Medical Moment: What is Kratom?

Medical Moment: What is Kratom?

Telluride Inside… and Out is proud to feature the Telluride Medical Center’s MEDICAL MOMENT, a weekly column that answers common medical questions in pop culture. Have a question for the doctors? Click here to send.

Dr. Paul Koelliker answers this week’s question: What is Kratom?

Dr. Paul Koelliker

Dr. Paul Koelliker

Kratom is the street name for a drug that is currently illegal in only a handful of states. It is derived from the leaves of a tree in Southeast Asia; its scientific name is Mitragyna speciosa. The tree grows naturally in Thailand and its use there has been outlawed there for 70 years. Kratom is available over the Internet and is sold in stores (commonly gas stations and truck stops) as herbal tea or herbal extracts; there are also bars in Colorado that serve it as herbal tea.  Kratom is available as leaves, powdered extract, pills, and capsules.

Twenty-five alkaloids are found in this plant, but mitragynine is thought to be the active alkaloid that produces most of the effects. At low doses, Kratom exhibits a stimulant effect; at higher doses it has a sedative effect like opiates. Acute side effects include: nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, decreased urination, loss of appetite, and seizures. Some individuals with acute intoxication will exhibit strange and agitated behavior.  They can be temporarily psychotic and agitated, and make poor decisions that can result in harm to themselves or others. Chronic use causes anorexia, weight loss, insomnia, darkening of the skin, constipation, and sometimes bowel obstruction.

Kratom is addictive in a similar manner as opiates and has a withdrawal syndrome that consists of hostile and aggressive behavior, emotional liability, and uncontrollable jerking of the limbs. Research into the pharmacological effects is sparse and the exact effects on the human body are poorly understood. Like synthetic marijuana products, Kratom does not show up on standard drug tests.

We can now add Kratom to the growing list of substances that are available to the public that can cause serious intoxication, and addiction. Parents should talk to their teenagers about the dangers of newer drugs called Spice, bath salts, flakka, and Kratom in addition to talking to addressing the dangers of prescription drugs and more mainstream illicit drugs.

***Telluride Medical Center Quickfacts 2016 -For a brief update on the current state of the Telluride Medical Center, growth figures for 2015, plans for a new facility in Mountain Village, as well as the funding strategy for the new facility, click here.


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