Kratom is a psychoactive substance made from the leaves of the Kratom tree (Mitragyna speciosa), a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. It’s been used traditionally in countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea for centuries. The leaves of the Kratom tree contain a chemical called mitragynine. Mitragynine is very different from conventional opioids, but it acts as a partial opioid agonist in the brain and produces some opioid-like effects.
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Uses and Effects of Kratom
Kratom began to become popular in the U.S. around 2009-10. Sold as an over-the-counter supplement and at kava bars, kratom began to grow steadily in popularity. People use Kratom for various reasons. In the U.S., most kratom users take the drug at higher doses (6-8 grams or more of the powder form) seeking its more well-known sedative-narcotic effects.
Some research has also been done into kratom for pain relief and even to provide relief from opioid withdrawal side effects. There is, as of yet, not enough data to conclusively say whether or not kratom is safe and effective for either treating pain or managing opioid withdrawal. We still have much to learn about kratom and what it does.
Kratom Side Effects and How Kratom Works in the Body
Kratom in its common powder form has a very unpleasant, bitter taste that’s too strong to cover up with food, leading many to prefer taking it in capsule form. can also have side effects, including nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, increased urination, loss of appetite, and hallucinations.
Side effects of Kratom include:
- Nausea/upset stomach
- Itchy skin
- Dry mouth
- Increased urination
The specific mechanism of action of active ingredients in kratom hasn’t been widely studied so we don’t know nearly as much about it as we know about conventional opioids or most other recreational drugs. Kratom has only been popular in the U.S. for a relatively short time. The active compounds in kratom are called alkaloids, with mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine being the most abundant.
What We Know About How Kratom Works
What we do know is that these kratom alkaloids interact with the body’s opioid receptors, which are responsible for regulating our perception of pain and pleasure. This interaction produces pain relief and feelings of euphoria, similar to the effects of opioids, even though these alkaloids are chemically different from most opioid compounds.
Unlike opioids, kratom does not cause dangerous respiratory depression, which can be fatal. This is because kratom’s active ingredients have what’s called a “ceiling effect”. Essentially this means that at higher doses, kratom does not produce stronger and stronger effects the way opioids will. Instead, it can actually lead to unpleasant side effects such as nausea and vomiting.
The lack of the respiratory depressant effect has led some people to see kratom as a “safe” opioid alternative. However, it’s important to remember there is very limited research on the long-term effects of kratom use. It’s important to note that kratom has been associated with risks and side effects, including addiction, withdrawal symptoms, liver damage, and even death in extreme cases.
Consumption and Dosage of Kratom
Kratom can be consumed in various forms. It can be chewed, smoked, or brewed as a tea. It’s also available in the form of capsules, tablets, and extracts. Due to its unpleasant taste, capsules are the most common way kratom is used in the U.S. The effective dosage varies greatly depending on the individual’s body weight, tolerance, desired effects, and the strength of the kratom itself. There is no universally accepted dosage guideline.
The effects of kratom have yet to be well-studied and this substance is neither regulated by the FDA nor tested for purity by any governmental authority in the U.S. It also isn’t widely understood how kratom may interact with other drugs, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Because so little is known about this substance, it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid taking it. The fact that it is currently legal is no guarantee of its safety or efficacy.
Is Kratom Legal in NJ?
Due to its effects and the discussion around its use, many people wonder if kratom is legal in NJ or other states. Kratom is legal in New Jersey under current law (as of October 2023). As the drug has been a source of some controversy due to side effects and perhaps because of NJ’s long-standing problems with opioid addiction, some kratom laws have been proposed. However, the only kratom law on the books in NJ is The New Jersey Kratom Consumer Protection Act. This law does not prohibit the use and possession of kratom or kratom products in New Jersey. But it does put some guidelines in place that businesses that sell kratom must abide by.
The New Jersey Kratom Consumer Protection Act says that:
- Kratom products must be clearly labeled with a complete list of ingredients.
- Only adults 18 years old or older are allowed to buy products containing kratom.
- The levels of the active ingredients (mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine) must be specified.
What About Other NJ Kratom Laws?
There have been several laws proposed to either regulate kratom or prohibit its use altogether in New Jersey. So far, the only NJ kratom law to have passed is The New Jersey Kratom Consumer Protection Act. This law (detailed above) regulates kratom packaging and labeling and mandates that it can only be sold to adults 18 years of age or older.
A different proposed NJ kratom law, (Bill NJ A2865), sponsored by Ronald Dancer (R) sought to criminalize the manufacture, sale, and possession of substances containing kratom. The highest penalties under this law, if passed would be up to 18 months in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
This bill failed to garner enough support to pass in the New Jersey legislature however and kratom advocates have been pushing back against attempts to ban kratom in NJ. Proponents claim kratom is not only a safer alternative to conventional opioid drugs but that it can be useful in helping people quit those drugs.
Why was NJ Trying to Make Kratom Illegal?
The effort to criminalize kratom seems to be largely motivated by concerns about both its side effects and their similarities to the opioids which NJ has struggled with and the fact that kratom was unregulated. For now, at least, the passage of the New Jersey Kratom Consumer Protection Act seems to have settled some worries about kratom by enforcing clear labeling of ingredients and potency and limiting its purchase to only those 18 years of age or older.
Is Kratom Safe?
Part of the problem with kratom is that we know so little about it. There hasn’t been any major long-term research done to determine its effects or safety. We do not yet know if it is medically useful either. Reports of side effects like tremors, nausea and vomiting are worrying. Other reports of liver damage are even more troubling.
For the time being at least, kratom is best avoided. As an intoxicant, using it is a bad idea for anyone in recovery or who hopes to be. It’s also a bad idea for anyone else to experiment with it when so little is known about its long-term effects or how it could interact with other drugs or medications.
Overcome Addiction and Achieve Wellness and Recovery
Kratom is legal in New Jersey, but it is ultimately up to the person in recovery to decide if this legal yet controversial substance is safe to use while in recovery. It is not entirely accepted or one-sided as to whether using Kratom counts as a relapse or not.
Achieve Wellness and Recovery is dedicated to providing a safe space where people can heal and recover from substance use disorders. Our highly individualized treatment programming is designed to help every client make the most of their time here.
By jumpstarting the journey of self-discovery we call recovery, our goal is to help every person we treat build a solid foundation for lifelong sobriety. This begins with learning more about addiction, but also developing a deeper understanding of themselves and their potential triggers. Most importantly, our clients learn how to develop and utilize healthy coping skills to manage their emotions and life’s challenges.
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