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What is Kratom?

Kratom is a relatively new drug to the US and Europe. It has been used for many years in Southeast Asia as an anti-diarrheal medicine, a painkiller and a recreational drug. Kratom is the popular name for a tree and the drug comes from its leaves.

The drug may be bought in leaf form but in this country, it is more likely to be purchased as a capsule filled with powdered leaf material or a chopped up form of the leaf that can be used for tea or smoking. Most people ingest the drug. The effects of kratom come on rather quickly and last between five and seven hours, although high doses can last longer.

Kratom is heavily promoted as a legal, undetectable, safe drug that can be used to come off stronger drugs. It is not yet illegal in the US but the breakdown products of kratom can be detected with some drug tests. Because of its legality, the drug tends to be more popular among young people who cannot yet buy alcohol and who may be concerned about being arrested with weed or other drugs.

Kratom is included in a newly-defined class of drug called New Psychoactive Substances, so-named by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In the 2013 World Drug Report, kratom is on this list along with khat (another plant, this one from East Africa), Salvia divinorum (a plant that is widely available in the US), and synthetics ketamine, mephedrone and others. Many of these drugs are not yet illegal in the US and Europe, despite their dangerous and addictive effects.

Legislators Can’t Keep Up

Even when a drug sends people to the emergency room and even when it is known to be addictive, it takes time to collect and compile all the scientific information that supports a legislative ban.

Kratom has sent some people to emergency rooms and there have been calls to poison control centers in the US. Most of the adverse effects of this drug have been felt in Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand where it is heavily used. The drug is illegal in Thailand. In Thailand in 2011, more than 13,000 people were arrested for kratom-related crimes (5% of all drug-related crimes in that country).

The drug is abused for its sedative or stimulating effects. At low dosages, it is a stimulant, making a person more talkative, sociable and energetic. At higher dosages, it creates lethargy and euphoria. But the experience is not pleasant for every user.

Adverse Effects of Kratom

This drug only began to be seen in the US in 2012, but it is easy to obtain online. Many smoke shops, “head shops,” convenience stores and gas stations sell this drug.

A person using this drug may not expect or want the following undesirable effects of kratom:

  1. Edginess, nervousness

  2. Vomiting (can be severe and prolonged)

  3. Nausea (can be severe and prolonged)

  4. Sweating

  5. Itching

  6. Constipation

  7. Delusions

  8. Lethargy

  9. Respiratory depression

  10. Tremors

  11. Aggressive or combative behavior

  12. Psychotic episodes

  13. Hallucinations

  14. Paranoia

Since the drug is also addictive, one of the effects can include compulsive use of the drug despite the harm that is being done to one’s mental state or life.

Addiction effects may include:

  1. Loss of sexual desire

  2. Loss of weight

  3. Darkening of skin on face

  4. Constant cravings that drive one to use more of the drug

Withdrawal effects of kratom are very similar to those of opiates like heroin or prescription painkillers.

They include:

  1. Diarrhea

  2. Muscle pain

  3. Muscle tremors and jerking

  4. Restlessness and sleeplessness

  5. Severe depression

  6. Crying

  7. Episodes of panic

  8. Sudden swings of mood

  9. Irritability

At this point in the US, the numbers are not large for people going to the emergency room with these adverse effects. But the drug is new to this country. If people are not educated about the adverse effects that can be suffered, including addiction, then the drug may become more popular and more damage may be seen.

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