my feet on the left side of my body. I’ve never broken out in a rash for any reason (other than poison ivy while being a dumb kid), yet here I was with a line down the middle of my face separating my healthy skin from my red, raised and itchy skin. I was so disappointed.

I tried it one other time a few months later – a different batch that didn’t negatively affect the person who allowed me to sample it – and the same exact thing happened. It turns out that it wasn’t just that batch, it was me. My body is just…great.


Final Thoughts

Kratom may have its risks and it may be a substance that some people abuse or use recreationally, but it’s also a product that has helped thousands of people deal with chronic pain, mental health issues and opioid withdrawals. More people using Kratom means less people using illicit opioids and that can’t be a bad thing.

Are there risks to using it? Of course! But there are risks to driving your car or eating a ton of carbs, too. This is a plant that has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes and it is being vilified for no legitimate reason. Sounds a lot like pot, really.

I may not be able to benefit from Kratom, but I know that thousands of other people do. If we are serious about getting a handle on this drug epidemic we have got to stop trying to ban natural substances that can help. Especially if the ban is based on greed and dishonesty and not on the health and well-being of our citizens.