When a patient showed up at a West Coast hospital, withdrawing from something he called “kratom,” the doctors scrambled for information about the drug. According to US News, Kratom is an opiate-like leaf from Southeast Asia and is well known in both the drug culture and alternative medicine circles in this part of the world. What the doctor also found was dozens of web pages, offering the substance for sale, and promoting it to fight fatigue, depression, pain, and even as a cure for heroin addiction.
Kratom has been showing up in emergency rooms across the United States, mostly with teens getting sick from trying to get high. Little research has been done to determine the safety of kratom, and it is still legal and unregulated in the United States.
The leaf has been around for thousands of years, and some argue that it is safer for pain than oxycodone. The kratom plant is in the same family as the coffee plant, giving an energy boost in small doses, but in larger doses it creates a mellow and sedating effect and is believed to work on the brain’s opiate receptors.
Websites sell the leaves, powder, and extracts of kratom, claiming it helps people feel pain-free, optimistic, and strong, active, and even fights depression. But even the promoters of this drug warn that one can easily become dependent on kratom if they use it daily. Although there have been no fatalities from kratom, one website warns that overdoses can cause “hallucinations, delusions, listlessness, tremors, aggression, constipation, and nausea.
The patient in the West Coast hospital claimed to have been taking the drug daily, several times a day when he started to go into withdrawal without it. The doctor claims the withdrawal was “identical to heroin withdrawal,” including chills, aching muscles, and gooseflesh.
Kratom has been added to the DEA’s list of “drugs and chemicals of concern.” If the DEA decides kratom is dangerous, it would eventually be placed on a ban. Kratom is already illegal in some countries, including Thailand, where the drug is produced. Doctors think the effects are similar to heroin, only milder, but they report a number of cases of severe agitation from people using kratom.
In the US, kratom is being sold as “incense,” and it is often labeled “not for human consumption.” Although some people think the drug is beneficial, they also agree that it must be used responsibly. Some states are already considering bans on this drug.
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