Kratom — A Promising Herbal Pain Reliever

By Paul Kemp

What Is Kratom and Why You Should Care

Kratom is many things to many different people.

To the ethnobotanist, kratom is an interesting herb with many traditional uses and a long record of safety

To the DEA, it is a substance of concern, though not yet illegal.

To those intrepid cosmonauts of the drug subculture, kratom represents a new frontier in the never-ending search for Euphoria, which is a common side-effect of painkillers, both natural and synthetic.

To the press, it is fodder for horror stories of those who have abused the herb and are now paying the price. Here is a typical TV News report on this new “drug menace” — full of hearsay, all negative and none of the documented positives uncovered by published scientific researchers.

To the pharmaceutical researchers, kratom contains 40 unique compounds, some of which may be turned into blockbuster prescription drugs. Kratom also represents a potential threat to Big Pharma’s profitable sales of addictive painkillers and OTC remedies for minor discomforts.

But what about the chronic pain sufferer? The diabetic? The depressed or anxious? How about those with addictions to opioid medications, who would like to quit? They may all soon become “collateral damage” in the latest skirmish to control, restrict access, and profit from the gifts of Nature.

To the person suffering chronic pain, diabetes, anxiety, or addiction, kratom is an inexpensive herbal remedy with no dangerous side-effects, if used in moderation. Unfortunately, the majority of responsible users may soon be forced to fight for their right to use this herb because of the unwise actions of the few who abuse it.

We are watching — in slow motion — the familiar struggle over, “Who shall control the gateways to Euphoria and Relief from Pain?

Who Might Benefit from Kratom Prohibition?

Looked at dispassionately, the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa — kratom — would seem to offer unique benefits. It is less addictive than morphine, but its primary active alkaloid is about 5 times as strong as morphine in its painkilling ability. It also produces considerably less constipation than the opioid drugs — an important boon for the long-term user.

According to Wikipedia’s listing, kratom has been used in Thai folk medicine for hundreds of years to treat diabetes, pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and hypertension. There are medical research reports supporting these benefits.

It was originally made illegal in Thailand — not because it was harmful — but because its use as an aid for quitting opium addiction was causing the government there to lose tax revenue from opium sales, which were then legal (in 1943). As of 2010, the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board, “proposed decriminalizing kratom and affirmed its use as an integral part of Thai culture.

“The ONCB concluded that decades of unproblematic use, and an absence of health and social harm, make prohibiting the leaf unnecessary and counterproductive,” according to the Wikipedia listing for Mitragyna speciosa.

Another factor that may be of interest to the pharmaceutical giants: Kratom by itself has never been found to cause a fatal overdose, which is more than can be said for most of the legal prescription painkillers available in the USA today.

The chronic pain sufferer is not looking to “get high” — they are looking for a way to relieve their pain. Many become addicted to hydrocodone, oxycodone, Fentanyl and percocet; have great difficulties in withdrawing from these addictive drugs.

Kratom offers an inexpensive, do-it-yourself drug rehab program that is very effective. This article — especially comments #12-14 — tells a persuasive story of the benefits of kratom for kicking opiate addiction and relief for chronic pain.

So, who has the most to lose? The motive for all the anti-kratom media coverage may be found in the loss of revenue to the prescription drug manufacturers.

The annual sales of opioid pain medications generates roughly $11 Billion in revenue for pharmaceutical companies. This article from CNN/Fortune Magazine gives the backstory of why Big Pharma might view widespread use of kratom as a threat to their business.

If people can freely access a legal (cheaper) herb to relieve their pain, the pharmaceutical manufacturers would clearly not be happy, nor would the drug addiction treatment facilities that charge from $5000-$30,000 and up for their services.

Obviously, the average opioid drug addict cannot afford such programs, so the cost of treatment must be borne by the taxpayers. Untreated opioid addiction costs society in lost worker productivity, theft, and robberies to support drug habits.

A Case of the Pot Calling the Kettle Black?

When we take into account all the costs associated with the current epidemic of opioid drug addiction, the media furor over this new “drug menace” called kratom appears to be greatly overblown. It is conceivable that the media is responding to a tacit — or privately-voiced — concern over the continued profitability of one of their major sources of advertising revenue, the pharmaceutical companies.

The budgets of local sheriffs, as well as the for-profit prison industry, would no doubt enjoy a boost in their revenue, too, as a result of a new crackdown directed at another innocent herb.

This may be a case of money talking and politicians and the media listening, to the detriment of the majority of Americans who might safely use this herb with so much promise. On the other hand, rather than trying to find new tax money to lock up kratom users, legislators might take a lesson from the costly and ineffective efforts to prohibit the use of another herb — and opt for a laissez-faire, more educational approach this time around.

Why don’t we hear the horror stories that legal prescription drugs cause?

Well, we do occasionally read news stories about the teens who experience those “rare” thoughts of suicide on Prozac and Paxil, then finally do something tragic to stop them. But there’s not a campaign of fear-inspiring stories, such as we’re beginning to see about the “latest drug craze”, kratom.

If anyone takes the time to read the Black Box warnings on their prescription and over-the-counter drugs, they might learn about all the unpleasant side-effects and even fatalities caused by common OTC drugs like aspirin and Tylenol. But, somehow, we trust that these drugs have been tested and FDA-approved for our safety.

Certainly, the 27,000 deaths (in 2007) caused by opioid prescription medications should out-weigh a few emergency room visits caused by young people who use kratom for kicks.

But this is where the perception of an emergency caused by selective media attention can skew public reaction.

It’s the herbal remedies we have been taught to fear.

This should all sound familiar. Those of us who have been around for fifty years or more might recall another reportedly “dangerous” weed being talked about in terms of causing “madness”, permanent psychosis, and the like. Whatever became of those predictions?

Now that same “evil weed” is legally prescribed by doctors and sold in 18 U.S. states, plus Washington, DC, for treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, anorexia, arthritis, cancer, Crohn’s Disease, glaucoma, epilepsy, HIV, migraine headaches, Multiple Sclerosis, nausea from chemotherapy, pain, spasticity, and wasting syndrome.

Remember when we were told there was no medical use for marijuana? We are told today the same thing about kratom. Must we go through forty-plus years of incarcerating sick people who dare to seek pain relief from another plant — one that is less toxic, less addictive, and with possibly even more unique benefits?

The truth, as usual, lies in the broad space in between the two extremes of abuse and total abstinence of substances that have genuine benefit, if used wisely and with restraint.

Alcohol is a good example of one legal substance that can be a great pleasure — and may even confer health benefits if used in moderation. In the hands of the small percentage of humanity who cannot or will not control themselves, it can be fatal to them and to innocent bystanders (in auto accidents and cases of crimes of passion committed under the influence).

To most people who are not now in pain, the issue of kratom becoming prohibited is not important. “What is Kratom?” they may say with a shrug.

To those who suffer chronic pain daily, news of a less-toxic, inexpensive, pain-killer with few — if any — long-term ill effects can be a God-send.

To those who might realize that they, too, sometime in their life will need a pain reliever that is less troublesome than morphine or oxycontin — or even acetaminophen — kratom availability might be something worth preserving.