A new study published online December 15 by the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found regular maeng da kratom users suffered no significant cognitive impairment.
The research study, conducted by kratom scientist Darshan Singh and other university scientists, focused on 1000 self-reported users of the herbal supplement kratom, sold online and in smoke shops around the U.S., Johns Hopkins Medicine scientific researchers conclude that the psychoactive compound somewhat similar to opioids likely has a lower rate of harm than prescription opioids for treating pain, anxiety, depression and addiction.
In a report on the study’s findings, published in the Feb. 3 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the lab researchers caution that while self-reporting surveys aren’t always entirely reliable, they confirmed that kratom is not regulated or approved by the FDA, and that peer reviewed scientific studies have not been done to formally establish safety and health benefits. They say that U.S. drug agencies should seek to study and regulate rather than ban kratom sales outright because of its seemingly safe therapeutic potential, and as a possible alternative to opioid use.
The American Kratom Association, estimates that 10-16 million people in the U.S. regularly use kratom by either taking capsules, powder, eating its ground leaves in food or brewing them in tea. Kratom is a tropical plant related to coffee trees, and grown mainly in Southeast Asia. It contains a chemical called mitragynine, an alkaloid that acts on the brain opiate receptors and alters mood. In Asia, where use has long been widespread, people, mostly farmers use it in small doses as an energy and mood booster, similar to coffee use in the West. They use larger amounts for pain, or recreationally like beer and wine.
For the current survey, Garcia-Romeu says, he and his team enrolled 2,798 people to complete an online survey on their use of white maeng da kratom. They recruited participants online and through social media, as well as through the AKA. Overall, users were mostly white, educated and middle-aged. Some 61% of users were women, and 90% were white. About 6% reported being multiracial, 1.5% reported being Native American or Hawaiian, 0.5% reported being Asian and 0.4% said they were African American. Participants were an average age of 40. About 84% of participants reported having at least some college education.
Of these participants, 91% reported taking maeng da kratom to alleviate pain on average a couple times a day for back, shoulder and knee pain, 67% for anxiety and 65% for depression. About 41% of survey responders said they took kratom to treat opioid withdrawal, and of those people who took it for opioid withdrawal, 35% reported going more than a year without taking prescription opioids or heroin. “Although our findings show kratom powder to be relatively safe according to these self-reports, unregulated medicinal natural supplements raise concerns with respect to contamination or higher doses of the active chemicals, which could increase negative side effects and harmful responses,” says Garcia-Romeu. “This is why we advocate for the FDA to regulate kratom, which would require testing for impurities and maintaining safe levels of the active chemicals. Otherwise, unregulated kratom products run the risk of unsafe additives and dosing problems, which could be like getting a shot of grain alcohol when you were trying to order a beer.”