Kratom and kava bars became a hot topic in August 2016 when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that it intended on listing kratom as a Schedule 1 drug. The question of whether it fits under this definition—having “high potential for abuse” while also having no existing research to prove acceptable medical use—sent the DEA under fire by kratom users and pain-relief advocates.
As a result of the pushback, the DEA withdrew its initial intent to make kratom a Schedule 1 drug and opened a public comment period in October to last until December 2016. The response garnered 23,000 comments and a petition to keep it legal signed by more than 140,000 people, reports PBS NewsHour.
The issue has many people asking: Should kratom be banned? While it is in the early stages of medical research, a lot more still needs to be learned about the drug. Even though kratom addiction does not cause enough alarm as the opioid epidemic, the recreational use of kratom is not harmless to recovering opioid addicts either.
For those wanting to learn more about kratom: here are some answers to frequently asked questions:
What is kratom?
Kratom is a tropical tree from the coffee family, Rubiacaeae, indigenous to Southeast Asia, particularly from countries Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar. Once used by Thai and Malaysian laborers, who chewed “ketum” (another name for the drug) leaves as a muscle pain reliever, as well as chronic opioid users, kratom was banned in Thailand mid-20th century via the 1943 Kratom Act 2486 and the 1979 Narcotics Act B.E. 2522, which placed kratom in the same classification of narcotics.
It was introduced to the United States within the past 20 years and can be bought in powder and pill form or brewed in a tea, such as kava. It is currently being evaluated by the DEA.
What is the difference between kava and kratom?
Both kava and kratom produced sedative and euphoric effects, which is why people tend to confuse the two. This isn’t helped by the fact that kava and kratom are frequently sold together in powder form or tea combos at kava bars across the United States.
Unlike kratom, kava does not have any addictive qualities and is derived from a separate plant altogether. Kava is a plant of the pepper family, Piper Methysticum, which is indigenous to the Western Pacific Island region such as Fiji, where kava tea is the national drink used before religious rituals and ceremonies.
Kratom contains alkaloids (mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine) that act as opiate receptor agonists, which is why it has similar effects to opioids in the brain. The main active ingredients in kava, however, are kavalactones, which interact with the limbic system and produces effects in the neural region that controls emotional behavior. As such, kava advocates promote its benefits in treating anxiety as an alternative to benzodiazepine medications. And though kratom is being put under legal scrutiny by the DEA, research in the pharmacological benefits of kava continue today in the United States and Europe.
Can you have an addiction to kratom?
Kratom has addictive qualities to it that can lead a person to develop both a tolerance and a dependence on the drug. While there is no medical research to determine whether it is a life-threatening addiction in the long-term, having a kratom addiction can have a financial strain on the user and potentially lead to relapse if in recovery.
What are some side effects of kratom use?
According to the DEA, kratom can act as both a stimulant and a sedative, depending on the dosage. In the DEA’s drug and chemical evaluation of kratom, they write:
“At low doses, it produces stimulant effects, with users reporting increased alertness, physical energy, talkativeness and sociable behavior. At high doses, opiate effects are produced, in addition to sedative and euphoric effects. Effects occur within 5 to 10 minutes after ingestion and last for 2 to 5 hours. Acute side effects include nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, increased urination, and loss of appetite.”
Can you get kratom withdrawal?
Kratom withdrawal can occur once a person develops a dependence on the drug, but its symptoms are mild in comparison to most drug withdrawals. Most users experience a runny nose and some irritability. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, other withdrawal symptoms include: muscle aches, emotional changes, jerky movements, aggression, and insomnia.
Can you use kratom to get off opiates?
Kratom acts like an opiate in that they both target the same receptor in the brain, yet the benefit that attracts people is that kratom withdrawal is virtually painless and typically doesn’t include dangerous side effects. However, there have been cases where it has been linked to seizures and respiratory depression, but rarely death.
People who use kratom as a means of tapering off opiates or enduring opiate withdrawal will find themselves forming a substitute addiction. Because the drug is unregulated, there is no medical evidence that it is a viable solution to opiate addiction, and with kratom having addictive qualities itself, it should not be regarded as a self-treatment option. Other mental and physical side effects that resulted from an opioid addiction will not be able to be treated by a kratom-kava tea routine but will require professional, medical supervision at a drug detox center.
Can kratom addiction trigger a relapse?
In the recovery world, kratom is regarded as a relapse drug. Because it emulates opiates, it could trigger someone in recovery to want to go back to heroin, especially when buying drugs can be cheaper than a twice or thrice daily kratom tea tab. The same reserve that people have in smoking marijuana in recovery should be held toward kratom. Any substance that influences addictive behavior can lead a person to relapse, so it is best to stay away.
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