The Dangers of Using Kratom Tea to Treat Anxiety or Opiate Withdrawal

Research on kratom's side effects has deemed products made with this plant to be a public health threat.

Kratom tea has been touted as a treatment for pain, anxiety, and depression, and a way to ease symptoms of opiate withdrawal. It is marketed as a safe, plant-based treatment for these conditions, as well as a way to achieve a "natural high." People also use kratom for its stimulating effects to heighten sexual performance and enhance physical endurance.

However, there is insufficient evidence to back up any of these claims, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they sent warning letters to two sellers of kratom tea for making health claims that are not supported by research.

Furthermore, kratom tea may be dangerous. In 2018, a Florida mother filed a lawsuit claiming that her daughter suffered permanent brain damage as a result of frequent kratom use, as reported by Fox News. In another 2018 statement, the FDA recalled several kratom products that had been found to harbor salmonella, a bacteria that causes gastrointestinal upset.

Here's what you need to know about kratom tea and its potential dangers.

What Is Kratom?

Kratom tea is made by brewing the leaves of the kratom tree, which is native to Southeast Asia, or by mixing kratom leaf powder into boiling water. "The leaves contain mitragynine, a chemical that evidence suggests works similarly to opioid pain relievers such as morphine and codeine," California-based nutritionist Maggie Moon, MS, RD, told Health. Kratom can also be chewed, smoked, or taken as a supplement in capsules.

Kratom is thought to act as a stimulant in smaller doses. In larger amounts, it has a sedative effect, according to the NIDA.

As for easing opiate withdrawal, not enough evidence exists to determine if it is effective, Moon said. The FDA announcement also states that no substantial studies show that kratom can help with opiate withdrawal symptoms, nor have there been studies on how kratom, when combined with other substances, may impact the body, its dangers, potential side effects, or interactions with other drugs.

Kratom Tea Dangers

Research published in Neuropharmacology in 2018 found that doses of 5 to 8 grams can lead to side effects such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, loss of muscle coordination, increased urination, dizziness, constipation, rapid heart rate, sedation, sweating, and dry mouth.

In May 2019, the journal Pharmacotherapy analyzed data from the National Poison Data System, which tracks calls made to the 55 poison control centers across the United States. The data showed that over 2,300 people had called in concerned that kratom had made them or someone else ill.

The most common symptoms reported were agitation (18.6%), a rapid heartbeat (16.9%), and drowsiness (13.6%). But some called about more serious symptoms, like seizures (6.1%), hallucinations (4.8%), and coma (2.8%).

The effects in larger kratom doses can be more serious, and these include a strong euphoric high, anxiety, slowed breathing, changes in heart rate, constipation, seizures, coma, and even death. For these reasons, the FDA put out a statement in 2017 warning people to stay away from products containing kratom. The FDA has reported 44 deaths linked to kratom products as of February 2018.

Effects are worsened when kratom is taken with other drugs. The FDA noted that kratom may be laced with other opioids like hydrocodone and has been associated with liver damage and withdrawal symptoms.

As for the link to brain damage alleged by the mom in Florida, Moon said that she didn't know enough about the case to comment or make a conjecture. However, the FDA does seem to suggest the potential for brain damage and recommends avoidance.

Is Kratom Legal?

Kratom is a controlled substance in 16 countries, and though it is legal in America, five states ban it (Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, and Wisconsin). It is marked as alternative medicine and is unregulated—meaning the FDA cannot monitor the purity of the herbs being used.

Kratom can be found in stores that sell supplements under a number of names, including Biak-Biak, Cratom, Gratom, Ithang, Kakuam, Katawn, Kedemba, Ketum, Krathom, Kraton, Kratum, Madat, Maeng Da Leaf, Mambog, Mitragynine, Mitragynine Extract, Thang, and Thom. It can be purchased online, as kratom powder or kratom capsules, with many supplements listing the kratom dosage as 500 mg. A physician can't prescribe it.

Even if you live in a place where it's available, it's best to avoid it, advised Moon. "Given the FDA advisory regarding the risks of using kratom, people should not be taking this substance or any product that contains it," Moon said.

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