30 May Hammer-Flailing, Cannibalism and Overdoses: Welcome to the World of Kratom
A drug-fueled 27-year-old woman runs through the street naked, clutching a 4-month-old baby, ranting and raving about Jesus and manically swinging a hammer at the cops who are desperately trying to restrain her. You might be expecting the drug in question to be crack-cocaine, PCP or bath salts, but it’s actually something entirely legal. “Kratom” is the common name for mitragyna speciosa, a legal drug that is rapidly gaining popularity across the United States. There are some terrifying stories going around, but is it really something to worry about?
What is Kratom?
Kratom is a species of plant that is native to Southeast Asia, in countries such as Thailand and Burma, and is a distant relative of the coffee plant. The chemicals taken as a drug are contained within the leaves of the plant, a concoction containing around 25 different alkaloids. The chemicals are either extracted to be consumed in a capsule, or the chopped leaves are chewed or consumed as a tea. In lower doses, the drug acts as a stimulant, producing effects such as increased alertness, talkativeness and euphoria, but in higher doses it becomes a sedative, displaying painkilling properties and boosting the euphoria to even greater levels. Physiologically, it causes loss of appetite, dry mouth, sweating, nausea, and constipation.
What Are the Risks?
The main risk of taking Kratom is the potential for psychotic episodes. It’s been known to produce hallucinations, general confusion, and delusions, which explains the extreme reports from the media. The danger comes from the poorly-studied alkaloids that make up the drug, which can occur at different quantities depending on the specific plant and therefore the specific batch of the drug. These are known to have interactions with each other, and like most drugs can affect different users in different ways. Regardless, long-term users are known to experience anorexia and weight loss, in addition to severe versions of the immediate effects such as dry mouth and constipation.
Kratom also has the potential for addiction, and it is generally in these cases when the psychosis has occurred. Although little is known about the substance itself, it’s assumed to cause addiction in the same way as most drugs of abuse. Withdrawal symptoms from the drug can include mood swings, jerking limb movements, aggression, hostility, and aching muscles.
There have been a few high-profile media reports that have been definitively linked to Kratom, and another disturbing story in which it could be implicated. The most disturbing of these stories is the one described in the introduction, which involved a 27-year-old woman from Kelso, British Columbia. Police were called out to the scene at around midnight on March 2, where the woman was lying in the street naked and screaming. They tried to calm her down, but she ran into a nearby home. When the authorities opened the door, she was clutching a 4-month old baby in one arm and a hammer in the other, swinging it wildly at them and chanting, “Leave here! Jesus!” The woman’s father confirmed that she had been taking Kratom prior to the event.
Another report from Longview concerns the death of a 31-year-old woman. She was found dead in her home with a pipe and scattered packages of Kratom around her, with the majority of them empty. Her roommate reported seeing her come down for some coffee in the morning, but then disappear into her room, which is where she was found dead hours later. The reports are yet to be confirmed, and since the woman did have some underlying health issues, it cannot be definitively stated that the drug was to blame as of yet. However, her health problems were not life-threatening and she was evidently a heavy user, so the drug is believed to be to blame.
The same news report also implicates the drug in a bizarre story from a local school, in which a boy began exhibiting strange behavior in class and chewing on himself. While this isn’t quite as severe a case as the infamous face-eating incident last year assumed to be caused by bath salts, it does open up worrying possibilities. With the known delusional and psychotic effects of Kratom, it isn’t unfeasible that the drug was to blame. The boy’s friends reported that he’d been using synthetic marijuana, but this is unconfirmed and Kratom is relatively similar in appearance.
The FDA currently has no say over the distribution of Kratom, which is available online and through various “head” shops in local communities. However, it is on their list of “Drugs and Chemicals of Concern,” meaning that legislation will be likely in the future.
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