As the opioid epidemic rages on, more people are searching for ways to wean themselves off of opioids. One natural substance that has reportedly shown promise among those suffering from opioid addiction is kratom.

Is kratom an opioid? Kratom, or Mitragyna speciosa, is a plant species related to the coffee plant that is indigenous to Southeast Asia. It’s completely legal in the United States and can be sold in powders and capsules or steeped like loose-leaf tea. When consumed, kratom activates the body’s opioid receptors and produces a mellow, euphoric body high.

Many who use kratom to treat chronic pain or wean off of opioids tout its benefits. But could it serve as the antidote to the opioid epidemic, or is it a deadly opioid itself?

There is a need for alternative treatments that address both chronic pain and the opioid epidemic. For people who suffer from chronic pain or want to wean themselves off of opioids, kratom seems like a safe, natural solution. It activates the same receptors in the brain as opioids and relieves pain–and it’s not an opioid.

However, despite its purported benefits, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on kratom and recently issued a warning that kratom could be deadly.

“We have been especially concerned about the use of kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms, as there is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder and significant safety issues exist,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb writes in the statement.

FDA researchers analyzed the chemical structure of computer-replicated kratom compounds and found substantial evidence of its opioid properties.

The statement also cites 44 deaths related to kratom since 2011. However, the majority of those deaths aren’t directly linked to kratom, as the subjects had ingested multiple substances with known risks, including alcohol. With so many substances present, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact role any of them played.

Health care professionals are understandably cautioning patients against using the substance, mainly because its long-term effects aren’t well-understood. Kratom also poses a high risk of addiction and overdose, which is hugely problematic.

What we already know about kratom isn’t very promising, but there is still a lot we don’t know. Decades of use have yielded examples of the substance’s efficacy, but more research is necessary before it’s made illegal–or conversely used to treat opioid addiction. Without the scientific evidence to back it up, both the FDA’s and kratom advocates’ claims are unsubstantiated.

What’s perhaps most troubling about kratom is its use in at-home detox, which is extremely dangerous and even deadly. Detox is a very physical, emotional process, and attempting to detox at home is very risky. Kratom is thought to be “natural,” but that doesn’t make it any safer. The safest way to detox from substances is in a medically-supervised environment where a patient receives 24/7 clinical and medical care.

Boca Detox Center is one of South Florida’s premier medically-supervised detox facilities, and we have a long track record of helping our clients go on to lead successful, fulfilling lives in recovery. It’s difficult to feel hopeful when you or someone you love is in the throes of addiction, but long-term recovery is possible. Contact us at 561.271.7612 to learn more about how our detox services can help.