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Kratom and Opiate Abuse: A Dangerous Gateway

Kratom and opiate abuse are quickly becoming synonymous in the world of illicit drugs. Kratom, sadly perceived as safe, is leading to opiate abuse when users are unable to obtain it anymore. An outcome many did not see coming or did not believe could happen to them.

Kratom is an herbal cousin to the coffee plant. It’s harvested from the leaves of the kratom tree that’s native to places such as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo, and other locations in Southeast Asia. The tree itself grows between 9 and 45 feet high, with plentiful leafy foliage that contains a psychoactive substance called mitragynine. A website called identifies mitragynine as an alkaloid that interacts with the mu receptors, the same ones activated when someone gets caught up in opiate abuse. Kratom in fact supplies both a stimulant effect and a supposedly pleasant, mood-stabilizing sedation, depending on how much you take and how your body responds to it.

The big problem is that although it’s been around for hundreds of years, it was never widely used, and very little is known about it. The mitragynine was identified as the active compound in 1907 but its use has been limited to its native home of Southeast Asia until recently. The use of kratom in Thailand, where it’s most predominant, has been going on for so long it can not be successfully dated. in 1943, when it’s damaging effects became more apparent, the Government of Thailand outlawed the planting of kratom trees and all existing trees were to be destroyed.

How do we legislate what we can not define?

Kratom is so new on the American marketplace that it still stands in murky legal waters. Only Wisconsin, Tennessee, Indiana, and Vermont have legislated against its use. It’s kind of like the spice or K2 formulations that hit the market a few years back: As soon as one formulation would be banned, another formulation would come onto the market. The constantly changing formulas and dosage amounts make it a moving target for law makers.

Kratom legislation is so difficult to define because one leaf can contain as low as 1 or as high as 6 mg of the mitragynine and the formula is easily changed. A low dose runs at about 15 mg and a higher dose, that mimics opiate abuse, takes about 65 mg. Kratom can be dangerous because you cannot know how much of the dried leaf you need in order to feel the effects you’re looking for, or even worse, what the dose is in what you are purchasing.

It will not be long before legislators wrap up appropriate wording for this unstable herb. The Drug Enforcement Agency has identified it as a chemical of concern and the FDA has banned its importation into the United States, but there is still wiggle room around the laws if you are caught with it.

Kratom and Opiate Abuse: Going Into Uncharted Territory

Those who support using kratom in place of other opiates insist that since it’s organic it can’t possibly be harmful—it’s just the leaves of a tree, right? Wrong! The people who try and use kratom in lieu of pain pills are moving on from kratom to heroin because kratom is more expensive than heroin and it is less available.

The New York Times tells the story of a Florida woman named Dariya Pankova, who drank kratom while in recovery from opiate abuse. She had been using heroin and she felt the kratom would be safer. She was able to buy kratom drinks at a neighborhood tavern, but she found herself craving the drinks more and more often. Soon she relapsed back to heroin.

Side Effects of Kratom

The more you take kratom, the more you will need in order to get the same effect—you will be building up a tolerance as you would with any other opiate. Remember that with this drug, taking a little bit seems to provide a stimulant, mood-boosting effect, and taking too much results in the sedative, euphoric effect. One of the biggest dangers is that people who have ingested enough to feel high are at risk of falling asleep suddenly, with no warning. That’s pretty dangerous if you’re driving a car.

Besides the narcoleptic effects of kratom, it also raises blood pressure in people subject to hypertension and it can decrease the respiratory rate. It’s just outright dangerous to mix it with other substances. People who use it over the long term develop dark pigmentation of the skin on their face. And just like typical opiate withdrawal symptoms, people who stop using it experience the muscle aches and spasms, diarrhea, runny nose, and irritability common for those involved in opiate abuse.

If you are aware of kratom and battling opiate abuse habits, it’s wise to stay away from this mysterious drug. The chances are too great that it will prompt you to take a walk through that dangerous gateway to heroin addiction—or if you’ve already battled opiate abuse, like Dariya Pankova, relapse and go back to it.

It’s never too late to make the decision to get treatment for opiate abuse. Even kratom abuse can be treated successfully at a local methadonetreatment program. You only need to contact your neighborhood facility to learn more about getting the help you need.

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