Many people have never even heard of kratom, but this popular drug is beginning to make its presence known throughout the world. Kratom has been used for hundreds of years as a pain reliever. However, the herbal drug has recently been linked to a spike in the number of overdose deaths in the U.S.
What is Kratom?
The drug is an herbal remedy used for pain and anxiety, made from the leaves of the kratom tree in Southeast Asia. The leaves can be eaten raw, crushed or brewed into tea. It is also now widely distributed in tablet, capsule and liquid form. When used in large amounts, kratom acts as a sedative.
Proponents of kratom claim that the herb offers many benefits, from pain relief to help with depression and anxiety. However, controversy surrounds the drug as more studies begin to find that deaths associated with kratom are on the rise.
According to the CDC, almost 100 people overdosed on kratom over a 17 month period, from July 2016 to December 2017. Data was based on reports from over 27,000 unintentional drug overdoses spread out across 32 states. It should be noted that approximately 80 percent of people in the study also had a history of substance abuse—other substances like cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids were found in their system.
Some scientists have reported that the herb is effective in helping opioid withdrawal, while others say that the drug is no better than any other opioid because it affects the same areas of the brain.
The CDC also reported an increase in poison control center calls between 2010 and 2015. Kratom is thought to be safe by many people, with almost 5 million Americans alone using kratom each year. The American Kratom Association claims that the drug is safe and, at low doses, acts as a mild stimulant. Higher doses purportedly help with opioid withdrawals, as it helps to control pain. Yet, the FDA says there is no evidence to indicate that the herb is safe or effective for medical use. The potential for abuse also remains.
In 2016, kratom was proposed to be classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA, but public outcry halted the plan. The DEA then announced that it would withdraw the notice of intent while they solicited further comment.
Currently, there are 6 U.S. states that have banned the use of kratom and labeled it a controlled substance, making it illegal to possess, sell or grow. These are Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
No final decision has been made by the DEA at this time.
Since the drug is herbal, many people think it’s safe. But as with any drug, there are still potential risks to be had. Studies are still being done on the potential side effects and danger of kratom. Any user of kratom is urged to consult with their doctor first before taking the drug or attempting to use it as a form of pain relief.
As more studies evolve, the public will be informed more about the use of kratom and whether it is a help or harm to those taking it.