Prescriptions vs Plants: My Experience With Kratom

I’ve written about kratom once before. Here’s a little excerpt from that post:

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.

I am a skeptic. I want proof. Scientific evidence. Anecdotes are okay, but I need to know what the science says about something before I’ll believe in it. This is especially true when it comes to supplements. I like to know what is in the item I am ingesting or putting on my skin.

When I first learned about kratom, I was pretty skeptical. How could there be a plant that helps with so many things that would be legal and easily accessable? However, I tried it anyway. And then I broke out into a rash on the left side of my body.

That was a few years ago and because I assumed I was allergic to it, I never tried it again. Until a few weeks ago.

The Why

I was recently forced to switch doctors due to my insurance. It was either switch doctors and pay a $35 copay each month, or stay with my old doctor and pay $275 each month. Not much of a choice there, really.

In the very first visit, the new doctor informed me that everyone has bone spurs and bulging discs in their necks, so I shouldn’t worry about mine (so I should ignore the constant pain then? Cool…). He then told me that I shouldn’t be taking the medications I was on and that he wanted me to stop them. Cold turkey. A few weeks later he performed a facet injection that has left me with more symptoms than I had before.

Because of this – and because I knew that I would be losing the only thing that gives me the ability to live a semi-productive life, I decided to try kratom again. Even though I was skeptical. Even though I had broken out in a rash the last time. I needed something, and decided it was worth the risk.

I joined a couple of Facebook groups about kratom and researched the various strains (there are a lot) and what they do, along with who the best vendor is and how I should order. I know that there are head shops near me that sell it, but I don’t trust those as far as I could throw them.

I didn’t want to buy a lot at this point, because I honestly was anticipating another allergic reaction. My problem was that most vendors seemed to only sell large amounts for large sums.

I then found Serenity Botanicals through one of the Facebook groups. (I am in no way a spokesperson for them; I’m not paid to endorse them in any way, shape or form.) They are awesome. I ordered three different strains for $3 each at about 11pm on a Thursday, and they were in my mailbox on Saturday. I recently ordered from another vendor and was pretty disappointed in what I received, so I intend to stick with them.

The Good

I tried it for the first time that night after I got home from work. Within about 30 minutes I could feel the effects and there wasn’t a rash! The pain I had in my neck, shoulders and lower back from working 12 hours dissipated some and I was able to relax.

I’ve used it on a daily basis ever since and I’ve come to prefer it over my medications. I even use it for my 12 hour shifts and only take my prescribed medication in the morning.

I feel less lethargic and more positive and just all around better.

The Not-So-Good

As with anything else, there are some downsides to kratom.

It dehydrates you, so you have to be vigilant about hydrating (something I, admittedly, am not good at). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as being hydrated helps with all kinds of problems, but it can cause problems if you don’t drink enough water. Also, because it’s dehydrating, it can cause constipation, so you may have to deal with that, as well. I’ve found that a daily magnesium supplement helps a lot.

Not all strains are created equal, and there are dangers of buying kratom that has been tampered with or cultivated using unsafe and unsanitary practices. I believe this is why I broke out in a rash the last time. There is no way of knowing for sure what you are getting, as kratom isn’t regulated. One way to deal with this is to only order from highly rated vendors. No supplement is regulated by the FDA, so you don’t really know what’s in that bottle of vitamin C, either.

The government is trying its damnedest to ban it across the board – and some states have already succeeded in doing just that. Being caught with it in states like Alabama or Vermont will land you in jail, charged with possession of a narcotic.

Because of this, it’s hard to get in some states, and it is illegal to bring across certain state lines. Plus, as more states fall into line with these ridiculous bans, you may become dependent on it and lose it, just like opioids.

Final Thoughts

Even with the not-so-good, I’ll still take it. My prescriptions have a laundry list of not-so-good symptoms, but the good outweighed the bad. Now that I will be losing them, I’m moving to kratom, which has less side effects and seems to help more.

Kratom is not a cure-all, and it’s not for everyone. It has its risks, including dependency, addiction (anything that affects the reward center of the brain has the potential to be addictive) and death when mixed with other drugs.

That said, the risks of using it do not compare to the risks of many prescription medications (I am not against prescription medications, by the way, I think that they are necessary for many people).

I do agree that more studies should be done on kratom and how it works. I do not believe that it should be banned or scheduled as a narcotic. Since other – more dangerous – substances were involved with the vast majority of the deaths related to kratom, it does not seem to be nearly as dangerous as some would have you believe. Poly drug use of any kind is dangerous and potentially lethal.

As a chronic pain patient, I am grateful to have found it. If it is taken away from me, that will mean that I’ve lost all of my ability to manage my pain, since my prescription pain medications are being taken with no replacement from my doctor.

The government will be putting me and many others in between a rock and a hard place. Some will lose their jobs, others will go to the streets and others still will turn to suicide. It’s like the moment we find something that helps us, it’s taken away because other people misuse it.

There is enough anecdotal evidence showing the positive uses of kratom that we should start actually studying its effectiveness on a large scale. I truly believe that it can benefit a lot of people for a lot of reasons.

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