Traditional Kratom Use
Kratom has been used in Southeast Asia for thousands of years and leaves are still chewed today by about 70% of Thai men. Kratom use in Thailand and Malaysia is considered equivalent to drinking coffee. It is valued by workers for it’s ability to help them ward off fatigue during long, strenuous work days. Traditionally, the most common way to use Kratom is by chewing the fresh leaves, which highlights the plants stimulating effects. Dried leaves are also brewed into tea. Tea is actually more psychoactive than fresh leaves, so it tends to produce sedative, rather than stimulating, effects.
Traditional Kratom use is almost exclusively associated with male workers. This is due to the effectiveness of Kratom at increasing motivation and capacity to work effectively. Laborers in rural areas of Southeast Asia typically have extremely physical jobs such as rubber tapping, which require incredible endurance. Kratom is seen as a safe and effective aid to completing each day’s work.
Medicinal Kratom Use
Kratom users value the plant for several therapeutic purposes. It is not currently employed by medical professionals in North America, but many health professionals are interested in researching it to further investigate therapeutic claims.
One of the major benefits claimed by users is relief from pain. Many people use Kratom to successfully treat moderate pain, as a safe alternative to opiates and other prescription painkillers. For some people it constitutes an effective remedy for severe pain.
Related to it’s role as a painkiller, Kratom has been shown to be effective for treating addiction to opiates. It also helps ease the symptoms of opiate withdrawal and acts as an opiate substitute to help addicts get through strong cravings that may lead to relapse in the early stages of recovery.
Other potential uses for Kratom that are of interest include treatment of diabetes and high blood pressure, and use as an antidepressant. Studies into these potential uses are still preliminary, but early findings and anecdotal evidence hold promise that it may provide relief for these conditions and possibly others.
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Kratom in the Western World
While Kratom is still relatively unknown in the Western world, it has found a dedicated following in North America. Western Kratom users most often consume the drug in a tea, as capsules, or in an extract. Many people use Kratom purely for recreational purposes, but an equal number of people use it to help manage pain or ease opiate withdrawal symptoms.
Recreational users vary dosage based on the effects they are seeking. Many people enjoy the stimulant effects that come from a lower dose. At a low dose, its use will improve performance of monotonous work, and makes the user more talkative and social. These effects are accompanied by an increase in alertness, and possibly an increase in libido. At higher doses, Kratom begins to mimic the effects of opiates. Users experience a euphoric feeling of sedation lasting about six hours, with an “after glow” effect the next day. As with opiates, the side-effects at high doses can include sweating, itching, constricted pupils and sometimes nausea.
At very high doses, the opiate-like effects of Kratom can become very strong and unsuitable for most recreational users.
Kratom is generally considered safe for use by otherwise healthy individuals. In Thailand, where the plant has been used by a large portion of the population for thousands of years, most medical professionals and government officials recognize that Kratom has a long history of use without causing any significant health or societal issues. While Kratom has a long history of safe use, there is the potential for many unwanted and possibly dangerous side-effects when especially large doses are consumed.
An important part of taking Kratom safely is using it in a safe environment. The sedative effects of Kratom make it unsafe to operate vehicles or machinery, or engage in tasks that require alertness and coordination. Kratom has stimulating effects at low doses, but dosage depends highly on the individual and it’s possible to take too much Kratom to engage in certain activities safely.
Another concern when taking Kratom is the potential for abuse, however, when taken occasionally it is not habit forming. But when consistently used on a daily basis, it will create mild physical dependence. Physical withdrawal from Kratom is not nearly as difficult as withdrawal from alcohol or opiates, but the potential for addiction exists and should be considered before using Kratom multiple days in a row.
Kratom is legal throughout North America and Europe. It is unlikely that Kratom will become illegal anywhere in North America or Europe in the near future, but the plant is on the United State Drug Enforcement Agency’s “Drug and Chemical of Concern” list. Kratom is illegal in Australia and Thailand. The Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) recognizes that the initial criminalization of Kratom was done solely for economic reasons, as Kratom competed with the opiate trade, and the ONCB is in the process of decriminalizing Kratom, because they recognize the plant’s cultural significance to the Thai people.