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    Kratom: What to Know

    Kratom is a plant originally from Southeast Asia that has gained attention for its reported ability to increase energy. As an herbal supplement, it is also said to relieve pain and help with anxiety and depression.  Despite its widespread availability, kratom can be unhealthy and even dangerous. Learn more about what it is, why it’s used and how you can protect your loved one.

    What is kratom?

    Kratom is a tree that grows in Southeast Asia (known as Mitragyna speciose).[1] It has been used in this area for hundreds of years to treat opium addiction and provide energy. Its first documented use was in 1836.[2]

    The effects of kratom come from its leaves, which can be eaten whole or brewed into tea. In countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, this has been traditionally used as an herbal remedy for pain relief among rural populations – much like plants like chamomile or peppermint.[3]

    How is it used?

    Kratom is usually taken orally and can be consumed in many different ways. It is often sold in a mixable powder or as an herbal supplement in pill form. Like marijuana, it is also available as a powerful extract. Some retailers offer kratom gummies, chocolates, tea and seltzers.

    Kratom can be easily purchased both online and in stores. There is even a retail chain called “CBD Kratom” with numerous locations across the country.[4]

    Why is it used?

    Kratom has traditionally been used for medicinal purposes. Several short-term effects of kratom make it appealing, particularly:

    • Pain relief
    • Energy boosts
    • Lifting one’s mood

    Much like marijuana, different kinds of kratom can have different properties; in low doses, it can be a stimulant, and in higher doses, it can produce more of a calming effect.

    Many kratom sellers advertise their products as being able to boost energy and concentration. For example, some retailers sell “energy shots” – similar to a Five Hour Energy – that they claim can help provide “cognitive boosts” and can be used prior to a workout. Others promote specific strains for relaxation.

    Kratom can also be a substance of choice for individuals who are regularly drug tested for work or as a condition of treatment because most standard drug tests do not test for it. However, it can be detected in specialized tests.[5]

    Some research indicates its potential to help relieve pain in place of potentially addictive opioids.[6]

    Can it help with opioid withdrawal?

    Kratom has been reported by many as a potential treatment for opioid withdrawal. Opioids include heroin, fentanyl and pain relievers like Oxycontin and Vicodin. Withdrawal happens when opioid use stops and can make people very sick. Some early research indicates that kratom’s pain-relieving effects can significantly reduce the painful effects of opioid withdrawal.[7]

    However, many do not support this claim. Instead of helping with withdrawal, it can potentially lead to overdose and relapse. Regular use can result in addiction to the substance, referred to by some as “kratom use disorder.”[8] In fact, those who stop using kratom can actually experience withdrawal symptoms and require treatment involving medications for opioid use disorder.[9]

    Additionally, nearly all of the current research done on kratom has been limited to self-reports and observational studies rather than in a controlled clinical setting.[10] More investigation is needed to confirm whether it is effective and safe to use for this purpose.

    Is it legal?

    Kratom products are not regulated at the national level, which can make them easy to access. However, they are banned in a few states. Other states have restrictions in certain counties or cities. Still others have imposed age limits. You can check your state’s kratom laws here.

    While these products are widely available, none have been approved by the FDA.[11] In fact, in 2022 the FDA issued a statement naming it as a substance of concern. They continue to warn consumers not to use kratom at all due to the risk of dependence and addiction. While the FDA supports kratom research, it has not been approved its use for any purpose.

    What are the risks?

    While some people may experience benefits from it, kratom can be incredibly unhealthy and even dangerous. Short-term side effects can include nausea, constipation, dizziness and dry mouth. Additionally, because kratom products are not regulated, they can contain different materials – sometimes chemicals and plants that are not related to kratom. As a result, its effects can vary from person to person and cannot usually be predicted.

    Kratom can interact negatively with other substances and medications, which can cause overdose and death.[12] Particularly worrisome is combining it with alcohol, sedatives and opioids. Regular use can also result in stomach ulcers, and, in some cases, serious issues with the liver or other internal organs.[13]

    Kratom has also been detected in some unintentional overdose deaths.[14] It is not yet known if kratom on its own can cause an overdose, but some research suggests that it can increase the risk of overdose when used with other substances.[15]

    What can lower the risks of kratom use?

    Kratom may have some reported potential benefits, and has been used for hundreds of years by populations in Southeast Asia, which shows that it does work as a remedy to reduce pain. However, ongoing research has found that there are also significant risks involved.

    Be sure to provide your loved one with accurate information about kratom. Make sure they are aware that there can be life-threatening effects, and there has only been limited research so far on its effectiveness.

    Reducing harm when using substances like kratom is also very important. If you know or suspect that your loved one is using kratom, some safety measures you can encourage them to take include:

    • Don’t mix kratom with other substances, as this can increase the chance of overdose.
    • Do research and try to find kratom from more reliable sources.
    • Never use alone, and try to have a sober friend on hand in case of emergency.

    Reported overdoses including kratom almost always happen along with other substances. Additionally, some kratom products can be contaminated with opioids like fentanyl. Carrying fentanyl test strips and naloxone in case of an accidental overdose is very important.

    If your loved one is using kratom and you need support, connect with us here.