What is Kratom?

What is Kratom?

A “new” substance is out there and you may run into someone using something called Kratom.  It grows as an evergreen tree in the wild in Southeast Asia and is a member of the coffee family.  The locals have been chewing the leaf or a powder to increase energy and relieve pain.

It has been on the DEA and FDA radar for numerous years due to the opioid-like abuse potential.  It can be found and purchased on the internet and in smoke shops for use as a tea, capsule, tablet, or powder to be mixed with other substances.  It is illegal in Thailand and Malaysia and is a controlled substance in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, some US states and numerous European countries.

Over a five year period, there were over 600 calls to US poison control centers for exposure to Kratom.  Some patients mixed it with other substances but a majority for Kratom alone.  Kratom in lower doses acts as  a stimulant and can increase mental alertness.  In higher doses, it can cause euphoria, decreased pain, calmness and a wake/dream state.  Some people have started taking it to wean themselves off of opiates such as heroin.  Numerous deaths are attributed to kratom use.

Side effects can include nausea and severe vomiting, itching, seizures, psychosis, increased heart rate and blood pressure. Liver toxicity can occur.  Heavy users will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it.  It is not clear if or how much respiratory depression is caused by kratom.  It would be significantly less than most opiates, if any.

On November 14, 2017, the FDA officially declared kratom as an unapproved drug.  It is currently also on the DEA “Drugs of Concern” list.  In 2016, the DEA attempted to add it as a Schedule 1 controlled substance but opted to wait for more scientific investigation.

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