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Kratom – A killer or painkiller?

The South East Asian herb Mitragynaspeciosa (kratom) has made the news in recent months because the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) threatened to make it a Schedule 1 drug similar to cocaine and heroin after it claimed that there were 15 deaths associated with the herb. What really hit the headlines is that the DEA backed down after a massive public outcry and even Congress getting involved. Is it a very useful painkiller or is kratom a killer?

Is it a killer?

Though used for hundreds of years by indigenous peoples in South East Asia as a medicine, it has only been possible to find kratom for sale in the USA for the last ten or so years. Medical researchers have really only been interested in the herb for that time too.

In November 2016 the DEA was about to ban kratom use or scientists’ access to it after 15 people were reported to have the substance in their system when they died. Importantly however, all of them had other substances in their system when they died. Some had alcohol and many had opiates in their system too – compounds and molecules that have been proven to kill people in their own right.

Many people turn to kratom to tackle their other addictions. Kratom has been proven to be a very good substance to help wean you off prescription painkillers and even heroin because the main molecule in kratom (mitragynine) has been shown to bind to the same nerve receptors as opiates do. In doing so, it can make the body think it has the opiates it needs and thereby tackles the opiate cravings.


Heroin and morphine are known to kill you by stopping you from breathing – you become so relaxed you suffocate. Speaking to Wired Magazine, pharmacologist Jack Henningfield of Johns Hopkins medical center said, “The two main alkaloids in kratom, mitragynine and 7-hydroxy, appear to have a low ceiling for respiratory depression. “Kratom tackles pain without stopping you breathing, suggesting that it is a lot safer than many opiates that people use today.”


Tests on animals have shown that kratom has a very good painkilling effect, though is not as strong as prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin. For users this means that there is a compromise – they have to put up with a certain amount of pain but it is dulled enough to get on with their day. They are not wiped out by the painkiller as they may be by opiates. In one person’s eyes, Wired reported that this meant, “It doesn’t allow you to escape your problems… It instead has you face them full on because it doesn’t numb your brain at all, and it doesn’t make you feel stoned like medical marijuana does”

The perfect painkiller would kill a lot of pain with a small dose, yet not be addictive or give you a high. There isn’t one like that yet known to medicine. Kratom however is a big step forward – a relatively good painkiller that is far safer than most alternatives on the market today.

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