Before the legalization of marijuana for medical and/or recreational purposes in the United States, kratom became legal. Kratom is an herbal product that has been promoted as a safe alternative to marijuana; it has been marketed for anxiety, depression, and more. However, it’s effects are hardly safe – kratom has been shown to cause seizures, liver damage, and withdrawal symptoms, according to the National Public Radio (NPR). Other reported side effects of kratom have included constipation, lack or loss of appetite, severe weight loss, insomnia, and discoloration of the cheeks.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stated,

“I understand that there’s a lot of interest in the possibility for kratom to be used as a potential therapy for a range of disorders, but the FDA has a science-based obligation that supersedes popular trends and relies on evidence.”

Kratom has been sold from raw bags of kratom powder to consumables found in gas stations and sold for “cheap” compared to other supplements. The Huffington Post notes that while kratom is not an opioid, it’s effects mimic that of opioids in producing feelings of euphoria. This is due to alkaloids within kratom called mitragynine, which seems to bind to opioid receptors in the brain and reduce pain. Kratom can be laced with other drugs such as hydrocodone, which could increase the risk of opioid addiction.

Kratom overdose is a major concern, and the drug itself can become very addictive. Between 2010 and 2015, calls to poison centers regarding kratom increased tenfold, and Gottlieb noted for CNN 36 reports of deaths from kratom. The drug has been banned in many countries around the world, and continues to be a major topic of debate.

Many people have been using kratom to treat opioid withdrawal, but scientists say that this has not been back up by evidence and should not be attempted. Some arguments have been made that kratom could be safer than using prescription opioids and that further research should be conducted to find a safer medicinal alternative, but researchers are still considering this.

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