The drug including people with chronic pain and people who previously used opioid medications, argued that the plant relieves their pain and helps them stay out of opioids, The Washington Post reported. Here are five things you should know about kratom.
What is kratom and how is it used?
Kratom comes from a tree in Southeast Asia called Mitragyna speciosa, according to the DEA. The leaves of the tree have psychoactive properties and can be crushed and smoked, made into tea or put into capsules, said the DEA.
Why do people take kratom?
Pain relief is one of the main reasons why people use kratom, said Marc Swogger, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, who published a study last year that focuses on why people use kratom.
Although the drug can cause people to experience some euphoria and a sense of well-being, Swogger said he did not think many people were using kratom specifically to get high. However, the drug is advertised as a "legal advantage" in tobacco shops, he added.
What does kratom do in the body?
Researchers are not entirely sure how the kratom works in the body, Swogger said.
"It's not an opiate, but it binds to the opioid receptor," he said. Most people think that a compound called mitraginine is the main active ingredient in kratom, but kratom has not been studied enough to know for sure, Swogger added.
Unlike opiates , which have a sedative effect, kratom seems to have a stimulating effect at lower doses and a relaxing and sedative effect at higher doses, Swogger said. People who have used the medication have reported that it provides pain relief but does not eliminate them, he said.
What are the risks?
The common side effects of kratom are similar to those of opiates, such as upset stomach, vomiting, itching and mild sedation, according to Swogger's study.However, the risks appear to be relatively mild, particularly when compared to those of opioids, Swogger said.
Although there have been deaths attributed to the use of kratom, it is not clear in these cases that the person died directly as a result of the use of the drug, said Swogger. The people who died also took other substances, he said. The overdose of the drug is "almost unheard of," because people will start vomiting long before an overdose, he said.
There were two cases of liver problems in kratom users, Swogger said. In fact, "given the preliminary data on kratom and the lack of controlled studies in humans, chronic ingestion is of unknown safety," according to his study.
Is kratom addictive?
Kratom has addictive properties, according to the DEA. Some people have reported experiencing abstinence when they stopped using kratom and developing tolerance to the medication, according to the study. "Withdrawal symptoms and the development of tolerance to the substance were generally, although not uniformly, reported as mild in relation to opioids," the researchers wrote.
Approximately one in 10 people in the study reported withdrawal symptoms after a period of heavy use followed by at least one day without using the medication, the study found. The findings highlight the importance of educating people about the potential risks of using kratom, the researchers wrote.
People who have had substance use problems in the past "must carefully weigh the possible pros and cons" of using kratom, namely that while it may be a less harmful substitute for other drugs, it can also be difficult to stop use the drug, the researchers wrote.