Kratom: An Opium Substitute from Asia Is the Latest "Legal" Drug to Hit the U.S.
At first glance, the dark green leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa tree look no more remarkable than mint leaves. They're large (up to seven inches long and four inches wide), somewhat oval in shape, and smooth to the touch. The trees are indigenous to Southeast Asia, and their leaves, known as "Kratom," are the latest popular consumables in the "legal drug" market of the U.S. Users describe the effects of ingestion as similar to a high from heroin.
There are several naturally-occurring alkaloids in Kratom leaves, but the two believed to be most active on opium receptors in the human brain are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. A December, 2010 report published by the DEA (which lists Kratom as a "Drug and Chemical of Concern") says that limited research indicates these alkaloids have "opiod-like activity in animals," relaxing muscles, inhibiting diarrhea, reducing pain, and producing euphoric effects.
Reported negative side effects were "nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, increased urination, and loss of appetite." Effects are said to occur within five to ten minutes after ingestion, and reportedly last from two to five hours.
|Dried Kratom leaves|
One point of allure for Kratom users is that it won't show up on a drug screen for heroin or opiates, according to Dr. Frank LoVecchio, co-medical director of the Banner Good Samaritan Poison & Drug Information Center in Arizona.
"The drug will be missed on drugs of abuse screens," he says, but adds, "Let the buyer beware, we can find this on a urine comprehensive drug screen."
However, such tests are not always done, LoVecchio says, because they're so expensive.
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