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"Herbal Heroin" Is In the News

There is a plethora of news about a new substance that is touted as a legal alternative to heroin. Some claim it is a non-addictive solution to opioid problems, others say their cravings to use it are just as strong as their heroin urges.

The drug commonly known in the West as KRATOM is far from new. From the leaves of an evergreen tree native to Thailand, mitragyna speciosa, it has long been known and used in Southeast Asia and Africa. But it has only recently come on the scene in the US and Europe but. Commonly, the leaves are chewed or powdered and then taken in liquid or capsules. They can also be smoked or eaten in food.

In the U.S., Kratom remains unscheduled in many states, is banned in six states and legislation pending in four. But on a national level, Kratom is currently in the process of becoming a schedule one drug on the books of the US DEA, which would make it officially illegal for any use in any state.

There are a number of alkaloids In Kratom. Alkaloids are naturally occurring compounds that have pronounced physiological effects on humans and animals. Examples of alkaloids are morphine, cocaine, atropine, quinine, nicotine, and caffeine. Thought to be the psychoactive of the alkaloids in Kratom, Mitrogynine and 7-hydroxymitrogynine create profound effects in humans by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain. Stimulation of these receptors is thought to produce sensations that are pleasurable. The same receptors are responsible for effects of opioid drugs including pain relief and addiction.

According to the DEA, the drug is often sold under other names such as:

Mitragyna Speciosa has long been used in Asia as a stimulant. With low doses of the leaves users report a mild stimulant effect. Workers use it this way to keep brutal hours and work several jobs every day.

With higher doses of the drug, effects are more like those of opioid substances that can be helpful in pain management and as anti-diarrheal drugs. Kratom has also been studied as a method to aid addicts in overcoming addiction to drugs such as heroin and morphine. Although drug substitution is known to be less than effective in actually overcoming addictions, some reports have shown that during tapering-off periods, Kratom has helped addicts with the pain and anxiety of their initial withdrawal.

The effects of Kratom are dose dependent and can act as either a stimulant or a depressant with low or higher doses respectively. With higher doses, nausea and sweating are common as well as vomiting and extreme itching.

In very high doses, overdoses, reports of delusions and paranoia, extreme nausea and vomiting, shaking and respiratory depression are not uncommon.

As with any addictive drug, sudden cessation of Kratom use results in withdrawal symptoms. During withdrawal from Kratom an addicted person experiences symptoms such as: Muscle aches and pains, insomnia, hostility and aggression, muscle spasms and jerks and runny nose.

As with all opiate or opioid-like drugs, the risk of addiction is high and overdose is a very real possibility.

Recently, a man named Joel called our hotline looking for a rehabilitation program because of his addiction to this drug. He's 30 years old, has three children, all under 10 and his wife is threatening to leave him because the money he's spending on Kratom is ruining their finances.

He hasn't told his wife about it yet, but he just lost his excellent job. Instead of going home to tell her, he drove to the next town, forty miles away, to the smoke shop that sells Kratom in capsules. Kratom is currently legal. He spent part of the money they desperately need for food and house payment on 5 forty-dollar bottles of Kratom.

The treatment Joel needs will not differ significantly from that of a heroin or meth addict. Kratom addicts require real, long-term, in patient drug rehab just like the others. One difference they will face in recovery is that Kratom isn't hard to get. Legally sold in some of the seedier smoke shops and liquor stores, it's just a matter of an over-the-counter purchase. Like alcohol, the relapse triggers are all around.

Kratom has become a concern in many countries because of the rising number of hospital visits and deaths associate with its abuse. The US Drug Enforcement Administration had slated to place Kratom on the Schedule One list up until late September, 2016 and at the last minute they put the action on hold awaiting further research.

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