Recently, I treated a patient struggling with depression and substance abuse who had found a legal way to get high. He had ordered Kratom capsules on the Internet. Lots of his friends have ordered up supplies, too. I hadn't heard of Kratom, and you probably haven't, either, but I think you will.
It mimics some of the effects of opiates (like morphine and opium) and can relieve physical pain and produce a sense of increased well-being and increased energy. Depending on the dose taken and the way it is used (smoking versus chewing leaves versus drinking Kratom tea), it can cause anything from euphoria to sedation.
Kratom trees are native to Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Malaysia, but plants can be and are being grown in this country, as well. While Kratom may turn out to have medicinal uses in treating chronic pain, helping people detox from heroin and even in controlling anxiety and depression, very little is known about its real risks and benefits. It can certainly be addictive, especially for those who end up using Kratom on a daily basis. Abruptly stopping it can lead to severe depression and severe anxiety.
With marijuana decriminalization potentially on the horizon across the country, I expect to see even more of the long-term effects of daily marijuana use in my psychiatric practice. I have treated many patients who have lost motivation, succumbed to chronic depression and found it difficult to focus their attention after months or years of smoking marijuana. Kratom could be another "quick fix" that young people flock to in order to avoid their complicated emotions and the complex realities of the world in which we live.
Only time will tell, but I can tell you this_ My patient didn't limit his substance abuse to Kratom. He ended up using cocaine, too. And Oxycontin. Underneath it all, there's an epidemic of anxiety and depression in our population. Ultimately, that epidemic will only be addressed through introspection, counseling and the judicious use of approved medications. Kratom, alcohol, marijuana and the rest of the quick fixes for unwieldy feelings are really only roads to my office and those of my colleagues.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.