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Research Suggest Kratom Might Have Therapeutic Effects and a Low Potential for Abuse or Harm

Many people now use Kratom for various reasons. According to a survey that reserchers at the U.S Johns Hopkins Medicine conducted, over 2,700 people who use Kratom, which is similar to opioids conclude that it has a reduced rate of harm compared to prescription opioids for treating anxiety, pain, addiction and depression. Therapy is the attempted remediation of a health issue often following a medical diagnosis. All therapies have contraindications and indications.


According to CTclearinghouse.org, Kratom can cause effects similar to both stimulants and opiods. The two compounds in Kratom leaves known as 7-α-hydroxymitragynine, and mitragynine interact with opiod receptors in the brain and produce pleasure, sedation and decreased pain, particularly when people consume large doses of Kratom. When consumed in small doses, users report effects like:


  • Sociability
  • Increased energy
  • Alertness

However, Kratom might also cause dangerous or uncomfortable side effects like:


  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth

In a particular issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the researchers stated that even though self-reporting surveys are not always reliable, they confirmed that the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved Kratom products, and that no scientific studies have been completed to formally establish its benefits and safety. The researchers stated that it would be helpful if the USA drug agencies studied and regulated instead of banning Kratom sales outright because of its seemingly safe therapeutic potential and as an alternative to using opioids.


A consumer advocacy group called the American Kratom Association (AKA) estimates that about five million people in the United States use Kratom regularly by making tea using the powder, dissolving the powder in water or swallowing capsules among other ingestion methods. People in Asia have used Kratom for many years in small doses as a mood and energy booster, just like people in the West use it. They also use larger amounts of the botanical substance for pain or recreationally like wine or beer.


Sparse reports about Kratom have linked its use to seizures, hallucinations and liver damage when combined with drugs and alcohol. The US DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) proposed banning the use and sale of Kratom products in 2016 and the FDA wanted to categorize it as a schedule 1 drug. The supplement industry and the public in general fought against the decision of these agencies and they did not take any action. In 2018, a salmonella outbreak associated with kratom increased concerns among users. However, according to Albert Garcia-Romeu, an instructor of behavioral sciences and psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicines, findings from new surveys suggest that Kratom cannot be categorized as a schedule I drug. The reason for this is that its rate of abuse potential is relatively low and it can be used as a possible treatment for opioid use disorders and pain.


Garcia-Romeu adds that there has been some fearmongering since Kratom is similar to opiods and due to the toll of the current opiod epidemic. A study completed in 2015 in Thailand reported that Asians had been using Kratom to treat opiod addiction for decades. This has renewed in the interest of Kratom among researchers in the U.SA.


Garcia-Romeu and his team enrolled 2,798 individuals to conduct an online survey on their experiences with using Kratom. They recruited participants through social media, the AKA and on the internet. Overall, the users were mostly educated, white and middle aged. Sixty one percent were women and ninety percent were white. About 6% were multiracial, 1.5% were Hawaiian or Native American, 0.5% were Asian and 0.4% were African American. The average age of the participants was 40. About 84% of the participants had a college education.


Ninety one percent of the participants reported taking Kratom to relieve pain. On average, they took Kratom several times per day for shoulder, back and knee pain. Sixty seven percent of the participants took Kratom for anxiety and 65 percent for depression. About 41 percent said they took the botanical substance to treat opiod withdrawal. Thirty five percent of those who took it for opiod withdrawal reported that they went more than one year without taking prescription opiods.


As a part of the survey, the participants completed a substance use disorder symptom checklist to determine if their use could qualify as a substance use disorder. Less than three percent of the responses met the criterion for severe or moderate substance use disorder for abusing Kratom. However, about 13 percent met a certain criteria for substance use disorders related to Kratom use. This can be compared to about 8 to 12 percent of people who used prescription opioid medications and ended up becoming dependent. This is according to data from the United States National Institute for Drug Abuse.


Both illicit and prescription opioids come with the risk of legal overdose. Garcia-Romeu says the evidence of this fact is the over 47,000 opioid overdose deaths reported in the USA in 2017. Notably, less than 100 Kratom-related deaths have been reported in a comparable period. Besides, many of the Kratom-related deaths came about when users combined Kratom with drugs or they had pre-existing health issues.


A third of the people who participated in the survey reported experiencing mild side effects like upset stomach, constipation or lethargy, which usually resolved within a day. Only 1.9 percent reported that the side effects were serious enough for them to see a doctor. They experienced withdrawal symptoms like irritability, anxiety, insomnia and depression. Less than 10 percent of participants reported notable withdrawal symptoms.


Even though some findings indicate that Kratom is relatively safe based on the self-reports, medicinal supplements that are not controlled raise concerns when it comes to contamination or taking high doses of the active chemicals. This can increase the harmful responses and negative side effects of the botanical substance. Therefore, it would be wise if the FDA regulated Kratom. The agency could require testing for impurities and maintaining safe levels of the active ingredients. Otherwise, unregulated products increase the risk of dosing problems and unsafe additives.


Garcia-Romeu also says that there is minimal data on whether Kratom users can overdose on the botanical product alone or how it interacts with other drugs or alcohol. The researchers also state that it is necessary to perform rigorous clinical research to test Kratom for its potential intoxication effects, therapeutic benefits and adverse side effects to help in further informing government policy and regulation. It is also wise for Kratom users to be cautious and avoid mixing it with any other medicines or drugs, and to consult with their healthcare providers before taking it. When used sensibly, Kratom can provide solutions to issues that people have struggled with over the years. From our research at Austin Vibes, many people have benefited from using Kratom for relieving chronic pain, for relaxation effects, increasing energy and achieving a high, among other reasons.

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