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What is Kratom?

What is Kratom?

Mitragyna speciosa, or kratom, is a plant native to Southeast Asia that has opioid and stimulant effects. The drug is often used recreationally and, due to its legal status, is often sold in convenience stores, gas stations, and can be purchased from online vendors. Although many people believe kratom is a safe drug, even going so far as to say that it can be helpful for people addicted to opioids, it is, in truth, very harmful and has many negative and potentially dangerous side effects.

Very little is known about kratom and little research has been done about the drug. The claim that kratom can be used to treat opioid withdrawal is not founded in any true scientific understanding of the substance. FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in a February 2018 statement, highlighted how little is known about kratom and its potential for abuse. Gottlieb explained, “We have been especially concerned about the use of kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms, as there is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder and significant safety addiction.” Gottlieb went on to say that the FDA understands the need and desire for alternative treatments such as kratom for opioid use disorder and is ready to examine evidence about the substance, “to date, we have received no such submissions and are not aware of any evidence that would meet the agency’s standard for approval.”

Two compounds in kratom are especially dangerous: mitragynine and 7-a-hydroxymitragynine. 7-a-hydroxymitragynine is responsible for the opioid-like effects of kratom, while mitragynine is responsible for the stimulant-like effects. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, “When kratom is taken in small amounts, users report increased energy, sociability, and alertness instead of sedation. However, kratom can also cause uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects.” Side effects of kratom include nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, increased urination, loss of appetite, seizures and hallucinations. There have also been reports of psychotic symptoms in some users, according to the NIDA. While kratom may have medicinal value, there is simply not enough evidence to make that determination and the risks far outweigh any potential benefits.

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