Among the ample misinformation found online related to kratom are the claims that the South East Asian plant related to coffee is responsible for such pernicious side effects as hallucination, insomnia, aggression, even full-blown psychosis. Could there be more to these stories though? Some experts feel that the way information about kratom is represented (or misrepresented) falls short of the mark as far as full disclosure goes. Kratom is a plant that has been safely used as a plant medicine for centuries in its native regions such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. Despite dozens of studies suggesting kratom may have multiple benefits and applications and a favorable safety profile with low risk of addiction or abuse, the same old misconceptions keep showing up.
Not unlike the “reefer madness” scare of the 30’s that resulted in the demonization of cannabis, the current “craziness over kratom” has resulted in some overblown hysteria in many respects. Take for example the recurring warning that kratom causes psychosis. Maybe if we took a look at the origin of this claim we could better understand the potential risks of kratom.
What are the side effects of the opiates they offer instead of kratom?
“psychosis, hallucinations, delusions, respiratory depression, phy…
— Smokey’s Pipe/Coffee (@SmokeysHi) September 30, 2016
The original Thai study that listed hallucinations, aggression, and psychosis as possible results of kratom comes from 1975. What is not often pointed out is the fact that these kratom users were not simply fans of the plant. Specifically, the 2000 subjects were divided into three classes, recent heroin addicts who also used kratom, opium users who switched to heroin who also used kratom, opium addicts who also used kratom. Now take that in for a moment. Imagine a study on caffeine that involved a gaggle of crackheads who also drank coffee. Trying to attribute the behavior of said crackheads to caffeine and ignoring the fact that they were addicted to cocaine is intellectually dishonest at best. But it only has to happen once and then it’s “in the scientific literature” and can be cited without context to build a narrative.
The case studies of some of these subjects are also quite telling, some had a history of mental illness, including schizophrenia. The use of other drugs such as alcohol and amphetamines was also noted. If you find someone dead with a syringe full of heroin in their arm and a plate of half-eaten Belgian waffles, would come to the rational conclusion that waffles were fatal? Probably not, but that’s exactly how the tall tale of “kratom psychosis” got started.
Forbes magazine’s Jacob Sullum wrote last year of the DEA’s proposed ban that it was “crazy” and in his opinion “dresses pharmacological phobia in scientific garb.” When nearly every case of “kratom negative effects” is found related to someone who was using multiple drugs, it’s hard to point a finger at the plant that doesn’t seem to cause any such problems when used on its own. Time and again, scientists like Dr. Jane Babin or forensic toxicology expert Dr. Karl Ebner have pointed out that the attribution of kratom has been faulty time and again. Kratom was listed as a cause of death when it was present in the deceased without taking into account other potentially lethal factors present in each case.
“Although the DEA claims there have been ‘numerous deaths associated with kratom,’ it does not cite any deaths where kratom was the only factor. The agency cites 14 deaths “reported in the scientific literature,” plus 16 others that ‘have been confirmed by autopsy/medical examiner reports,’ meaning that “mitragynine and/or 7-hydroxymitragynine were identified in biological samples.” It is not safe to assume, as the DEA does, that every person who ever died after consuming kratom died because he consumed kratom. But even if you overlook that logical fallacy, a grand total of 30 ‘deaths associated with kratom’ in the whole world over the course of centuries is hardly ‘numerous,’ and it pales beside the number of deaths associated with myriad legal drugs. Alcohol, for instance, is implicated in about 88,000 deaths a year in the U.S. alone, while 28,000 deaths were attributed to heroin and opioid painkillers in 2014.”
— Ann Allen (@shepherdsoutrun) November 16, 2017
People seeking information about kratom run across a lot of the same misinformation time and again, especially as it is reprinted without serious critical inquiry. If you search Google for kratom’s effects, you will likely find an ominous list of symptoms from Narconon. No, Narconon is not short for Narcotics Anonymous or NarcAnon, it’s actually a Scientology affiliated “front” group connected to drug rehab clinics implicated in multiple recent wrongful deaths.
A kratom scare story in Nashville, Tennessee referred to a list of side effects pulled straight from Narconon. That information had been derived from the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department. Luckily, the kratom community was vigilant and informed the Nashville police of their error in attributing the information to a reliable source, rather than blatant Scientology propaganda.
As tragic as the misinformation and the inflated claims of risks and dangers that so quickly spread, is the fact that the outcries of researchers and the result of their studies goes untold. Kratom research suggests it may be a potential benefit to those living with depression, anxiety, PTSD, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, neuropathy and other conditions. To top if off, the plant may have anti-cancer and anti-tumor benefits and is an immunostimulant and adaptogen with more antioxidant potency than a glass of green tea. There’s a saying that the truth is still lacing up its boots by the time a lie makes it around the world. For the benefit of those many who feel their lives are improved by it, let us hope the truth gets its boots laced in a hurry.