The opioid crisis is a major problem in today’s society and continues to cost countless people their relationships, jobs, and their lives. Drugs that fall in this category – heroin, morphine, and methadone – are extremely addictive and very difficult to come off of because of agonizing withdrawal symptoms. Kratom, a herb, might be the answer people are looking for, but the FDA has reason to think otherwise.
What is kratom, exactly? It is made from the leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa tree, which is native to Southeast Asia. It’s actually related to the coffee plant. In the ancient past, people would chew the leaves to relieve pain and boost their energy. Today, you can buy supplements of kratom, brew the leaves in a tea, or smoke it. The reason kratom works as a mood-booster and pain-reliever is thanks to the active molecules binding to certain receptors in your brain. Opioids do the same thing, which is a big reason why the FDA is wary of its use.
There are lots of stories of people finding relief from chronic pain from kratom, and also easing withdrawal symptoms while they try to break from opioid addiction. However, the FDA and DEA worry that kratom is too similar to an opiod to be considered safe. They ask: what’s to prevent a person from becoming addicted to kratom? The DEA once tried to stick kratom in the same category as heroin, which would make it illegal. The American Kratom Association successfully fought back with lobbyists, but this past February, an outbreak of salmonella prompted the FDA to order the destruction of supplements. The FDA also recently issued a report citing over 30 deaths associated with kratom, saying it’s too dangerous for recreational or medical purposes. It’s worth noting that these deaths did not only involve kratom. Many of the people were on multiple substances. For now, kratom isn’t illegal, but for advocates, the fight is far from over.