Kratom: Miracle Plant or Dangerous Opioid?

In 2017, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency — and for good reason. Statistics show that an estimated 130 people die from an opioid overdose daily.

As a result, certain states have implemented laws that restrict the number of opioids prescribed to patients as well what kind of patients can obtain these drugs. States like California, Texas, and Washington require doctors to fill out substance abuse disorder assessments before prescribing opioids. These questionnaires are intended to evaluate the risk of a patient abusing their medication by asking questions about past alcohol and illegal drug use. Patients deemed “high-risk” would stand a much lower chance of getting prescription opioids.

The DEA has also been at the forefront of the opioid crisis — pushing doctors to prescribe fewer of these drugs.

In the war against opioids, chronic pain patients have become unintended victims. The medication they once relied on to manage their pain has now become much more difficult to obtain. In fact, many chronic pain patients can’t even discuss the possibility of opioid pain control with their doctors for fear of being labeled a “drug addict”.

So, what do they do when they can’t get adequate pain relief from their doctors?

They turn to alternative treatments — like Kratom.

With no FDA regulation, there is plenty of controversy surrounding Kratom. While some users think it’s a miracle plant, others believe it’s just another dangerous opioid.

What is Kratom?

Indigenous to Southeast Asia, the Phillippines, and Papua New Guinea, Mitragyna speciosa, or Kratom, is actually a tree belonging to the same family as the coffee bean. For hundreds of years, inhabitants of Southeast Asia have taken the fresh or dried leaves from the Kratom tree and consumed them — usually by making them into tea or chewing them up. This was particularly popular among laborers because ingesting the leaves helped improve their productivity and fend off fatigue.

In Thailand and Malaya, it was used as a cure for morphine dependence, and as a substitute for opium.

As most things do, kratom eventually made its way to the Western world — becoming especially popular in the US. It’s estimated that three to five million people in the US currently use kratom.

If you stop by your local head shop, you’ll probably find kratom being sold in some capacity — although most experienced kratom users prefer to buy it from cheaper online vendors.

Even though it’s technically a tree, the medicinal value of kratom lies in its leaves, and that’s usually what people are talking about when they reference kratom. Most of the time, users purchase ground-up kratom leaves and consume them in powder form.

There are a variety of reasons people why gravitate towards kratom — many of which extend beyond pain relief. In smaller doses (1–3 grams of powder), kratom can provide users with a stimulant effect, giving them the energy to go about their day.

In larger doses (4–8 grams), kratom can produce sedation and pain relief — similar to an opioid.

The effects can also depend on what strain of Kratom that is being used. The three most popular strains — green vein, red vein, and white vein — are each known for their own unique effects: the green and white veins are typically more energizing, while the red vein tends to induce sedation.

Those who use kratom for pain relief might buy a red vein strain, while those looking to increase their energy might buy a green or white strain.

Along with pain relief, kratom is also utilized to combat opiate withdrawal. People looking to kick their addiction often turn to kratom as the next “step-down”. Users on the internet boast success stories about how kratom helped them manage everything from heroin to alcohol withdrawals. For those who are addicted to opioids but also deal with chronic pain, kratom has become a popular choice because it addresses both issues.

Truthfully, the reasons that people use kratom are widespread: anything from the treatment of diarrhea to anxiety.

One of the drawbacks of the herbal remedy is that users must figure out their own treatment plan. They’ve got to figure out where to buy it (head shop or onli