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An Introduction to Kratom and the DEA’s Intention to Ban It
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently announced its intention to add a new drug to the list of banned Schedule I drugs, alongside heroin, LSD, ecstasy and marijuana. The drug the DEA wants to ban is actually a plant called kratom. If you’ve never heard of it, you certainly aren’t alone. Here’s a brief overview of kratom and its uses:
What Is Kratom?
Kratom’s botanical name is Mitragyna speciosa, and it is a tree native to Southeast Asia. The leaves of this plant contain psychoactive chemicals called mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, and it has been used as a folk remedy for a number of ailments, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, diarrhea and general pain. In low doses it also acts as a stimulant, while high doses have a sedative effect. Due to the euphoric feeling that kratom users experience, it is also taken recreationally or as an antidepressant. There are different strains of kratom that are said to be better for one use or another.
Traditionally, the leaves have been chewed and ingested, but the plant is tough and has a bitter taste, so it is more common for the leaves to be dried, ground into a powder and added to food or drink, or for the leaves to be boiled in water to produce a tea.
Kratom’s Association With Heroin
People struggling with heroin addiction sometimes turn to kratom to help them quit. Heroin addiction is difficult to beat due to the intense withdrawal symptoms, which can include deep muscle pain, extreme gastrointestinal upset, depression, anxiety, paranoia and insomnia, to name just a few. These symptoms are extremely uncomfortable and are alleviated when a user takes another hit of heroin, driving the cycle of addiction.
To quit heroin, the body must detox, and that means living through days of withdrawal symptoms without turning to heroin again. To help addicts do this successfully, medications are taken to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms.
Suboxone and Subutex are popular medications used to help heroin addicts quit. Like heroin, they are opioids, but unlike heroin they do not have addictive qualities or produce a high. This makes it possible to taper off of Suboxone or Subutex while also keeping the extreme withdrawal symptoms at bay.
But back to kratom. Kratom is often discussed in the context of heroin because it is used much like Suboxone or Subutex. It relieves the vast majority of heroin withdrawal symptoms while providing a mild high at the same time. Unlike heroin, Suboxone or Subutex, kratom is not an opioid.
Is Kratom Addictive?
Kratom may be mildly addictive if taken in large doses daily for more than a few days. Therefore, it’s recommended that the doses be tapered when it is used as an aid in quitting heroin or other opiate drugs.
Most addicts would like to be free from the grip of addiction rather than simply change to another addiction. Know that kratom can help you quit opioids, but it should be used conservatively during the withdrawal period. It’s also advisable to avoid using it recreationally if you have a history of drug addiction.
Why Does the DEA Want to Ban Kratom?
The DEA announced its intention to ban kratom in August 2016. In the official press release, the DEA says kratom meets the three requirements of a scheduled drug as outlined in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970: “[it] has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”
The DEA also cites an occurrence of 15 kratom-related deaths in the last two years and approximately 660 phone calls made to U.S. poison control centers related to kratom use in the last five years.
Following the DEA’s announcement, people who successfully used kratom to break their addiction to opioids like heroin or pain pills protested the ban. On Oct. 12, the DEA temporarily withdrew its intention to classify kratom as a Schedule I drug and opened a public comment period, which will run until Dec. 1.
However, kratom has already been banned in Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin, while legislation has been introduced in New York and North Carolina that would also ban kratom.