The seizure of a controversial drug in Edmonton is evidence that more research is required on kratom as a possible antidote in Alberta’s deadly opioid epidemic, says a leading researcher in the field.
“Everything has to be taken with caution, but does that mean you take it off the streets?” said Susruta Majumdar, a chemist who has worked on numerous studies into the drug.
“Probably not,” said Majumdar, who works in the department of neurology at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
“It’s a little premature to ban it right away and take it out of the public scenario because very little research has been done. It’s a weak alkaloid but we need to be cautious about it.”
In a news release Tuesday, Health Canada said it had seized unauthorized kratom products from two Edmonton head shops. The packets were confiscated from a store called Jupiter on Whyte Avenue and from another called Bogart’s Pipes and Papers on 132nd Avenue.
Kratom is a coffee-like plant native to southeast Asia. The drug is traditionally consumed by chewing on the leaves, but can also be ingested as a capsule or powder or as a tea.
Health Canada said the herbal product has been linked to both “narcotic and stimulant-like effects,” and may pose serious health risks including nausea, vomiting, seizures, and liver toxicity.
The department said it’s working with the Canada Border Services Agency to stop kratom products from entering the country.
However, Majumdar believes the active chemicals in kratom could be developed as a safe alternative to opiates.
Preliminary studies in animals show that it stimulates the same parts of the brain as powerful opiates, but with fewer depressive effects.
Though it’s in the same family as coffee, kratom’s active chemical properties — mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine — mimic morphine and heroin, creating euphoria and providing pain relief.
Canadian authorities should be examining the drug’s potential to help addicts, said Majumdar.
“We extracted kratom and isolated all the alkaloids, all the chemical properties to show it’s like an opioid,” Majumdar said. “So it does hit the [same] receptors as morphine will or heroin will but it’s very weak.
“It’s 60 times less potent than morphine so you have to take a lot of it to get the opioid-like activity.”