By Dr. Free N. Hess

More and more kids are using legal substances that have the ability to alter their brain and mood such as Kratom. Have you heard of this easily obtainable drug? You’re children likely have!

What is Kratom?

Kratom is a tropical tree (Mitragyna speciosa) that is native to Southeast Asia. It’s leaves contain mitragynine and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine which interact with opioid receptors in the brain resulting in an opioid effect. The mitragynine can also interact with brain receptors resulting in a stimulant effect.

It goes by many names such as Biak, Ketum, Kakuam, Ithang, and Thom. The leaves can be chewed, dried and used to make a tea, incorporated into various food recipes, smoked, or made into an extract. It is also available in pill and capsule form, sometimes sold as a dietary supplement, which is easy and convenient to buy. Despite FDA warnings, it is still legal in the US which has resulted in Kratom “bars” that serve this drug in tea form in states such as Colorado, New York, and North Carolina, just to name a few.

What is happening in the brain of Kratom users?

As mentioned above Kratom interacts with multiple receptors in the brain, including opioid receptors. At low doses (10 grams) the user will have increased energy, euphoria, increased talkativeness, and increased social interaction (stimulant effect). At higher doses (20-50 grams) the user will experience sedation, pleasure, and decreased pain. Kratom takes effect within 5-10 minutes after ingestion and its effects last 2-5 hours.

What are the negative effects of Kratom?

Kratom has multiple unpleasant and dangerous effects which include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Increased urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis

Over the past year the FDA has released multiple statements informing the public about these negative effects and their many concerns regarding Kratom use, including the potential for abuse and addiction. They have also released warnings regarding the contamination of Kratom-containing products being sold and used both recreationally and to self-medicate for pain or to treat opioid withdrawals. Tests of various products containing Kratom showed high levels of salmonella and heavy metals putting chronic users at risk of illness and heavy metal poisoning.

Thus far the FDA has identified up to 44 deaths related to the use of Kratom. It was noted that in many of these deaths individuals were using Kratom in combination with other drugs that affect the brain, such as illicit drugs, prescription opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines and over-the-counter medications like cough syrups and the anti-diarrheal medicine, loperamide. There was, however,  a case report of a death with the use of only Kratom which is still being investigated. Another concern is that it is impossible to know what other ingredients may be mixed in with Kratom sold commercially as is is not regulated by the FDA.

Is Kratom addictive?

Like other drugs with opioid-like effects, Kratom can cause dependence and therefore users can experience withdrawal symptoms when stopped after frequent or chronic use. Some users have reported being addicted to Kratom. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Aggression
  • Emotional changes
  • Runny nose
  • Jerky movements.

Are kids really using Kratom?

Yes, kids are absolutely using Kratom and they are at high risk for abuse and dependency. It is easy to obtain, it’s legal, and it can have significant effects which make for a tempting substance to preteens and teens. It is important to include these less known substances when discussing the risks of drug use with your children.

Education is empowerment.