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Over the last few years, a new drug has come in the center of a global controversy due to its opioid-like nature and other legality issues. Also referred to as “kakuam”, “ketum”, “biak-biak” among others, Kratom has become quite popular due to its perceived uses and other benefits to the human body.
Kratom is the common name of a tropical evergreen plant (Mitragyna speciaosa) native to many parts of South East Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, some parts of Africa, as well as Papua New Guinea. Kratom is a herbal supplement that has been used for thousands of years as a traditional energy boost and cure for pains and easing aches. This evergreen plant actually belongs to the Rubiaceae family, whose other members include gardenia and coffee.
Kratom over the years has been viewed as an opiate substance and a substitute for cocaine and cannabis due to the fact that there were no researches and studies that have been able to prove otherwise. However, more studies continue to provide anecdotal evidence that proves that it can be used in the management of withdrawal symptoms that are mostly associated with opiate addiction; apart from being used as a stimulant, an energy boost and as a mild pain reliever.
In order to understand what Kratom does, it is important to also shed light on how it actually works in the body. Although researches and different studies are still being carried out in order to establish comprehensive information on Kratom, there is some anecdotal and partially supportive information that explains how it works in the human body. Most of the information has been obtained from frequent users, medical practitioners and animal experts who have studied the effects of Kratom on rats and mice.
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How Kratom Works
Kratom has been found to contain more than 20 biologically active chemical compounds inclusive of some that bind the opioid receptors in the body. Out of these 20 compounds, the two alkaloid compounds that stand out the most are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.
Kratom has been used traditionally as an energy boost and to lessen pain and muscle aches. Following a number of scientific studies, it is thought that mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine actually attach to proteins known as opioid receptors. Once attached to the opioid receptors, they help reduce pain perception, therefore, controlling pain.
For the energy boost, it depends on the dose taken by the user. Smaller doses are known to have a stimulant-like effect on the body while higher doses have a more sedative-like effect. It is around these two facts that Kratom has for long been to be an opiate, like cocaine and cannabis, hence the general controversies surrounding Kratom.
Consumption of Kratom
For thousands of years, Kratom has been used in Thailand and Malaysia as an energy boost and pain reliever. Traditionally, workers in the field would chew on the Kratom leaves to have the desired effect. Alternatively, it would be ingested as a brewed tea to combat fatigue.
Today, Kratom is sold in different parts of the world, either as leaves, as a powder or in capsule form. Consumption is mainly oral, either as a tea, powder mixed in water or other beverages or swallowing the capsule form.
Due to Kratom being legal in most parts of the world, and also its growing popularity, more people are able to access Kratom tea that is being sold at Kratom “bars” that continue to pop up in many towns. This has increased the accessibility of Kratom by users since most of the other traders carry out their businesses online.
What Kratom Does; Uses and other Benefits
According to different reports by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) in the USA, it is stated that “Kratom has no legitimate medical use”. Most people who use it do it for recreational purposes, while claiming that it improves the mood, helps relieve pain and help with opiate addiction. Although many studies have been conducted to establish these claims as true, there have been very few clinical trials that actually support the ideas.
For thousands of years in Thailand, Kratom was used traditionally to boost energy, as a mild stimulant and soothe stress. However, the recent popularity of the drug is due to its ability to be used as an alternative to opioid pain medications and to alleviate symptoms associated with opiate addiction.
1. Traditional use of kratom
In most cultures where this evergreen plant grows, Kratom has successfully been used in traditional herbal medicine. The leaves of the plant were chewed to provide stimulation, energy boost, to relieve musculoskeletal pain, increase appetite and sexual desire similar to other drugs such as coca and khat.
The extract from the leaves was used to heal wounds and as a mild local anesthetic. It was also used to heal coughs, intestinal infections, and diarrhea. Additionally, it was used in Thailand as a deworming agent.
Kratom was also used by farmers and other workers in laborious fieldwork to reduce exhaustion, as a painkiller and mood enhancer. It is from this that Kratom gained more popularity in other parts of the world.
2. Modern use of kratom
In the modern recent times, Kratom continues to be consumed mostly for three reasons, which include as a stimulant or sedative, alternative for opioid pain medications and opioid withdrawal, and for recreational purposes.
Kratom functions like most other opiates as an analgesic/ pain reliever for people who suffer from mild to chronic pains to treat muscle ache and fatigue. There have been claims from users that Kratom is able to reduce pains caused by arthritis and fibromyalgia. Apart from being used as an analgesic, Kratom is also used as an antidiabetic, antidiarrheal, antihypertensive, anti-leukemic, anorectic and immunostimulant. At low doses, it is used as a stimulant, while at high doses it acts as a sedative as stated earlier.
The immunostimulant effect suggests that Kratom extract inhibits the release of a pro-inflammatory mediator and vascular permeability in combination with the enhancement of immunity, tissue repair stimulation, and other healing processes by “release and reaction of different hyperalgesia mediators”.
According to studies conducted on mice, it has been theoretically established that Kratom has the possibility of being used as a pain reliever medically, and as an opioid substitute. It is also stated that it does contain antidepressant properties as it is able to reduce corticosterone in mice significantly. However, these studies have not yet been backed up by clinical trials on people and therefore the benefits are still theoretical.
One of the major reasons why people use Kratom is the claim that it is an alternative to other opiates such as cocaine and marijuana. Kratom is said to induce the same opioid-like effects on a user with lesser intensity than the other opiates. It is also able to help people who want to quit the addiction to other drugs by reducing the withdrawal symptoms.
3. Recreational use of kratom
In recent years, there has been an upsurge of Kratom use in North America and European countries. This prompted a tea-based Kratom cocktail known as 4×100 to be trendy among young people around the world, especially in Thailand. This cocktail is a mixture of Kratom leaves, Coca-Cola, cough syrup and ice. This combination is said to have the same effect as alcoholic drinks. People who consume this drink are, however, viewed negatively by their societies as opposed to who take Kratom in its natural state as leaves or as a capsule.
The number of users continues to increase since Kratom is easily available in head shops and other online shops, as well as Kratom tea bars. The fact that Kratom is legal makes it appealing to users too.
Although Kratom is associated with many benefits by its users, it is apparent that Kratom does have some hazardous side effects and risks which may prompt medical intervention in severe cases. These risks and side effects have raised a number of safety concerns, especially with the health departments and regulators around the world.
Risks, Toxicity and Safety Concerns
Although the lethal dose of Kratom to the human body has not yet been established, it was found that 200mg/kg of total alkaloid extract has a lethal effect on mice. Kratom also does cause side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, seizures, body shakes, unconsciousness, addiction and in extreme cases death. However, the claim on death still holds doubt.
Reports have, in recent years been made concerning the negative side effects and health issues relating to the use of Kratom. As of 2010, the US poison center reported a total of 660 calls relating to exposure to Kratom. This seemed to raise a concern with the health department which resulted in a proposed bill to ban the possession, trade-in, and consumption of Kratom around the country.
On the issue of addiction, Kratom is said to have the same ability as other opiates to cause a reliance. Several cases of psychosis from Kratom use have also been reported, where Kratom addicts showed signs of hallucinations, confusion, and delusion. Withdrawal symptoms are also possible, though are said to be milder as compared to those from opioid drugs.
Risks of Mixing Kratom with Alcohol or Other Drugs
Kratom, on its own, is able to induce either stimulant-like effects of low doses or sedative-like effects at moderately high doses. At high doses, it becomes a nervous system depressant. Mixing Kratom with alcohol, other opioid medications, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, sedative sleep aids, and other CNS (Central Nervous System) depressants can be very dangerous. It can lead to difficulty in breathing by cutting oxygen supply in the body. This could lead to the death of body cells which can put someone in a coma or even death.
Consuming Kratom in combination with other psychoactive drugs, including LSD, synthetic marijuana, etc. can lead to intense seizures, hallucinations, confusion, and extreme aggression. Mixing Kratom with other stimulants such as caffeine and amphetamines can result in heart problems, mood swings, liver damage, stomach problems, and kidney failure.
Kratom also results in other serious problems, especially when mixed with other prescription medications. The CDC in America actually reported a death by poisoning of a user who combined an antidepressant, Kratom and an antipsychotic.
Is it Possible to Overdose on Kratom?
There are also concerns about whether it is possible to overdose on Kratom. Like most of the other drugs and opiates, it is actually very possible to overdose on Kratom, especially when taken simultaneously with other intoxicants. However, there is still a lack of official study on the overdosing on Kratom.
Most of the available information is actually based on case reports which does show that there are possible severe and dangerous side effects of taking too much of Kratom. Some of the common and possible signs of an overdose on Kratom include irritability, elevated heartbeat, and blood pressure, psychosis, agitation, seizures, nausea, and drowsiness.
The above signs can prove fatal, and the fatality is compounded by the fact that there is still inadequate information surrounding this mysterious drug. Medical practitioners do suggest that users exercise caution on the amount of dose they take of Kratom.
Using Kratom for recreational purposes is done to enhance the effects of other drugs in the body. This can be very fatal and can result in overdose, physical harm, long term hospitalization, and even death.
It is important for users to check and regulate the doses of Kratom that they indulge in daily. Although most people report pleasurable effects of Kratom to the body, the drug is also capable of inducing dangerous effects to the users. It is also advisable to seek medical attention in case of suspected extreme side effect or addiction.
1. Biochemical Benefits, Diagnosis, and Clinical Risks Evaluation of Kratom
2. Kratom Uses and Side Effects