Kratom: The Lowdown on the Much-Hyped Health Drug (Infographic)
What is Kratom & Why All the Mad Hype? Image

Kratom has gained much hype recently as a health solution, pain reliever, and tool in addiction recovery, but what exactly is it?

While kratom is taken in the West in pill form, it’s origin is as a Southeast Asian tree with a long history of use in traditional medicine.

After having spread to the US and Europe, researchers have found that a metabolite of a kratom alkaloid could be responsible for the treatment’s ‘therapeutic’ effects.

Currently, the stimulant is legal and available in the U.S. as a grey-market product, but it has an uncertain regulatory future.

This is because – despite it’s claimed benefits – it is reportedly as addictive as the opioids it offers to ween people off.

The claimed health benefits may well be another perceived panacea for issues such as addiction, which often have much deeper roots than simple physical dependency.

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While kratom is increasingly being used to manage pain and treat opioid addiction, it’s not safe to use as a herbal supplement, according to new research led by faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

William Eggleston, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Binghamton University, had been seeing more and more patients presenting with toxicity or withdrawal from the usage of the drug.

It is well-reported that the active chemicals in the plant act on opioid receptors in the body. Patients report using the supplement to treat/prevent withdrawal, treat opioid use disorder, or treat pain.

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Eggleston was curious to see what types of toxicities were being reported to Poison Centers nationally in order to better assess whether or not the drug is safe enough to be used as a herbal supplement.

His team conducted a retrospective review of kratom exposures reported to the National Poison Data System to determine the toxicities associated with its use.

They also reviewed records from a County Medical Examiner’s Office in New York State to identify kratom-associated fatalities.

A total of 2,312 kratom exposures were reported, with 935 cases involving kratom as the only substance.

Research found it most commonly caused agitation (18.6%), tachycardia (16.9%), drowsiness (13.6%), vomiting (11.2%), and confusion (8.1%).

Complications also include: serious effects of seizure (6.1%), withdrawal (6.1%), hallucinations (4.8%), respiratory depression (2.8%), coma (2.3%), and cardiac or respiratory arrest (0.6%).

Kratom was listed as a cause or contributing factor in the death of four decedents identified by the County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The findings suggest kratom is not reasonably safe and poses a public health threat due to its availability as an herbal supplement.

“Although it is not as strong as some other prescription opioids, kratom does still act as an opioid in the body,” said Eggleston.

“In larger doses, it can cause slowed breathing and sedation, meaning that patients can develop the same toxicity they would if using another opioid product.

“It is also reported to cause seizures and liver toxicity. Kratom may have a role in treating pain and opioid use disorder, but more research is needed on its safety and efficacy.

“Our results suggest it should not be available as an herbal supplement.”

Eggleston and his team are working with colleagues at SUNY Upstate Medical University to better assess how many patients are actually using kratom and if the risk for toxicity changes depending on the dose of kratom taken.

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