A top federal health agency hosted a meeting last week to explore the therapeutic potential of a “controversial tree” commonly known as kratom, which supporters say has pain relieving qualities and can be used as a substitute for opioids.
As part of a lecture series, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) invited University of Florida researcher Christopher McCurdy to provide an overview of the science of kratom and what role it could play in mitigating the overdose crisis.
McCurdy, who previously served as the director of an NIH research center, titled his lecture, “Can a Controversial Tree Help End the Opioid Crisis?” He went into detail about anecdotal experience and clinical research, explaining how there’s promising evidence that kratom could help alleviate pain, reduce withdrawal symptoms from opioids and lower dependence on methamphetamine, for example.
After reviewing the origin and pharmacology of kratom, a plant that grows in Southeast Asia, McCurdy said that the substance is “used informally to reduce opioid use,” noting that “kratom withdrawal is mild.”
“Poly-drug users report kratom may reduce methamphetamine use,” he said.
But the scientist explained that the “biggest problem” in researching kratom is that there’s currently a lack of standardization “to really get into clinical trials and evaluate any of these therapeutic potentials.”
Like other plant-based therapeutics such as marijuana, kratom in its natural form contains multiple compounds of varying concentrations, and people administer it in different ways—from teas to capsules.
McCurdy also talked about a unique feature of kratom: it seems that, in lower doses, the substances creates a stimulant-like effect, whereas higher doses are associated with an opioid-like effect. One reason that people are eager to research kratom is because even though it can act similarly to opioids, it doesn’t appear to cause dangerous respiratory depression, which is the reason behind many opioid overdose deaths.
While he recognized that some people may be attracted to the product for recreational use, he said that the “legitimate users of this will fight to their death to keep it legal because it’s been revolutionary for them.”
To that end, advocates in the U.S. have been putting up a fight to ensure that regulators don’t designate kratom as a controlled substance. And so far, they’ve been successful.
On the international level, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) decided last year not to recommend that kratom be globally prohibited in a victory for activists.
While the decision was based on a scientific review of the risk of dependence, abuse potential and therapeutic applications of …….