How To Use Kratom For Opiate Withdrawal (Like a BOSS)
Kratom: All About the Controversy, Addiction Aid Claims, and the Call for a Kratom Ban
Kratom advocates say this botanical can help combat chronic pain and opioid withdrawal; critics worry about the supplement’s potential for addiction. There isn’t much science to support either side.
Kratom is a plant that's native to Southeast Asia. It has been used for centuries as both a painkiller and a recreational drug.
According to the American Kratom Association, a kratom industry and advocacy group, between three and five million people in the United States currently use kratom — many to relieve pain, improve mood, and even treat symptoms of drug withdrawal. (1)
Federal regulators and drug enforcement officials say there’s little evidence that kratom is effective for any of these uses — and that it may be a dangerous and addictive substance.
Kratom Bans and Drug Scheduling Controversy
In August 2019, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) moved to temporarily classify two psychoactive chemicals found in kratom as Schedule I drugs after kratom use was associated with a handful of deaths. (2)
What Are Schedule l Drugs?
Schedule I drugs are illegal substances with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. These are the drugs that the DEA deems most dangerous to society. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
The move immediately drew backlash from consumers and politicians. More than 120,000 consumers signed a White House petition to keep kratom legal. (3) A bipartisan group of more than 60 members of Congress signed letters to the DEA against the proposal. (4)
Kratom advocates argue that kratom is safe and that many thousands of people use kratom as an alternative to prescription opioids. (Misuse of prescription opioids resulted in 42,000 deaths in the United States in 2019.) (5)
What’s the Truth About the Safety and Value of Kratom?
In reality, very little is known about kratom’s safety or efficacy. Some kratom advocates worry that criminalizing kratom would make it more difficult to do the kind of scientific and clinical research that could help determine whether kratom may be an effective treatment for opioid withdrawal symptoms, for instance. (6)
The DEA reversed its decision in October 2019, saying more research on kratom’s safety was needed before it could make a decision on scheduling the drug. (4)
Currently, kratom remains legal in most of the United States. It’s sold online and at some supplement and natural-food stores.
What About the Kratom Ban?
While the federal government has not banned the sale of the supplement, some U.S. states — including Wisconsin, Vermont, Tennessee, Indiana, and Arkansas — have enacted a state-level kratom ban since 2019. Several other states have kratom legislation pending. (7)
Is Kratom an Opioid?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has called kratom an opioid. In February 2019, the agency announced that FDA scientists analyzing kratom found 25 compounds in the leaf with “opioid properties.” (8)
The Definition of an Opioid
Opioids are a class of natural and synthetic drugs derived from the opium poppy that bind to special sites in the brain called opioid receptors. Once attached to opioid receptors, these compounds send signals to the brain that block pain and have a calming effect. Opioids include prescription painkillers such as morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin), and fentanyl (Duragesic), as well as the illegal drug heroin.
The FDA has said that compounds in kratom can bind to opioid receptors in the brain, making kratom similar to traditional opioids and, “Raising concerns about kratom’s potential for abuse, addiction, and serious health consequences.” (8)
Some kratom proponents say the classification of kratom as an opioid is misleading. In response to the FDA’s announcement, a group of nine scientists wrote an open letter expressing concerns about the soundness of the FDA’s science. (9) Many of these scientists have received research support or funding from the American Kratom Association. They argued that kratom, derived from a plant in the coffee family, has distinct differences from traditional opioids. For instance, kratom isn’t known to slow down breathing, say the scientists. Opioids, on the other hand, can depress the respiratory system when taken at too high doses, which can lead to accidental deaths and is the primary reason for death due to opioids in the current U.S. opioid crisis.
Kratom-Related Deaths in the United States
The FDA is concerned about 44 deaths they say have been linked to kratom use. However, it’s not clear whether kratom was the cause of death in any of these cases. (8)
In all but one death, users had other substances in their system that could have contributed to death, including prescription narcotics, such as benzodiazepines and fentanyl. Nine of the deaths involved a kratom-based product called Krypton, which also contains the synthetic opioid desmetramadol. ()
What About Kratom as a Potential Treatment of Opioid Addiction?
Some kratom users have claimed that the botanical has allowed them to kick dangerous drug addictions by helping them wean off of prescription opioids.
However, the FDA says, “There is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder.” (8)
A controversial rehabilitation facility in Portland, Oregon, became the first residential treatment program in the country to start using kratom to treat opioid addiction in March 2019. (11) Critics call it a questionable remedy, not backed by science.
And a few medical case reports and animal studies (12) have suggested that kratom use may cause some of the same symptoms as opioid withdrawal, leading some addiction specialists to worry that people using kratom to treat opioid addiction may just be swapping one addictive substance for another.
Kratom Contamination: A Separate Issue?
There’s one thing that government officials and kratom advocates agree on: Contamination is a problem.
Some forms of kratom, packaged as dietary supplements, may be contaminated with other compounds, including synthetic opioids, that have caused deaths. (13)
In early 2019, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigated a multistate outbreak of salmonella infections linked to kratom-containing products. (14)
Kratom advocates and critics both say that the FDA should consider labeling requirements and other quality control measures to ensure the safety of kratom-containing products.
Video: Deception On Both Sides: The FDA vs. Pro-Kratom Advocates
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