Man holding kratom leaves

Why the DEA Wants to Ban Kratom


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Man holding kratom leaves

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, kratom is a plant that has psychoactive opioid compounds. Originally grown and used in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Malaysia), it is relatively new to the United States and has raised caution and concerns over its ability to produce a high similar to heroin and other opioids.

Intended Usage

Kratom has been used as an option to assist individuals in breaking their addiction and easing their withdrawal from more serious opioid addictive drugs (heroin, hydrocodone, etc.). Its leaves can be chewed fresh, or dried or it can be consumed in capsule, powder, tea or bar form.

Kratom has been used as an option to assist individuals in breaking their addiction and easing their withdrawal from more serious opioid addictive drugs, but some government officials believe it's an 'emerging public health threat.'

For some time, kratom has also been relatively easy to purchase online or at local “headshops.” The DEA set to change this when it announced that kratom was to become a Schedule I substance after September 30, grouped with drugs like LSD, marijuana, heroin and Ecstasy. However, after a public outcry from people who believe in its significant health benefits for pain and recovery, the ban has come to a halt; at least until further research and consultations with the public and the Food and Drug Administration are made.

Consequences of Abuse

Kratom can have a dual effect depending on the amount ingested. In small doses, it produces stimulant-like effects such as higher energy levels, excessive talking and nervousness. In larger doses, however, it acts as a sedative and produces opioid-like painkilling properties, including insensitivity to physical pain, nausea, vomiting, itching, sweating and sudden sleepiness. Those who self-medicate with kratom typically use the drug as a powerful painkiller.

As a psychotic substance, kratom may include hallucinations and confusion. There is also a belief among several addiction specialists that like OxyContin and other opioids, kratom can become addictive. Some individuals who abuse kratom have also experienced serious health consequences, although this usually occurs when it is combined with other substances. The journal Addiction documents the use of an individual taking kratom four times per day at increasing doses. The study revealed that as his doses grew, his health risks increased.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls to poison centers relating to kratom exposure increased tenfold from 26 in 2010 up to 263 in 2015. And although these reports are at a relatively low number, the CDC believes the increase in kratom use is "an emerging public health threat."

When Addiction Occurs

Since Kratom dependence is relatively new in the United States, there no concrete statistics on use and no specific addiction treatment protocols developed for detoxing and recovery. Medical experts are still studying how to identify the brain changes in response to kratom, but already believe that it can take time for the brain chemistry to return to normal functioning when use is ended. Like many drugs, it may be beneficial to slowly reduce the dosage during detox, instead of suddenly stopping the drug altogether. Unlike methadone that can be used for heroin addiction, there are not yet any specific drugs to help people who develop an addiction to kratom.

As a result, kratom treatment programs currently mirror those of other opioid programs and include group therapy, individual counseling, alternative medicine (such as meditation) and specialized support. Although kratom is NOT an opiate, according to the DEA, it results in similar withdrawal symptoms such as aggression, mood swings and muscle pain.

With kratom’s possible ban, it is likely that treatment centers will develop programs that address the addiction to this plant in greater detail. In the meantime, as more is learned about the impact of kratom and addiction, the CDC has stated that “Members of the public and health care providers should be aware that the use of kratom can lead to severe adverse effects, especially when consumed in combination with alcohol or other drugs.”

If you or someone you know is seeking help for alcohol addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.

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