What is Kratom?

I heard about kratom about three months ago when a friend asked if anyone had ever suggested it to me as a pain reliever. They shared with me an article from Vice News[i] that described kratom as a natural supplement (not synthetically made in a lab) that many opioid and heroin addicts were using to get off these drugs. There also seemed to some pain relieving properties for people in chronic pain, when taking the correct dosage. This is what I found out after days of research:

Facts:

  • Kratom is derived from a tropical plant species that is part of the coffee family. It has been used in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years as a traditional remedy. Kratom comes in three different forms: as a powder that can be taken straight or mixed with water, leaves that can be chewed or steeped in water like tea or in a packed capsule.[ii]
  • It is known to be a natural analgesic, muscle relaxer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant.[iii]
  • Kratom is currently illegal in six states: Indiana, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Vermont, Alabama and Arkansas.[v]
  • There are three different strains[iv]:
  1. White is more euphoric and can be dissociative.
  2. Green is stimulating with painkiller effects.
  3. Red is more sedating and very similar to feelings produced by opiates.
  • Kratom Science states the following about this substance[vi]:

In very small doses of a few grams of the leaf, kratom functions primarily as a stimulant. This produces effects similar to caffeine without the known jitteriness of drinking several cups of coffee. In higher dosages, kratom functions as a neurological opiate, triggering the mu opiate receptors in the brain, even though kratom is chemically different from the opium derived medications such as codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. An important distinction is that unlike other administered drugs like oxycodone and morphine, kratom exhibits less dependency and addiction potential on the user. However, dependence is still possible as with all of these other derivatives with prolonged and incremental use.

Pros:

  • After reading numerous message boards, it seems that some people use it to get off of methadone and oxycodone.
  • Vice News reports that it is used to wean addicts off of heroin.[vii]
  • Those with multiple sclerosis, back pain, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease have reported relief when using kratom.
  • The addictive properties of kratom are reported to be less than traditional opioids.

Cons:

  • A study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs states that kratom has at least some addiction potential. However, the report shows that kratom addiction is mild compared to opioid addiction.[viii]
  • There have been a limited number of deaths attributed solely to kratom. The majority of overdoses where kratom is present, other drugs and alcohol were all contributing factors.  Unlike opioids, kratom does not suppress the breathing function, which is an element of overdosing.
  • Some report a lack of sex drive, while others say kratom increases it.
  • Kratom can cause nausea.
  • Rare cases of acute liver damage has been reported with recreational use[ix] and seizures.

Legality:

  • The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) released a report during their investigation on whether or not to criminalize kratom in January 2016. “Kratom does not currently constitute a significant risk to the safety and welfare of Florida residents.” Additionally the report sites that the Florida Department of Health “found there are no pervasive health issues can be attributed to the ingestion of kratom products in Florida.”[x]
  • However, the Federal DEA does not agree. As of September 30, 2016 there will be a ban on the use of kratom and it will become a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as  Ecstasy and LSD. The ban will last two years, at which time the government will re-evaluate kratom and determine if it has potential medicinal benefits or is deemed a harmful drug. The full notice of intent can be read at https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2016-20803.pdf.
  • According to the American Kratom Association, the DEA has not performed extensive scientific studies on kratom to warrant this sudden ban.[xi]
  • Over 100,000 people have signed a White House Petition asking to reverse the DEA’s position.[xii]

Have you ever taken kratom? If it remained legal would you try it? Do you feel this is another hurdle for chronic pain patients, as well as addicts, to have an alternative to deal with their pain/ addiction? Do you think the DEA is making the right decision?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (16)
  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    10 months ago

    Hi Krista!
    There aren’t any set guidelines on when to use it, especially for migraine attacks. I can only you give you my (non-medical) insights.

    I’ve taken it during an attack. I can’t say that it has fully stopped an attack, but NOTHING I use or have tried has ever done that. It helps to reduce the pain. If you’re already comfortable using it, it might be worth giving it a try. Be careful about mixing it with other rescue meds.

    I’m not sure about the rebound effects as I try to rotate it with other rescue meds and not rely on any one too often – but still try to adhere to only use any of them less than 3 times a day.

    I hope that helps and again this is my personal view. I encourage you to do more research!
    -Katie
    Migraine.com Team

  • Krista
    11 months ago

    I recently tried kratom and have found it to be very helpful with pain. More than anything else I have tried. I am wondering if I should treat it like an abortive, and not take it more than twice a week. I am very susceptible to medication overuse headaches, so I am afraid of rebounds. Anyone have any insight into this?

  • RachelRoo
    2 years ago

    Hi Katie!

    Due in part to your recommendation I have tried kratom and it has now become a regular part of my migraine control. Like you my migraines are chronic. I take several preventatives and have tried others over the years, and my primary abortive is Zomig. I was very interested in this plant after hearing that it was part of your repetoire and then reading more about it (it is stated that it helps with anxiety as well which I suffer from, so my interest was piqued even further)

    After much experimentation I have found the strains and dosages that work for me. When I say ‘much experimentation’ however I mean just that, it took some work and on the way I had some very negative experiences. Once, when taking a higher dose of capsules (I too find them less effective than the powder though the powder is so gross tasting sometimes I go that route), I gave myself incredible nausea. I was hot and sweating and vomiting for several hours, convinced I had the stomach flu until my husband inquired how many capsules I’d taken in the last 24 hours and we realized that was the problem.

    Another time I tried a different strain of powder than usual and it worked fantastically well on the pain but was incredibly stimulating, I ended up with insomnia so intense that I was awake for 40 hours straight. It was horrible! As kratom is a plant, not a pill, it can vary quite a bit strain by strain, brand by brand. There was a lot to learn.

    Those rough stories aside however, I am incredibly grateful that I was introduced to kratom and have been able to add it in to my repertoire for migraine relief. Now that I’ve learned more about how it effects my body and can take the right type and amount for the positive effects I want (and avoid the negative ones I don’t) it has become a powerful tool in the tool kit. I’d recommend other migraineurs interested to give it a try, so long as they understand it will take a bit to figure out and there may be some unpleasant results along the way.

    Good luck!

  • Madisonbrooke
    4 months ago

    I was wondering which Strain and Distributor helped the best?

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    RachelRoo!!
    I am so glad kratom has helped you!! I appreciate you sharing your journey in trying to figure out what works for you. You were really committed to experimenting and in the end it paid off. Sorry you went through some rough times, but because there are basically no studies or guidelines on using it, you have to go through that trial and error process. Your story may help someone else who has been thinking of trying it!
    Best Wishes!
    -Katie
    Migraine.com Team

  • Robert McMahan
    2 years ago

    Ms. Golden,

    Thank you so very much for shining a most necessary light on this God-send of a leaf! Kratom has, literally, saved (in every sense of the word) sooo many lives, including my own; and the entire Kratom Community has now been afflicted with the most ridiculous amount of fear.

    Fear from the DEA. Fear from being considered a drug-abuser, a person only looking for a “high”; and most importantly, the fear of being labeled a FELON. Although all of these fears are of the highest of importance and empathy, the fear of the unknown, “What do I do now?” may be the largest for the vast majority.

    Without it, EVERY American citizen WILL be affected, indirectly or directly. Hundreds of thousands will resort back to more accessible (and FAR more dangerous) illegal and/or legal drugs. Hundreds of thousands will proceed to overdose and potentially die. Hundreds of thousands will be likely to commit suicide, sometime in their future.

    Life 101: People in pain are desperate. Desperate people do desperate things. When their lifeline is cut, someone must be held accountable for that.

    The DEA should be REJOICING in learning of an all-natural tree leaf, that is MOST CERTAINLY helping with our current Heroin/Opiate Epidemic.

    A leaf that has been proven to help immensely with:

    – Chronic/Acute pain
    – Depression/Anxiety
    – PTSD
    – Heroin/Opioid Withdrawal
    – Fibromyalgia
    – Lupus
    – Lyme Disease
    – Diabetes
    – Diarrhea
    – Arthritis
    – Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
    – Chronic Fatigue
    – Immune System Booster (Immunostimulant)
    – Heart Health (atherosclerosis, heart attacks, strokes)
    – Blood Pressure
    – Anti-Bacterial
    – Anti-Viral
    – Anti-Malarial
    – Anti-Cancer/Leukemic
    – NO RESPIRATORY DEPRESSION
    – NO DEATHS DIRECTLY ASSOCIATED

    As far as “drawbacks”, here is what I have experienced/learned from my own (7+ years of usage) & compiling over 100 research studies:

    – Nausea

    and

    – Vomiting (generally, when one consumes too large of a dose)

    Below are a few website links for anyone reading this, who may not know much about this leaf/saving grace:

    http://www.americankratom.org/

    https://www.botanical-educatio

    http://speciosa.org/

    http://www.painnewsnetwork.org

    http://www.painnewsnetwork.org

    Thank you again, Ms. Golden, and we all hope you are capable in feeling the most genuine and sincere communal HUGS from ALL of us!!!

    Above all, thank you for writing and publishing the Truth.

    (It seems to be quite the rare commodity these days)

    Warmest of Regards,

    Robert M.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    Robert- You’re welcome, but I especially appreciate all the information that you posted here as well. So many people don’t know about it or understand it. You are so right that it can be a game changer for people in pain.

    We also have a forum discussion on kratom. Would you post this same info there as well? So many people are curious and your info is so important. Here’s the link to join the discussion:
    https://migraine.com/topic/kratom/

    Best Wishes!
    -Katie
    Migraine.com

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    Elliegal,
    Thanks for your response. It’s so frustrating. While kratom is OTC, I can see a way that pharma companies would start producing it if the DEA deems it to have medical use in the next 2 years. Then of course it would cost more than it does now. Just a bad cycle of making it even harder for those with chronic pain to have options.
    -Katie
    Migraine.com Moderator

  • 2 years ago

    Hell yes, I’d try it if it were available and legal. Even if it weren’t and I knew where to get some. Its always the governments knee-jerk reaction to automatically ban something they don’t immediately understand. I recently heard about a Harvard study that shows LSD is helpful suppressing cluster headaches! What I don’t understand is why my doc switched me to Pentazocine Naloxone from “politically incorrect” hydrocodone. I was never in danger of overuse at 2-3 tablets/month and the hydrocodone was waaaaayyyyy cheaper. The pentazocine naloxone is also addictive, so exactly what is the point? Now I hear of this Kratom, which is also supposed to be an alternate for opioids. My guess is after all the research on kratom is finished, once it finally is approved by the FDA, big pharma would have the green light to charge $900/month for 6 doses. So sick of corporations screwing over the aching public with the government’s blessing.

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator
    2 years ago

    Thanks for this article Katie. I tried it once, and I think I ordered it from a good source but didn’t know about the three types. I didn’t research enough. It didn’t help me, but it should be studied and not banned.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I think we’re all willing to try whatever may work to help with pain.

  • Douglas
    2 years ago

    I want to post comments, but I know I will end up ranting about banning a substance because someone might abuse it.

    Seriously, I am very grateful to Katie for the post, and Luna for her supplemental information. The sense of community and sharing is very heartening.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    Douglas,
    Thanks for your support! I was a little worried about opening up the kratom discussion, but it’s another disservice to people with chronic pain. How can you ban something that you have said you know nothing about? It’s frustrating. I’ve also just found this article that came out today I thought I’d share.
    http://www.vox.com/2016/9/19/12941112/kratom-dea-ban

    -Katie

  • Brooke H moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Douglas,

    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. We appreciate your feedback and YOU for being part of the supportive community! Some days it’s needed (and okay!) to get frustrated and “rant” and other days it can help to practice gratitude, like you did in your post. Please share here anytime!

    Best, Brooke (Migraine.com team)

  • Luna
    2 years ago

    Never heard of Kratom until the news about the DEA making it illegal. It is interesting to google about it. Here is some information.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kratom-users_us_57d30ab7e4b06a74c9f49c10
    McFadden works as a registered nurse at an ICU in Scioto County, Ohio, where she’s witnessed the ravages of the opioid epidemic on a daily basis. She also uses kratom to manage pain stemming from non-diabetic neuropathy. She recently published an open letter to the DEA on the decision to ban kratom. Below is an excerpt. Read the whole letter here.

    If I could ask the powers that be at the DEA one question it would be this: “What do you suggest we do now?” You say opiates are bad. I agree. But what about those of us who suffer chronic pain on a daily basis? What options will be available to us? Especially if we find becoming addicted to prescription pain meds an unacceptable alternative? Should we just suck it up and deal with the pain?

    So far, kratom has helped me continue to work. I even feel good enough to take my daughters places. It helps me be a better nurse and a better mother. I don’t WANT to end up on disability. I don’t want to become a shell of the person I could be. Kratom has changed my life, and it could change so many more.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator author
    2 years ago

    Luna,
    Thank you so much for sharing this article. In recent years, it seems more and more that the patient’s voice are completely ignored when making regulations and laws that affect chronic pain patients.

    And it’s extremely difficult to have your voice heard AFTER they’ve made a proposal. That’s why it’s so important to band together when something like this happens. Whether you have tried it personally or not, I’m sure we all want this plant to be studied for medical use. If you agree, find the White House petition.

    Again, Luna thanks for this article. I had not seen this. The patients voice is critical!
    -Katie
    Migraine.com Moderator

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