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Kratom: a New Plant Trend in the United States with Great Health Benefits

In a popular new trend, Kratom is a new herbal supplement used by many to treat numerous health issues and relax.

Originally from the tropical climate of Thailand and Southeast Asia, it has become increasingly prominent in the United States in recent years. It has been used for centuries by the natives as a medicine. Usually, the leaves are plucked and ground into powder and placed in capsules in the United States. Sometimes the leaves were chewed by natives to treat stomach problems, boost their mood, energy, or relax. People are using it to cope with chronic pain and addiction especially.

Many headshops are now selling Kratom along with cannabis paraphernalia and other supplements. Others in cannabis have similarly taken to it as a new herb with health benefits.

The American Kratom Association (AKA) noted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been wary of Kratom since 2012 and has discouraged people from using it. They also don’t like CBD and Delta 8 THC derived from hemp.

Studying Kratom

Like cannabis, Kratom has not been studied thoroughly. A 2018 Kratom study gave male adult rats with ulcers, acid reflux and esophagitis that had been induced and then treated it with Kratom. The ulcers and acid reflux were reduced significantly afterward.

The FDA wanted to make it a Schedule I in the past but found too much opposition.

“Kratom doesn’t belong in the category of a Schedule I drug, because there seems to be relatively low rate of abuse potential, and there may be medical applications to explore, including as a possible treatment for pain and opioid use disorder,” Albert Garcia-Romeu, an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said.

Garcia-Romeu performed a study at Johns Hopkins University, the premiere medical research center in the United States. They found Kratom has a lower rate of harm than prescription opioids for treating pain, anxiety, depression and addiction. They used the results of a survey of 2,800 self-reported Kratom users.

“There has been a bit of fearmongering,” Garcia-Romeu said. “because kratom is opioidlike, and because of the toll of our current opioid epidemic.”

For the survey, participants were recruited online and through social media, as well as through the AKA. Overall, users were mostly white, educated and middle-aged. Some 61 percent of users were women, and 90 percent were white. Six percent reported being multiracial, 1.5 percent was Native American or Hawaiian, 0.5 percent was Asian, and 0.4percent were African American. The average age was 40. Approximately 84 percent reported having at least some college education.

Ninety-one percent took Kratom a couple times a day for back, shoulder and knee pain, 67 percent took it for anxiety, and 65 percent took it for depression. That would mean people were taking it for multiple uses. About 41 percent said they took Kratom to treat opioid withdrawal, and of those people who took it for opioid withdrawal, 35 percent said they went more than a year without taking opioids a doctor approved, or heroin.

“Both prescription and illicit opioids carry the risk of lethal overdose as evidenced by the more than 47,000 opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017,” Garcia-Romeu said. “Notably there’s been fewer than 100 kratom-related deaths reported in a comparable period, and most of these involved mixing with other drugs or in combination with preexisting health conditions.”

One-third of those surveyed said it led to constipation, upset stomach or lethargy for a day. Fewer than 10 percent said they experienced notable Kratom-related withdrawal symptoms. Only 1.9 percent said they needed medical treatment to treat withdrawal, anxiety, irritability, depression or insomnia when Kratom’s effects subsided.

“Although our findings show kratom to be relatively safe according to these self-reports, unregulated medicinal supplements raise concerns with respect to contamination or higher doses of the active chemicals, which could increase negative side effects and harmful responses,” says Garcia-Romeu.

He said it needs to be regulated to test for quality.

“Otherwise, unregulated products run the risk of unsafe additives and dosing problems, which could be like getting a shot of grain alcohol when you were trying to order a beer,” he said.

Garcia-Romeu said they did not collect enough data to see if you can die from taking Kratom, or how it interacts with alcohol or other drugs in the body. He urged further studies be done.

Like CBD, it’s important to buy Kratom with a label that has third-party lab results that can be understood.

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