When we think of herbs, we usually associate them with health benefits because they are plant-based and should therefore be natural and safe to use. This is, however, not always the case.
According to Karen Griessel, a social worker at SANCA Wedge Gardens substance abuse treatment centre, the centre recently had an enquiry about the possible need for substance abuse treatment for the abuse kratom – a herb openly sold in health shops as an energy booster, mood enhancer and pain reliever.
Kratom comes from the leaves of an evergreen tree grown in Southeast Asia. “It is believed to act on opioid receptors and some people take it to avoid the symptoms of opioid withdrawal,” says Griessel.
She explains that opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. They work on the brain to produce a variety of effects, including pain relief. “Many of these drugs can be prescribed as medications and are often referred to as painkillers or the street drug heroin,” says Griessel.
The latest research on kratom shows that its side effects range from chills, nausea and vomiting, to liver damage, muscle pain, delusions, depression and seizures.
“Even more alarming is that when it is used with other prescription drugs, it can cause abnormal brain functioning with effects such as severe headaches, loss of communication or becoming confused,” says Griessel.
She adds that numerous research articles and studies have been conducted on Kratom, one of which shows that using it long-term causes withdrawals and cravings similar to those that opioid users experience.
It is therefore an addictive substance and people who use it should be aware of this, says Griessel.
For more information about SANCA Wedge Gardens and its Full Circle Recovery Programme, contact 011 430 0320 or 010 534 6596 or visit www.wedgegardens.co.za.