The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency recently announced that it intends to add the substance known as kratom to its list of Schedule 1 drugs -- alongside heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. The agency's action essentially bans the drug in the U.S. and criminalizes sale or possession.
But advocates say that kratom has legitimate uses as a natural sedative and analgesic. Trace Dominguez investigates in today's DNews report.
Kratom is derived from the tropical evergreen trees species designated mitragyna speciosa, which is common in Southeast Asia. Its leaves are traditionally brewed into tea for social and religious ceremonies, or chewed as a stimulant to boost productivity and combat fatigue.
In small doses, kratom acts as a stimulant, with effects similar to amphetamines. In larger doses, it acts as a sedative, similar to morphine and other opiates. There are more than 25 substances in the plant's leaves, but a study in Addiction Biology detailed the effects of two unique psychoactive components: mitragynine and 7-hydroxy-mitragynine.
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The first, mitragynine, is a psychoactive alkaloid that trips receptors in the brain associated with other alkaloids like ephedrine and nicotine. The second compound, 7-hydroxy-mitragynine, works as an analgesic -- or painkiller -- and has been found to reduce severe anxiety. Medicinal users of kratom point to these effects as evidence that the drug has legitimate uses.
Unfortunately, kratom is also habit-forming and produces unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects. One study of long-term users -- who chewed the leaves for an average of 18-and-a-half years -- found that kratom caused anorexia, weight loss, insomnia, skin darkening, dry mouth, frequent urination and constipation.
The drug can also trigger severe withdrawal symptoms when regular users quit abruptly. The consumption of the plant itself doesn't appear to be deadly at typical doses, but reports have shown overdosing can cause seizures, coma, and death.
While kratom may still have legitimate medicinal uses, any further research on the substance will now be severely limited -- in the U.S., at least. The Schedule I designation falls under the United States Controlled Substances Act, meaning that scientists can't even work with the stuff unless they petition directly for exemptions. Historically, exemptions for research with Schedule I drugs have been rarely granted.
Check out Trace's report for more details, or you can read over the DEA's official statement.
-- Glenn McDonald
Should Kratom Use Be Legal? (Scientific American)
Kratom: Treating Addiction with Addiction (Huffington Post)
Kratom Advocates Speak Out Against Proposed Government Ban (NPR)