Authored by Dr. Mark E. Shaw and TAC Team
Are we against kratom? Are we against opioids for post-operative pain? OR is the better question: what are we FOR that is much more important than what we are against?
Kratom is often called the “gas station drug” because it can easily be found in the majority of the 50 United States (note: it is out-lawed in a handful of states). Kratom is an herb typically found in areas of Southeast Asia such as Thailand. It has potent features as a pain killer medication and is not an opioid though it has similarities.
Here are some commonly voiced opinions about Kratom:
- Since Kratom is available in gas stations in my state, it must be mild, safe, and even approved to use, right?
- Kratom is not one of those serious street drugs, so it’s not so bad.
- Kratom is available in marijuana and vaping shops all over my town… no one is raiding them and shutting them down. It’s gotta be legal and approved to be safe, right?
- It’s just a supplement, an herb from Southeast Asia, and they use it all of the time! Are you against people feeling better?
- Kratom is not nearly as bad as the prescription pills people get hooked on like opioids; it is a safe alternative for pain.
- It’s not addictive, and I’ve heard people say it can actually help someone come down from opioids by switching over to kratom…
Which, if any, of these statements are true? What are the researchers saying? Is it too soon to tell?
These are the conversation starters, and strong opinions begin to be voiced right away.
Some professionally published content from a case study on kratom in Frontiers in Psychiatry: (Admittedly, not much large scale research is even out there yet…) stated this in its conclusion:
“Summarizing the above evidence, we may conclude that kratom may induce addiction, acute toxicity which may be sometimes lethal and, upon discontinuation, it induces a withdrawal syndrome, which may vary in intensity. In many instances that appeared in literature, kratom was regularly used by patients with psychiatric history and/or substance use disorders. Legislations should take very seriously peer-reviewed published evidence and regulate the substance. In parallel, we need to enforce kratom detection methods in consent-providing users for forensic purposes. International drug policies should be coordinated and inform the public about kratom and other novel addictive drugs.”  (emphasis mine)
 Alessandro E Vento, Simone de Persis, et al, Case Report: Treatment of Kratom Use Disorder With a Classic Tricyclic Antidepressant, Frontiers in Psychiatry, 31 March 2021 Sec. Addictive Disorders Vol 12 – 2021 htpps://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.640218
These same researchers (Vento, de Persis, et al) explained that:
“Kratom or Mitragyna speciosa (Korth.) is an evergreen tree of the coffee family native to South-East Asia and Australasia. It is used by locals recreationally to induce stimulant and sedative effects and medically to soothe pain and opiate withdrawal. Its leaves are smoked, chewed, or infused, or ground to yield powders or extracts for use as liquids.”
The highs (stimulant) and the lows (sedative effects) are explained by the same researchers here…
“This complexity of neurochemical mechanisms may account for kratom’s sedative-analgesic and stimulant effects. It is commonly held that kratom at low doses is stimulant and at higher doses sedative, but no cut-off has been possible to define. Long-term use of kratom may produce physical and psychological effects that are very similar to its withdrawal syndrome, that is, anxiety, irritability, mood, eating, and sleep disorders, other than physical symptoms resembling opiate withdrawal.”
For a drug with such powerful effects, you would think it would be regulated and monitored better by our governing authorities rather than being so easily accessible. That’s one issue, but the other is that Kratom appears to the public to be harmless since it is treated differently and is currently less restricted than other drugs like class 2 narcotics.
THE HEART IS THE ISSUE
Our ministry, The Addiction Connection, is less concerned about the regulation of drugs and more concerned about the heart desires that drive choices for legal and illegal substances. All the legislation in the world won’t change the human heart motives.
- Alcohol is legal and it is a drug in liquid form.
- Marijuana is legal in many states and is a drug in edible forms, vaping devices, or smoked in a variety of ways.
- Kratom is an accessible drug that can be digested in a variety of ways,
The Addiction Connection (T.A.C.) is NOT concerned about the presumed benefits of the drug. We are concerned about the person choosing to use Kratom in risky ways who are driven by the passions of their hearts. We are also concerned about pointing drug abusers to Christ Jesus as the only hope in this life and the next life to come!
Residential addiction programs who are a part of T.A.C.’s network are the place to begin your search for genuinely biblical hope and help for the darkness of their addiction. Using a Christ centered and Gospel saturated approach in helping an individual discover the heart of their own addiction problem, lasting transformation that is pleasing to God is available to all who call upon the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and redemption.
Dr. Mark Shaw started the podcast conversation with “Strap on your seat belts,” as he knew the kratom discussion was about to touch a nerve with many people around the country who find kratom use to be helpful to their physical ailments.
When caring for those who struggle with addictions of all kinds, what do we need to know about kratom use and the heart of addiction? Why bring up the topic of kratom on The Addiction Connection Podcast? What is the goal of substance-specific conversations? Are we singling out a particular drug to target?
In the podcast, Jim Quigley, CJ McMurry, and Dr. Shaw wanted to focus on kratom to help inform the public and to ask the poignant question:
What is inside the heart of addiction for anyone, and with particular emphasis upon Kratom abusers? What are people searching for when they look for the next high… and the next… and the next?
The chemical or substance or even behavior (since the same dopamine receptors in the brain are being triggered) is not the primary issue for the Commissioned Addictions Biblical Counselor. The heart of addiction is always most important no matter what chemical is used in the addictive pursuit of pleasure and escape.
Feeling compelled to warn people about the dangers of kratom use for highs and lows, Quigley, McMurry and Shaw care both about the body and the soul of each individual they have the opportunity to serve in addiction ministry.
McMurry discussed how difficult it was to detect in two of the residents he was caring for at The Refuge in Winterset, Iowa. Because detection is so difficult, but it was apparent these residents’ behavior was altered and they were in a state of getting “high” from something. In the podcast McMurry shared that it looked like they were intoxicated from something like alcohol.
As directors and overseers of the people who come to their ministries desperately seeking help and hope for their addictive struggles, McMurry and Quigley point people to Jesus who can free them from the bondage, darkness, and lies of an addictive lifestyle. Salvation for unbelievers and further growth in Christ for Christians are the goals at their programs.
These leaders in addiction ministry compassionately address the heart of addiction on a daily basis. And they help the family members as well with countless phone calls and support.
Quigley at Freedom Farm Ministries along with McMurry at The Refuge lay down their lives every day serving people who are caught in the behaviors of life-dominating addictive struggles. They are genuinely interested in heart motivation change not just external behavioral change.
One heart desire is clearly described in Proverbs 18:1-2
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire, he breaks out against all sound judgment. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion.” (ESV)
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT KRATOM
So that is some helpful background of the participants in the kratom conversation. Now, let’s talk about some brief facts about Kratom gathered by our T.A.C. team:
- Kratom is listed with some common street names as follows: Cratom, Ithang, Gratom, Herbal Speedball, Katawn, Maeng Da Leaf…
- Under the section entitled, “What is this product used for?” the website drugs.com states: “No information from medical studies supports the use of this product for any health problem.”
- “You may have signs of physical dependence and withdrawal if you take this product for a period of time and then stop.”
NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse: Advancing Addiction Science) has this to say about Kratom:
“The U.S. DEA has listed kratom as a “drug of concern,” though kratom and kratom compounds are not listed on the US Schedule of controlled substances.” 
 https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/kratom (last updated March 2022) and accessed October 9, 2023
Harmful contaminants, adverse drug interactions from mild to severe, and a concern that long term health and safety is not well understood are among the many safety issues listed by NIDA on their website. [NIDA] 
Dr. Shaw reports that six states in the US have banned kratom: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
As Program Director at The Refuge in Winterset, Iowa, a men’s residential program whose aim is “Taking the light of the Gospel into the darkness of addiction,” McMurry had this to say about those in his program who were chasing the high of kratom:
“Two men in our program were exhibiting bizarre behavior… you would have thought they were drunk or high on some kind of pills, opioids, or drunk or a combination… I was convinced. We gave them breathalyzers, we gave them the UA and they passed. And we were super confused… Well, they had a friend who was dropping off kratom like once a week…”
They were hiding their drug behaviors because they sought to isolate and pursue their own desires (Proverbs 18:1). Their secrecy revealed their heart desires.
MEDICATION ASSISTED TREATMENT
So is kratom the next medication assisted treatment (M.A.T.) or therapy to medically manage an addiction and help the person slowly come down from drug use? How effective is the solution of medication treatment for addiction?
The Executive Director at Freedom Farm Ministries in Boone, North Carolina, Jim Quigley, says:
“They’re trying to come up with medications to replace for specific drugs… it doesn’t matter which substance it is…. [the line of thinking is] If we give them a safe replacement that will fix the problem. No, it won’t because they’ll find something else… that’s reality.”
Quigley indicates that kratom just creates more hurdles because, he says,
“…We have to have new tests, which cost more money, we have to get more protective because they sell this stuff everywhere, I mean they can go to the gas station and pick it up. It just makes ministering to them a little bit harder because [they say] ‘What’s wrong? What’s the difference between that and drinking an energy drink?’”
But Quigley, McMurry, and Dr. Shaw are aiming for deeper analysis of the action—discerning a more sophisticated approach—rather than just focusing on what substances are being pursued, they are after the deeper root issues. In no way are they ignoring the different types of substances, these servants of the Lord Jesus are interested in helping people who struggle with addiction by delving into the important underlying question:
What is at the heart of your pursuit? What does this substance do for you that you are actively seeking?
Instead of focusing on the drug itself, we try and get down to the why. Why are you taking it? Again, the drug itself is not the focus in the biblical approach to addiction. The heart is.
The tragedy in all of drug addiction is this: these are real souls who are bound to themselves… living to please self. They are imprisoned by their own desires. But the good news is that the power of Christ enables those desires to be transformed (Rom. 12:2). The Holy Spirit is alive and well as He continues to transform the lives of the addicted.
Dr. Shaw gets excited as he sees someone who was trapped in addictive pursuits become transformed in their heart and begins to manifest that reality by loving and serving others. That’s a beautiful thing and it’s one of the reasons T.A.C. does what it does and says what it says. We want God to be glorified because we know He is the answer to every sinful and potentially addictive heart desire for all people.
Mark E. Shaw, D.Min., CABC, ACBC, IABC, CADAC II, is a biblical counselor, ordained minister, speaker, and author of over 26 books and booklets of hope and help. Founder and President of The Addiction Connection in 2012, Dr. Shaw has been involved in counseling since the early 90’s. He served in residential care and medication assisted treatment centers (methadone), but Biblical Counseling became his passion in 2001.
Dr. Shaw’s resources such as Relapse: Biblical Prevention Strategies, and The Heart of Addiction (including his new titles Fentanyl, and Vaping: Hope Through the Gospel) are found at Focus Publishing. 1-800-91-FOCUS.
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