For centuries, kratom has been an integral part of traditional medicine and cultural practices in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In recent years, kratom has moved beyond local Southeast Asian communities, making its way to the shelves of health food stores and vape shops in the United States. Now, with popularity brewing and people calling the opioid-like drug a “miracle herb,” it’s crucial to explore all the ways individuals are using kratom and what it could mean for them.
What Are Traditional Uses of Kratom?
People have traditionally utilized kratom leaves for their analgesic properties to alleviate pain, whether it be for chronic conditions or physical labor-induced discomfort. Kratom leaves have also been employed as a stimulant to increase energy and combat fatigue, particularly among agriculture workers. But the herbal substance has also been used as a household remedy to treat a variety of common ailments including diarrhea, coughs, and stomachaches.
Aside from its reported pain-relieving properties, kratom is also favored for its relaxation effects. Walk into a café in Thailand, and you often see kratom leaves paired with coffee or tea. People chew the bitter leaves to feel relaxed or more sociable. In some villages, it’s common practice to offer the herbal substance to guests at your home. Many Thai people view kratom users in a positive light because it is associated with being a diligent worker.
Why Do People Use Kratom Today?
Although some of the reasons for kratom use remain the same as it did hundreds of years ago, Americans are consuming the substance to improve other areas of everyday life as well. Kratom can be found in capsules, powder, extracts, and even brewed into teas. Even bars that sell kratom and kava, a separate mildly calming herbal substance, are popping up in California and New York. Common kratom uses include:
- Pain Management: Chronic pain affects millions of Americans, and kratom has gained attention as a potential alternative to traditional pain medications. Some users claim that kratom provides effective pain relief without the risk of addiction and harmful side effects associated with opioid medications. However, we don’t have enough research to determine the safety and efficacy of kratom for pain management.
- Mood Enhancement: Kratom’s ability to elevate mood is thought to be due to the interaction of its alkaloids with opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in the release of endorphins and a sense of well-being. In a fast-paced society, many individuals seek natural ways to combat stress, anxiety, and depression and kratom seems like an easy fix. But some users report feeling irritable, experiencing psychosis, and other negative effects on the mind.
- Energy and Focus: Certain strains of kratom, particularly those with stimulating properties, are used by individuals seeking increased energy levels and improved focus. These strains are often consumed in lower doses, and some users find them helpful for enhancing productivity or combating fatigue.
- Opioid Withdrawal: Some users self-medicate with kratom to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved kratom for this use, and it does not recognize kratom as a treatment for opioid addiction or withdrawal.
- Recreation and Relaxation: Some individuals in the US use kratom recreationally as a means of relaxation and to experience its mild euphoric effects. But with different strains and retailers as well as a lack of regulation, the effects of kratom can be unpredictable for each user.
Why Do People Seek Alternative Healing Methods?
There is a growing desire for a more natural and holistic approach to wellness that focuses on addressing the root causes of illness or discomfort rather than just treating symptoms.
Some individuals might have encountered adverse effects from specific medications or treatments, leading them to perceive non-conventional approaches as a means to regain control over their health or experience more personalized care. For example, a person living with chronic pain may have experienced negative side effects from conventional medication and turn to kratom once they hear it has the potential to alleviate discomfort.
Alternative healing methods are sometimes portrayed as offering “miracle cures” or quick fixes, which can generate excitement and interest. However, it is essential to approach them with critical thinking and caution. Research supporting the efficacy and safety of many alternative treatments can be limited, and not all practices are regulated or standardized. Work with a qualified healthcare professional, who can guide you and help integrate alternative methods, if appropriate, into a comprehensive healthcare plan.