Kratom, grown in Southeast Asian countries, is a medicinal herb with stimulant and opiate-like properties. Commonly referred to as kakuam, ketum, biak, thang and thom, it acts as a supplement that can be eaten raw, brewed into tea or crushed for capsules. When taken in lower doses, the plant produces stimulant effects, while in higher doses it can cause sedative effects. Despite the plant’s sedative and stimulant effects, kratom is promoted as a miracle cure for heroin addiction.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had in August 2016 considered temporarily designating kratom as a Schedule I drug, but it postponed the decision as the plant was not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical use. It remains listed as a drug and chemical of concern by the DEA.
Kratom is a dangerous, unregulated substance
The plant continues to be a dangerous, unregulated substance that was linked with 15 deaths across the U.S. between 2014 and 2016. As per a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2010 to 2015, the number of calls to poison control centers about kratom had increased tenfold.
The federal agencies’ decision to designate the drug as a dangerous substance is still pending, but kratom continues to be one of the best-selling product that is being used for pain relief or as a party drug. According to Ali Muhammad, who manages four East Village smoke shops, kratom has become a best-selling product with a vast mix of first-time as well as regular buyers. As per him, since the beginning of 2017, the demand for the substance has gone up considerably.
Although the substance has been linked to seizures, palpitations, suicidal attempts, psychosis, and even deaths, its addiction has also gone up. According to DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson, “People seemed to accidentally get addicted after trying it as a supplement or to help get off harder drugs. Then they struggle to get off it.”
A miracle drug
Although the substance has got some negative publicity, kratom has helped many users get relief from chronic pain and has even helped many kick their heroin addiction. According to Ryan Lloyd, a resident of Bushwick, Brooklyn, kratom helped him quit his four-year-old heroin habit and address his withdrawal symptoms. Though the 26-year-old is now seven months sober, he feels that he has become dependent on the substance.
Another person who vouches for its benefits is 50-year-old James Peterson, who is a regular user of kratom since his shoulder got dislocated on a construction job. On the recommendation of his friend, Peterson started taking kratom tea twice a day. Six months later, he was able to move his shoulder again and was healed.
Most of the users consider kratom good for pain relief with no opioid-like side effects and ensuring an overall sense of well-being. However, the fact that federal agencies have not approved kratom for medicinal purpose and it remains illegal in many states, underlines the need for maximum precaution.
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