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Is Kratom Legal?

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Yes, Kratom is legal on the federal level in the United States, although some states have banned it. It is currently illegal in 16 countries.

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a native Southeast Asian tropical tree in the same family as the coffee plant. Its main compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, are opioid-like substances that interact with opioid receptors in the brain, causing sedation, pleasure, and reduced pain. For many years, people from Thailand, Malaysia, and other Southeast Asian countries have used the leaves as an herbal supplement to increase energy and as a substitute for opium to alleviate pain. Nowadays, the use of kratom has spread to the United States (U.S.) and other areas as an alternative to standard opioid withdrawal management. It is also commonly used for its psychoactive properties.1,2 

Many people swear by kratom to help improve their lives and manage certain conditions, yet because kratom has opioid compounds, it is not as safe as you might think.

The legality of kratom has been controversial for a long time, and many countries have outlawed its use. In 1943, the Thai government passed the Kratom Act, which made planting the tree illegal, and in 1979, kratom was classified as a Category V narcotic drug, alongside marijuana. Yet kratom is still very popular in Thailand and is mixed into a variety of concoctions, such as tea and cola brews.3 Thai militants are said to make a concoction using kratom that supposedly makes them “bold and fearless.” In the United Kingdom (U.K.), kratom is promoted as an “herbal speedball,” and in the United States, people are increasingly turning to this drug for its psychostimulant effects, where kratom is advertised as a “legal psychoactive substance” on various websites.3

What is the Drug’s Current Status?

Kratom is a controversial drug; it is legal in the U.S. (although some states have enacted their own measures against the drug) and widely available online. It is not currently scheduled under the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Controlled Substances Act, although in 2016 the DEA proposed to classify kratom as a Schedule I substance (Schedule I substances have a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use). This ban was withdrawn due to widespread backlash and public outcry, including public demonstrations and petitions to Congress by people who use kratom to manage pain and to withdraw from opioids.4

Although kratom is currently legal in the U.S. (and in many other countries), the DEA has listed it as a “Drug and Chemical of Concern.”5 Some states have taken their own measures to prohibit the possession and/or use of kratom, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Other states, such as New York and New Jersey, are considering regulations to ban the substance.6 Additionally, kratom is illegal in 16 countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.

Since kratom is not currently illegal in many parts of the U.S., people can easily buy kratom online or in smoke shops. The dried leaves Americans are purchasing are believed to originate from Southeast Asia, probably from the Indonesian region, where it is not a controlled substance.8

FDA Findings

The report also discusses 44 known deaths associated with kratom use and advises consumers to avoid using kratom due to the potential interactions and possibly lethal effects of the drug.

In February 2018, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) released a press announcement regarding “adverse effects and scientific analysis” associated with kratom. This research was conducted because:9

  • There have been a number of deaths involving kratom use.
  • Kratom is popularly used for opioid withdrawal, so they wanted to see if kratom had any valid medicinal purposes.
  • Additional adverse health consequences are associated with kratom, including seizures and respiratory depression.
  • Of concern over the use of opioids and opioid-like substances.

The FDA’s announcement states, “we feel confident in calling compounds found in kratom, opioids.”9

The FDA designed a computer system called Public Health Assessment via Structural Evaluation (PHASE) methodology. It is a tool that allows the researchers to simulate how the chemical components of a drug act inside the body and how they impact the brain. FDA scientists who examined kratom using this technology found strong evidence that it does indeed possess opioid-like compounds, and that it does activate opioid receptors in the brain. The computer model predicted that some of these compounds could bind to opioid receptors in the brain; this action (the same that occurs with other opioids) can lead to negative cardiovascular and neurological consequences, including seizures and respiratory problems, when kratom is combined with other drugs and medications.9

The report also discusses 44 known deaths associated with kratom use and advises consumers to avoid using kratom due to the potential interactions and possibly lethal effects of the drug.

Kratom should not be viewed as “just a plant” or a benign substance. The report asserts that that assumption is dangerous, considering heroin contains morphine, which is derived from a poppy plant. The results of the study indicate that kratom shouldn’t be used to treat medical illnesses nor should it be taken as a painkiller. Further, no evidence suggests that kratom is safe to take.9

Is Kratom Safe?

Many people swear by kratom to help improve their lives and manage certain conditions, yet because kratom has opioid compounds, it is not as safe as you might think. Kratom can have harmful effects and can produce both stimulant and opioid-like effects at different doses.

Since the compounds mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine interact with the brain’s opioid receptors, kratom can produce opioid-like, sedative effects when used in high doses. People who have taken 10-25 grams of the dried leaves, which is a large dose, have reported sedation following a period of sweating, dizziness, nausea, and dysphoria. The sedative effects are reported to last around 6 hours.8

Mitragynine can also interact with other receptors in the brain and cause stimulant-like effects – people who use kratom in small doses have reported increased sociability, energy, and alertness.2 After taking a few grams of dried leaves, people have reported feeling invigorated and euphoric, with these symptoms lasting around 60 to 90 minutes.8

Although kratom may have certain desirable effects, it can also cause a number of negative consequences. Some of the unwanted or dangerous short-term effects of kratom use include:1,5

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Sedation.
  • Itching.
  • Aggressive behavior.
  • Irritability.
  • Anxiety.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Seizures.

Additionally, kratom can be dangerous because it is unregulated, which means you can never be fully sure what you are taking. Kratom can be adulterated with other substances – some kratom samples have tested positive for other opioids, such as hydrocodone or tramadol. Kratom can also be dangerous when taken in combination with other legal and illegal drugs (such as alcohol, sedatives, opioids, stimulants, or cannabinoids), although more research is needed to fully investigate these potential interactions.1,10

Research is somewhat limited on long-term effects of kratom use. However, some of the potential long-term effects can include:1,8

  • Weight loss/anorexia.
  • Tremors.
  • Constipation.
  • Hyperpigmentation of the cheeks.
  • Liver damage.
  • Psychosis.

Addiction Potential

Chronic kratom use can lead to dependence, which means that you need the drug in order to function and avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Continued kratom use can also lead to addiction, which is a chronic, relapsing condition characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior. If you are addicted to a substance, you continue to use the drug despite knowledge of the negative consequences.

Kratom withdrawal occurs when you are physiologically dependenton a substance and you suddenly try to stop using or dramatically cut down your use. Withdrawal symptoms occur because your body has adapted to the presence of the drug and then is suddenly deprived. Many people cannot tolerate these withdrawal symptoms, so they continue using kratom as a way to prevent or alleviate these symptoms. One study found that half of regular kratom users developed severe dependence problems, while 45% showed a moderate dependence. The higher the dose used, the more likely the person was to develop a more severe dependence.11

Kratom in pill and powder form
Common kratom withdrawal symptoms include:11

  • Muscle spasms.
  • Pain.
  • Watery eyes and/or runny nose.
  • Hot flashes.
  • Fever.
  • Reduced appetite.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Restlessness.
  • Nervousness.
  • Tension.
  • Anger.
  • Sadness.
  • Cravings for kratom.

Remember that although kratom is currently legal, it can have negative and even dangerous physical and psychological consequences. If you think you or someone you know may be addicted to kratom, it’s important to seek detox and addiction treatment. Detox and drug rehab can be a beneficial way to overcome your addiction, prevent the negative effects of kratom use, and start the road to a happier, healthier, and drug-free life.

Sources

  1. Prozialeck, W., Jivan, J. & Andurkar, S. (2012). Pharmacology of Kratom: An Emerging Botanical Agent With Stimulant, Analgesic and Opioid-Like Effects. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 112 (12), 792-799.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: Kratom.
  3. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). Kratom.
  4. Gianutsos, G. (2017). The DEA Changes Its Mind on Kratom. U.S. Pharmacist, 41(3), 7-9.
  5. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Drugs of Abuse: Kratom. Springfield, VA: Drug Enforcement Administration & U.S. Department of Justice.
  6. Botanical Education Alliance. (2014). Kratom Legality Map.
  7. Idaho Office of Drug Policy. (2017). The Facts About Kratom.
  8. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. (2015). Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) drug profile.
  9. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2018). Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on the agency’s scientific evidence on the presence of opioid compounds in kratom, underscoring its potential for abuse.
  10. Consumer Reports. (2018). The Dangers of Taking Kratom.
  11. Singh, D., Müller, C. & Vicknasingam, B. (2014). Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) dependence, withdrawal symptoms and craving in regular users. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 139, 132-7.

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