“Kratom comes from the leaves of an evergreen tree indigenous to Southeast Asia and is part of the coffee family.”
Kratom. Even if you’re unfamiliar with what it is, you’ve no doubt heard about it on your favorite health blog, or in yoga class, or even on NPR. But what’s all that fuss about? Why is it permeating the consciousness of the Western world in recent years? To answer those questions, we’ll start with the basics.
What Is It?
Kratom comes from the leaves of an evergreen tree indigenous to Southeast Asia and is part of the coffee family. It is also known as Thang, Kakuam, Thom, and Ketum.
Traditionally, the leaves were chewed by Thai workers to improve their productivity and stave off fatigue. Kratom, the leaves of which have psychoactive properties, is often sold as a powder but can also be found in capsule form. Seeds and extracts can be purchased online or in headshops. Its use is expected to rise in the coming years, but for the time being, relatively little is known about this herbal remedy.
What Is It Used For?
Kratom has multiple and versatile uses. Kratom is unique in that low doses cause stimulant-like effects, such as increased energy, better focus, and mild euphoria. At higher doses, however, Kratom’s effects are more akin to that of sedatives: relaxation, reduction of irritability, and drowsiness. In this sense, Kratom can behave as an anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety drug, and aid in battling insomnia.
The plant contains a strong painkiller called Mitragynine. Because of this, over ninety percent of patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and back pain have reported partial or total improvement in their symptoms after using Kratom.
According to Psychology Today and the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Kratom may aid in lessening the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Is It Legal?
Kratom has been banned in five cities and six states, with pending legislation in half a dozen more. The Drug Enforcement Agency has considered moving the plant to a Schedule I, effectively banning it at a federal level. Thankfully, a petition signed by over 100,000 people and resistance from 51 congressional representatives around the country has caused the DEA to hold off on this move for the time being.
Is It Safe?
The Food and Drug Administration has warned that Kratom has no medical benefits, is addictive, and can lead to death. However, according to Andrew Kruegel, a Columbia University pharmacologist, there is no scientific consensus that Kratom is addictive, and labelling it as a Schedule I would inhibit further research that could give more definitive answers instead of just rumor and speculation.
Kratom has a centuries-long history of usage for its psychoactive and painkilling properties. By far, the biggest risk associated with the plant is the lack of regulation. Although the plant itself is very safe, there have been cases of it being laced with other drugs, such as hydrocodone or fentanyl, both of which can slow breathing and lead to death. This is why it is of the utmost importance to do thorough research on your supplier when buying online. Read reviews and do not be afraid to ask about the processes used. Go with your instinct: If something feels “off” about the company, then do not buy from that company. Educate yourself on the strengths and strains, as well. And remember, knowledge is the best weapon with which to protect yourself.