With countless veterans suffering from the devastating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the journey to healing has been a long and complicated one for just about everyone involved.
The complexity of PTSD is often so difficult for both veterans and healthcare providers alike that they are forced to resort to painkillers such as opioids, which has led to an epidemic of side effects and abuse among users of these widely-prescribed (and quite dangerous) drugs.
Despite the many setbacks, there are new treatment options coming to light that have shown promise, perhaps none more prominent than kratom, a natural herbal supplement made from a tropical southeast Asian evergreen tree.
Multitudes of people (especially PTSD suffering veterans) swear by it, but the U.S. DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and FDA (Federal Drug Administration) have issued a public health advisory against it — along with restrictions that many kratom users fear could lead to restrictions or even bans on a supplement that has become a lifeline for so many people over the years.
Painkiller Adverse Events Far Exceed Those of Kratom
On November 14 of this year, the FDA released a public health advisory concerning the use of kratom, which led to a massive public outcry including protests from everyday people and members of Congress, as well as massive petitions against possible bans or restrictions.
Despite the many success stories of people using kratom to wean themselves off of dangerous painkillers, the FDA continues to assert that the supplement may cause damage in its own right.
“The agency has a public health obligation to act when we see people being harmed by unapproved products passed off as treatments and cures for serious conditions,” it said in the advisory, which led to a ban in Denver, Colorado and a nationwide panic among people who depend on the supplement.
The statement also took aim at people who say kratom is a suitable replacement for opioid painkillers, questioning an alleged lack of science to back up its efficacy, a claim the American Kratom Association denies.
“While we remain open to the potential medicinal uses of kratom, those uses must be backed by sound-science and weighed appropriately against the potential for abuse,” the FDA advisory continued.
For scores of kratom supporters and users like Norman Bamford, however, there is no debate. Bamford says that the plant has been a life-saver for him in his battles with PTSD.
“I took some and expected to get high or something, but surprisingly the pain ended and I felt great,” said Bamford, who was so impressed that he began selling it through his own Taunton Bay Soap Company, which has since become the largest kratom vendor in New England.
“It was not just because the pain was gone but I deal with PTSD from my military service and I have anxiety and depression; but those feelings were gone too.
“I felt good, like a feeling of happiness or contentment. There was no high, there were no hallucinations.”
Success stories like Bamford’s are among those that flooded in to the FDA during a public comment period that lasted until December 1 of last year, during which the plant was able to escape classification as a Schedule 1 illegal substance.
According to Bamford, the plant has helped change the lives of countless patients who would otherwise turn to opioids.
“In our two years being in business we have heard from literally thousands of customers who used kratom to get off harsh drugs and pills,” he said. “We have heard stories of people getting their lives back, their jobs back, their children back; their spouses back. This miracle plant has restored their lives in a way Big Pharma never could.”
While the FDA has said that calls to poison control centers regarding kratom have increased ten-fold from 2010-2015 with about 36 deaths recorded and “hundreds of calls made each year,” (liver damage, seizures and withdrawal symptoms are among possible risks); the numbers pale in comparison to the risks of opioids. And the numbers regarding deaths may not be true after all according to the American Kratom Association, which works to defend the rights of users of the plant.
The Association strongly disputes the FDA’s claims of kratom-related deaths, saying that a new review of the FDA’s Adverse Events Reporting Center shows zero deaths have been solely attributed to kratom between the years of 2011 and 2017, in stark contrast to painkiller drugs.
According to the CDC almost two million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids as of 2014 and each day over 1,000 people are treated in emergency rooms due to misuse or abuse of these common painkillers. They are by far the #1 killer among prescription drugs.
“Drug overdose deaths nearly tripled during 1999–2014. In 2014, among 47,055 drug overdose deaths, 61% involved an opioid,” the CDC’s website states.
Veterans Hope Kratom Will Help Alleviate a Heavy Burden
According to Marc Swogger, a clinical psychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who has published research on uses of the plant, kratom is often used by people who have few other choices and are “in pain or addicted” to other drugs.
He cautions that further bans or restrictions could drive potential users to hard drugs like heroin and says the DEA’s own data “(does) not indicate there is any public health reason for (a ban).”
He added in a 2015 paper along with his co-authors that all of the fatal overdose cases involving the drug came in cases where users had taken other drugs too or had a history of heroin or alcohol abuse that could also have caused or contributed to the death.
“We just don’t know” what actually caused the kratom-related deaths, Swogger said according to the military news publication Stars & Stripes.
“The research indicates that this is a pretty mild substance,” he said. “Criminalizing kratom use is insane to me.”
Despite the many success stories of kratom users, an air of uncertainty remains surrounding its use, perhaps because of its potential for cutting into the highly profitable painkiller industry.
Sharon L. Perry, founder of the Lovme.org (Legacy of Our Veterans’ Military Exposures) organization, is among those who continue to advocate for kratom, especially in light of what she and other critics call “negligent treatment of veterans” seeking treatment for PTSD, severe pain and other devastating injuries.
Many veterans have had serious trouble obtaining the painkillers they need to function due to what Perry has called large amounts of “bureacratic red tape,” and have instead turned to kratom.
“The DEA adopted restrictions, in 2015, to reduce opioid abuse. As a result, the DEA restrictions, also known nationwide as ‘the opiate crisis,’ hit U.S. veterans hard,” she said, adding that there is a “VA (Veterans’ Affairs) culture steeped in corruption and negligent treatment of veterans.”
Many veterans have been forced to make constant appointments with the VA’s overburdened system only to be denied the treatment they need.
Tens of thousands of veterans over the years (as many as 120,000 according to an internal audit by the VA according to Perry) have been left waiting or never received care, and hundreds have allegedly died while waiting to for care including as many as 40 deaths at Phoenix VA center in 2014.
An internal investigation by the FDA revealed that about 8 million veterans have been negatively affected by systemic corruption through the 150 centers across the country, she added, leaving many without reliable medical treatments, just another part of what makes kratom so appealing.
“Scores of veterans, with serious injuries associated with combat and other demands of being a soldier, (have been) left without pain relief and untreated withdrawal symptoms,” Perry said.
“There has been a growing demand for an alternative to opiates, nationwide, by those suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, depression and other similar aliments including U.S. veterans…kratom, known for its many healing properties, provides relief from pain, anxiety, depression and is also a natural sleep aid,” she added.
Of course, as shown by the FDA’s letter and the DEA’s intentions, there is a major difference of opinion in how these government agencies see things.
That being said, for the countless veterans and others who know the benefits of the controversial plant (used for centuries in Asia) first-hand and can’t imagine their lives without it, kratom is here to stay.
If you’d like to try kratom, the Taunton Bay Soap Company is offering a special discount. March Against Monsanto readers can get a 10% discount by typing in the code “MAM10” at checkout. If you’re a veteran you can receive 10% off of their purchase by typing in the code “Iserved10” at checkout.
And as more and more people opt for natural options, it’s safe to say that interest in kratom will only grow in the coming years.
Even DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson admitted the kratom’s effectiveness according to Stars and Stripes, adding that the public response to the original decision to make it Schedule 1 was overwhelming and caused the agency to view it in a different light.
“Kratom’s at a point where it needs to be recognized as medicine,” he said. “I think that we are going to find out that probably it does.”
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to treat, prevent or diagnose any disease. Consult a doctor and check the legality of kratom in your state before using.