By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
Kratom use in the U.S. appears to have doubled in the last two years, according to a large analysis of urine drug tests by Millennium Health. The first of its kind study also found that nearly 1 out of 4 people who tested positive for kratom were abusing opioids, benzodiazepines or other substances.
Kratom is an herbal supplement that millions of Americans use to self-treat their chronic pain, anxiety, depression and addiction. It comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia, where kratom has been used for centuries as a natural stimulant and pain reliever.
Millennium Health analyzed over 400,000 urine samples collected from 2017 to 2019, using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry to test for mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, two alkaloids that are the active ingredients in kratom.
The drug tests were ordered for patients by doctors in primary care, pain management and addiction treatment. As a result, the findings may not represent the typical kratom user.
Positivity rates for kratom doubled over the study period, rising from 0.9% in January 2017 to 1.8% in November 2019. Use of kratom rose in every section of the country, with the highest positivity rates reported in Idaho (4.2%), Montana (2.9%), Colorado (2.3%), Utah (2.3%) and Florida (2.1%).
The American Kratom Association generously estimates that over 15 million Americans use kratom. As interest in the herbal supplement has grown, so have the number of doctors ordering drug tests to see if their patients are using it.
“There are clinicians out there, that are caring for these type patients, that are likely to have kratom users in their population. It’s a small number, about 2 percent or so, but it’s likely increasing,” says Eric Dawson, PharmD, Vice-President of Clinical Affairs for Millennium.
One of the more surprising aspects of the study was how many kratom users were abusing other substances. For urine samples testing positive for kratom, nearly 25% were also found to be positive for non-prescribed opioids and 22% tested positive for non-prescribed benzodiazepines, an anti-anxiety drug.
Methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine and heroin were also more likely to be detected in positive samples for kratom versus those that tested negative.
Kratom use has been growing in the U.S. as people seek alternatives to opioid pain relievers and other pharmaceutical drugs. Many also use kratom to self-treat alcoholism or opioid addiction.
“You have these two camps, very pro-kratom and very anti-kratom. We purposely tried not to fall into either one and simply answer the questions we were being asked and see what the data is,” Dawson told PNN. “I’m very interested to see what happens to kratom moving forward in the next few years because the benefits are very compelling, but conversely so are the negatives. It’s quite an interesting compound for sure.”
Most federal agencies take a dim view of kratom. The FDA says kratom is addictive, has opioid-like qualities, and should not be used for any medical condition. The CDC has linked kratom to dozens of fatal overdoses — although multiple substances were involved in nearly all of those deaths.
Although kratom remains legal at the federal level, several states have banned kratom and some counties and cities have enacted local ordinances prohibiting sales.
A recent study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse concluded that kratom is an effective treatment for pain, helps users reduce their use of opioids, and is “relatively safe” to use.