I have long believed in the healing power of plants and always try to find and use effective herbal & plant-based remedies not only personally, but also in my massage and coaching practices.  Prescription or conventional medicine is my last resort as I have personally suffered the negative effects of drugs including opioid addiction, antidepressant-induced suicidal tendencies and allergic reactions to name a few of the more serious ones.  

I was first introduced to kratom powder by a long-time and trusted friend. He had seen a Facebook post where I showed a photo of my hands with Reynaud’s Syndrome, a condition where my fingers and toes lose all feeling and turn white.  It’s usually brought on by a slight drop in my body temperature but lasts long after I am warmed up and is quite painful.  He suggested I try kratom for better circulation. Little did he know, it would become a vital part of my overall wellness program.

Reynaud’s Syndrome – my hands after an hour of surfing in Maui’s warm water

I have been in the holistic health and wellness field for well over 20 years.  In that time, I have become versed in many effective herbal remedies and treatments.  As I mentioned earlier, I am always looking for the latest and greatest all-natural and plant-based supplements.  Kratom intrigued me so I started reading, and reading, and reading. 

What exactly is kratom?

‘Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical tree that has a long history of traditional and ceremonial uses in Africa and Southeast Asia. The tree is indigenous to tropical and subtropical regions of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Myanmar (Burma), and New Guinea; it is also found in parts of Africa. Traditionally in these parts of the world, the leaves are chewed or consumed as powder to help reduce fatigue, in particular by seamen and manual laborers on rubber plantations, and also culturally by individuals whose religious practices prohibit alcohol consumption.’ – Warner ML, Kaufman NC, Grundmann O. The pharmacology and toxicology of kratom: from traditional herb to drug of abuse. Int J Legal Med. 2016;130(1):127-138

In the United States, kratom has become popular among people coping with chronic pain and others trying to wean themselves off opioids or alcohol.

Like most powerful plant allies, kratom, along with marijuana, kava, St John’s Wort and so many others, has received plenty of bad press on medical blogs and other government or pharmaceutical sponsored sites.  There are reports of the plant being addictive and even linked to 15 drug-related deaths. It should be noted 14 of the 15 people had other substances in their system.  Conversely, opioid abuse and addiction kills tens of thousands of people every year. The number of opioid-related deaths this year alone is currently more than 30,000. I’ve even heard comparisons to 911 casualties and that the opioid crisis is killing that same amount of people every 3 weeks! Still the media propaganda machine, many times funded by the billions behind Big Pharma, is churning out article after negative, ignorant article without doing their homework, or worse, fabricating statistics and twisting facts to instill fear and confusion among those who are uneducated as to what the plant really is and how to use it correctly.  

Kratom is a medicinal plant and should be treated as such. 

It is NOT a recreational drug and was never intended to be used as one.  Much like Ayahuasca, once these plants hit mainstream America, their intended use as spiritual and medicinal plants get perverted by recreational drug users.  They are also profited on by spiritual “gurus” who are not fully trained on the correct dosage, contraindications for use or how to deal with a medical emergency resulting from a number of drug interaction issues that can arise with these powerful plants.  Eventually this misuse creates bad press and horror stories which are circulated around much more than the success stories and people who have been helped by these medicinal plants. 

Respecting the potency and understanding the safe way to use plant medicines is the key to avoid adverse reactions. 

For instance, kratom should NEVER be mixed with alcohol or other recreational drugs.  It is currently being researched in depth by the DEA, after their attempt to ban it and classify it as a Class 1 substance (same as heroin) was met with a massive outcry and backlash of protestors, many of whom say the plant has saved their lives.  Even with the DEA backing off this classification for now, kratom is currently outlawed in 6 US States. 

 “The DEA spokespeople have emphasized their reliance on science rather than anecdote in making scheduling decisions, so given the response not just from the public but from research scientists at Columbia University, among other institutions, they seem willing to admit their mistake in lumping together a coffee plant with synthetic ‘designer’ drugs. I hope the decision signals the DEA’s willingness to become a more responsive institution and isn’t just squid ink covering the same old drug war policies.” – Kratom user Seth Long of Kearney, Nebraska

I know enough about this game that the FDA, big pharma and the American Medical Association play (producing article after article of medicinal plant or natural remedy use horror stories) that I continued to search other sources, including actual user blogs and chat rooms.  I sourced a wide variety of kratom articles outlining use, risks and benefits.  I checked out testimonials by recovering drug addicts, soldiers suffering from PTSD and depression as well as bipolar patients.  Even exhausted stay at home moms were saying it is a much more user friendly and effective stimulant than caffeine.  I also researched natural health care doctors using the plant in their practices and learned that in small doses (1/2 tsp – 1/2 tbs)  it can act as a non-pharmaceutical substitute for some antidepressants, mild pain meds and can take the place of caffeine, which is not recommended for bipolar people.  

As a recovering opioid addict and someone who also has type 2 bipolar,  the last thing I wanted to do was risk another addiction, relapse or trigger a manic episode.   The more I researched user forums, testimonials, and sites advocating kratom use, the more intrigued I became about this incredible plant.  Kratom is unique indeed. It is one of the only plant medicines where the properties change based on the dosage.  In smaller doses it acts as a stimulant which focuses, elevates mood and energizes.  In larger doses, it produces more opiate-type sedating and pain-killing properties.  Also, each strain has different qualities.  The red strain is better for pain, where the white strain is more stimulating and the green strain is sort of a general multi-use strain, which is what I decided to start with. 

I turned to kratom hoping that it might be useful in my struggle with pharmaceutical drugs, which provided stabilization from the highs and lows of bipolar, but not without some really undesirable side-effects. If it helped my Reynaud’s then all the better!   I had my friend send me a small bag of the green powdered plant which he sources directly from his contacts in the jungles of Bali. 

100 Grams of Kratom sells for anywhere from $45 to $85, but finding a quality source is important!

It’s very important to find a pure and reliable source for kratom. Even though it is now carried in many smoke shops and available online, I don’t recommend buying it from anyone you don’t know and trust or who doesn’t have excellent references.  For one thing, it can be diluted with other powders, making the potency inconsistent.  It can also not be kratom at all but other green powders that look like kratom, like moringa.  In some really scary cases, people thought they were taking kratom, were actually taking highly dangerous and hallucinogenic substances like Flakka.  Capsules of kratom are not recommended by many aficionados because they say the stomach acid’s interaction with the capsule can delay or change the effects of the plant.  The best way to take kratom is in its pure powdered form in a liquid that hides the super bitter yucky taste….think powdered pine bark. I will outline how I take mine further down in this post. 

Many people throw up or feel sick the first time they take kratom. 

This is almost always because they took too much.  The huge difference between kratom and opioids is that you cannot keep kratom down if you take too much powder, making an overdose virtually impossible. This does not mean it can’t kill you if you mix it with other substances!  I cannot emphasise this enough – NEVER use kratom with any other street drugs, alcohol, or as a recreational “party” drug. 

Without experiencing first-hand the importance of proper measured dosage, I took a giant heaping regular spoon full (probably about a TBS) in some orange juice and slammed it down.  Whoah! Was I ever surprised when first, I puked, and then I laid in bed feeling like I had taken a large dose of opiate pills.  This effect lasted for several hours and although not unpleasant, other than the vomiting, it was not the desired effect I was hoping for.  It WAS however,  a glimpse into why this plant is so effective as a painkiller (I had an injury at the time) and also as an aid to wean addicts off of heroin and alcohol. It should be noted that even though I experienced opiate-like euphoria and complete pain relief,  it did not trigger a desire to repeat the process or any part of my previous addictive behavior.  On the contrary, it motivated me to re-read the instructions thoroughly, respect the power of the plant and drove home the importance of proper dosage.

As I just pointed out, the dosage of Kratom is critical as the effects change quite profoundly based on the amount you take.  For most, 1/2 tsp – to 1/2 tbs produces a stimulating effect without any shakes or speedy feeling.  The brain wakes up and is nimble and productive while the body has an energy that is quite genuine. It elevated my mood and gave me a serious dose of motivation to “do my day”.  It was a much better feeling than the artificial jittery energy that a Red Bull or a triple espresso produced for me. I also did not experience the crash associated with caffeine and sugar.   It kills the appetite, making it an effective weight loss aid for many at these smaller doses. As I do NOT need to lose weight, I have to make sure that I eat before taking it, and force myself to snack throughout the day, despite not feeling hungry. I also experienced constipation the first week or so I was taking it, but used Smooth Move Tea at night and that took care of that problem. At present, I take 1-2 days off from kratom, usually on weekends when there are not so many demands on my brain and body.  When I resume on Monday, I do not experience any constipation so I feel that my body has adjusted to that one side effect quite nicely. 

Kratom has been an important part of third-world field workers for hundreds of years, who used the plant to survive long brutal days of hard labor.

For me, it has made the difference between not wanting to get out of bed because of brain fog, depression or pain, to being a bundle of positive energy and productivity in my day to day life. It has taken the place of many pharmaceuticals I was using, including non-narcotic pain meds, NSAIDS, SSRI antidepressants and Benzodiazepines or anti-anxiety meds. I also have cut my coffee / caffeine consumption to almost zero.  I used to start my day with at least 3 shots of espresso! After my noon coffee crash, I used energy drinks to make it through the rest of the day. ALL of that has now stopped.  

Because I am bipolar, I still need to take a certain combination of meds to maintain a normal life.  I take Wellbutrin, a different class of antidepressant, in the AM and Saroquel, an anti-psychotic, at night.  The Saroquel is so sedating, that even after waking up, it would take me until noon to come out of the fog and get anything done.  I laid in bed every morning going over in my head what had to be done and was just overwhelmed because I didn’t feel like I had it in me.  My dose of Wellbutrin was raised to 300mg for this reason but then I just felt like I was on speed and couldn’t eat at all. I got down to 98 lbs and was so disenchanted with these side-effects that it caused me to go off of my meds more than once, triggering bipolar episodes resulting in serious and frightening circumstances for me and my loved ones. 

THIS is where the kratom has been life changing for me.  Just 1 to 1.5 tsp of kratom upon waking has allowed me to thrive and become a super dynamo of productive focused energy vs slumber walking around the house until noon.  I started with 1/2 tsp and gradually went up to 1/2 tbs, which is what I consider to be the maximum dose for daily energetic & antidepressant effects for my body. I mix it with 1/4 cup of fresh fruit juice or fruit, along with almond milk, Lifeguard Greens, Lifeguard Reds, Pure Omega Oil and Plant Minerals and ice.  This not only tastes AMAZING but is an extremely healthy, nutrient-rich, antioxidant-packed morning drink.  It is a HUGE improvement over how I was starting my day. I have been able to maintain a healthy weight of 105 which I know sounds very tiny but I’ve been between 102 and 107 my entire adult life. I was 89 lbs during the height of my opioid addiction, so I am happy with 105! 

This morning drink takes under a minute to make, and makes the difference between a lackluster day and a kick-ass day!

 

 

So, I take kratom daily.  Does that mean I’m addicted?  My definition of addiction is something you have to have daily, may need more and more to achieve the same desired effect and that disrupts your daily life and robs you of your peace and joy.   In my opinion, kratom use, in these small uniform doses is NO different than someone who drinks coffee daily.  Try to take away a regular coffee drinker’s morning ritual and see what their reactions is….not favorable.  Dependency on coffee is REAL as a habit, a crutch, and a pleasurable activity.  It will produce withdrawal symptoms when stopped abruptly, such as crushing headaches, fatigue and irritability.  It dehydrates and is extremely acidic in nature which is not good for the body.

I always found it comical in rehab and at my subsequent AA and NA meetings how the majority of these people chain smoked outside and drank pots full of coffee while they talked about being “drug-free”.  Nicotine is one of the most addictive and deadly substances on the planet. Coffee, as I just pointed out, is both physically and psychologically addicting. Why then are these the staples at meetings, along with sugar,  where people are trying to stay clean and sober and get their health and life back together?  Sadly, statistics indicate up to 70% of addicts return to using.  I am one of the even smaller statistics that went to rehab one time, and stayed clean. I attribute that to re-connecting with my spiritual self, my in-depth knowledge on nutrition and how to replenish the addict body, daily vigorous exercise and for the past 1.5 years – kratom. Without it to help with the side-effects if the drugs I have to be on and my depressive tendencies, even with meds, I cannot say I would not have relapsed out of sheer frustration. 

I have a theory on why the relapse numbers are so high based on my time in rehab and in years of post-rehab support meetings and what I noticed was this: most of these people were still struggling emotionally because most of them had emotional and psychological issues that caused them to self-medicate and become addicted in the first place.  Just because their using stopped, doesn’t mean that “fixes” everything in their brain, heart and soul.  Although their lives may improve in some ways without practicing their addiction, they are still left feeling pretty shitty physically and emotionally much of the time.  Once the euphoria of being sober fades, and life starts hitting them head on, sobriety can be challenging to say the least.  On top of this, most of them are never educated about nutrition and their bodies are completely depleted and off balance.  Now they are living on coffee, energy drinks and cigs and they really don’t feel that much better physically.  The people who became addicted because of injury and chronic pain are left with NOTHING to deal with this.  This leads to depression, frustration and many times, relapse.  Imagine if these same recovered addicts were given real health and nutrition advice and put on supplements like Lifeguard Greens to replenish their system and a high-quality tested and regulated kratom product to help with their lack-luster energy, chronic pain and depression instead.  Even when I was in rehab, I saw the giant lack of care taken in this area and it only gets worse once these people are out on the street.  There are benefits to the right substitutions and coffee and cigarettes need NOT be the only acceptable ones out there.  Some of us need medical marijuana, while others need kratom, and yes, there are those who will never give up smoking cigarettes, and that’s ALL ok, as long as you are a happy, well-adjusted and productive human being. Relapse can be blamed on emotional circumstances just as often as substance substitutions.  If kratom can help some of these people deal with their emotional selves in a healthy way, why would we want to rule it out as a powerful plant medicine for addicts? 

Known Health Benefits of Kratom Leaves

  • Immune System Booster
  • Energy Booster
  • Sexual Stimulant
  • Reduced Anxiety
  • Addiction Recovery
  • Heart Health
  • Diabetes Treatment
  • Pain Reliever

To learn more about each of these impressive benefits, please read the full article here. 

Because I have stopped kratom use for days or weeks with zero side effects other than my Saroquel-induced morning fog, I am convinced personally, that it is not addictive at these smaller doses. I cannot comment on it’s use in larger doses as a substitute for opiates or as an aid for severe pain, or withdrawal from alcohol or other street drugs as I have never needed to use it in this way.  However, if you search the web you will find testimonials from thousands who have used it successfully and attribute their recovery from alcohol, heroin, crystal meth and opioid pill addiction to kratom.  

As far as substitution or cross-addiction, my personal belief is that total sobriety doesn’t work for everyone and causes a lot of folks to relapse to much more serious drugs and alcohol.  My friend was in and out of rehab for alcohol for over 20 years with no success.  She was going to die if she continued to drink but the intensity of real life was just too much for her.  She finally gave up on total sobriety and on the guilt associated with failing at it and now uses medical marijuana, prescribed by her physician, in place of alcohol.  To date, she has been off alcohol for 7 years.  Before discovering this substitute, her record was 90 days…while in a rehab facility.  AA folks might scoff at that and say, well now she’s addicted to pot.  Ever heard of the lesser of two evils?  Well I truly believe that if a plant substitution keeps people alive, happy and functioning, then we should certainly open our minds and hearts to it for those “lost causes” out there. Why is it ok to put these addicts on a myriad of RX drugs with dangerous side-effects, but not let them use a plant?  Suboxone and Methadone? These are horrible alternatives to heroin….do the research or better yet, talk to someone who has been through that gauntlet.  Most of them can’t even get off it so they literally have changed addictions.  The big difference is that those drugs are deemed safe by the FDA for treatment of opioid addiction, and are a giant part of the money making machine called manufactured pharmaceuticals.  Kratom, a simple tree that grows out of the ground, is not. You would think with all of the powerful and ongoing real-life success testimonials out there, more than a handful of scientists would be studying this amazing plant…but sadly, there’s not enough money available to fund more studies within mainstream medicine.  Do you know who funds most of the studies for new drugs to be used by our doctors?  I’ll give you one hint:   RXRXRXRX

Is kratom for everyone?  Probably not. 

Oddly enough, those who have come back to me with negative kratom experiences have all been “normal” adults.  They were not on RX meds for emotional or psychological issues, and were non-addicts, strengthening my theory that those of us suffering from these disorders, are the ones it helps most, and there are millions of us out there.  Understanding we are all individuals with different brain-chemistries and that all substances, both natural and synthetic, have varied effects is important. The possibility this plant can help those who have up to this point, been resistant to mainstream drug treatments, or have failed at staying clean and sober,  is not just intriguing, it’s thrilling!  This is not something we should be banning but rather studying in earnest EVEN IF THERE ARE SMALLER MONETARY PROFITS…there are millions who could be saved from overdose and suicide! I agree it needs to be regulated and distributed by ethical supplement companies who are willing to put in the time and money it takes to test every batch for purity and potency.  The DEA and FDA should be willing to work with these ethical companies to conduct further research and testing ON PEOPLE. The head shop, garage factory, gas station and street vendors need to be put in check because they are oftentimes giving kratom a bad name by making faulty claims on packaging, not regulating safe dosage and not testing for impurities.  Many of these fly by night kratom suppliers are jeopardizing it’s safe use and also making it a bigger target for the DEA and FDA to attack.  If it gets banned because of these careless and negligent types of suppliers, those of us who are truly being helped by it and who are purchasing it from trusted and clean sources, are going to be the ones who are hurt the most, not the recreational head-shop users who think it’s fun or neat or cool. 

For me, kratom was the key to ending my struggle with the required pharmaceutical drugs for bipolar 2 and the undesirable side-effects that kept driving me away from them.

Alyssa Joy owner of Fit 4 Maui, a wellness coaching business based in Maui, HI

Can kratom be abused?  Absolutely, but so can just about anything.  If people want to get high, they are going to get high.  They can abuse their prescribed drugs just as easily as street drugs, and often do.  They can go into any hardware store, grocery store, pharmacy or convenience store and find a never ending selection of substances to alter themselves from cough medicine to paint thinner.      As far as kratom triggering relapse in opiate addicts, I truly believe, based on my research so far, and from personal experience, we are going to see many more success stories vs relapse stories in this area where kratom is concerned.  The biggest factor for success in heroin and opiate addicts using kratom to wean off drugs is that they have to be READY to stop. Just as rehab doesn’t work for most who are forced into it, kratom will not work for addicts who are not ready to leave their addiction behind.  They may either over-use / abuse it, or find it’s not a satisfying substitute for the drug high they aren’t ready to leave behind. 

Our government allows the production and sale of many extremely dangerous and damaging substances like alcohol, cigarettes and over-the-counter drugs known to alter the mind and trigger addictive behavior. Kratom is a plant and its true value to save lives is only now been looked into by very few scientists.  Already the FDA and DEA want to make it difficult or even illegal to get.  Why is kratom getting such a bad rap and why does it seem to be so misunderstood in the US?

The legal drug pushers are the guys with all the money and they have the means to generate massive amounts of bad press on anything that threatens their empire.  They put pressure where they need to in order to keep safe & natural remedies from becoming the alternative to their synthetically made “medicines”.  Prescription drugs are full of dangerous side effects and have killed so many in the past several decades who were just following their doctor’s orders. Kratom has been used for thousands of years safely in other countries with no incident.  Funnily enough, it was banned in Thailand because it was cutting into the heroin trade as more and more people used the plant to get off the drug! Even here in the US, where it has been abused and mixed with so many other drugs, only a total of 15 recorded deaths – none from kratom alone.  Kratom poses as much risk to Americans as Tide Pods, which have also been abused recently by teens.  My point? Young adults can be stupid and reckless and will figure out a way to make many otherwise safe items, unsafe.  Unfortunately, kratom has been caught in the crossfire of these types of teen and young adult situations and wrongly blamed for deaths. 

Why don’t the drug companies just start using kratom in their formulas instead of trying to get it banned? Drug companies need formulas & patents to make money.  They can’t patent a plant and you don’t have to do anything to kratom to make it work. It’s just a leaf….no secret formula or series of chemical processes are needed to alter it into a highly effective plant medicine.  It is just nature’s perfect plant wisdom in action…and it’s cheap!  How cheap?  I pay $40 for 100 grams which is roughly 25 teaspoons or 16-25 days depending on my dosage. My RX drugs cost close to that WITH good insurance.  Hopefully individual states will get on board, like they did with legalizing and regulating marijuana, once they do the research and see the benefits of kratom to help with addiction, PTSD and depression.   Kratom is so much less mind-altering than pot, which makes the fact that it illegal in some states while pot is legal, all the more crazy.  

CNN recently did a piece on kratom as part of its series on the opioid epidemic in America.

Before you condemn a natural remedy or medicinal plant, please do your research. Know that big pharma is doing their best to keep their users, and will spend big bucks to wield powerful influence over the very agencies that were put in place to protect us.  Last year alone, they spent over 250 million dollars lobbying Washington. To put that into perspective, the gun lobbyists, know to be a force in Washington, spent only 4% of that. The pharmaceutical industry’s powers $ of persuasion $ are so successful, they got their paid politicians to pass a law that crippled the DEA’s fight against opiate pills.  At the same time, all we are hearing in Washington is that there is an opioid epidemic…yet this law was passed!  That is a huge red flag our government has been hijacked by the legal drug pushers, aka Big Pharma, and that the only way to get them under control is to protest intelligently, relentlessly and publicly to our lawmakers that we are tired of the greed and pills killing those we love and protecting those who are raking in the profits.