HPU study: Kratom could treat opiate addiction

10 July 2018
HPU study: Kratom could treat opiate addiction

HIGH POINT — An herbal remedy hailed as a treatment for opiate withdrawal by people on the internet is now being studied by the scientific community, thanks to a team of High Point University researchers.

At the center of the study is the plant kratom, which comes from a type of evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia. It has been used as an opiate substitute in Malaysia and Thailand since the 19th century, but its use in the United States is relatively new, said Scott Hemby, chair of basic pharmaceutical sciences in HPU’s Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy and the study’s lead researcher.

“This became a phenomenon in the U.S. about six or seven years ago now,” he said. “It is something that has gained a lot of notoriety through the internet. There’s a lot of information on blogs and listservs about how you should prepare it and what you should drink and that kind of thing.”

In addition to helping with opiate withdrawal, kratom has been used as a general pain reliever and to treat anxiety and coughing.

Hemby has been studying the neurobiology of drug addiction for 20 years, mostly focusing on heroin, morphine and other commonly used opiates.

The findings of his kratom study were published last week in the peer-reviewed medical journal “Addiction Biology.”

Despite kratom’s long history elsewhere, the HPU study — conducted between 2015 and 2017 in partnership with the University of Florida and the University of South Carolina — is the first controlled scientific study in the U.S. finding evidence that kratom has potential therapeutic value, Hemby said.

But it’s far from a green light for Americans to start using the substance.

“What needs to be done next is for funding to come in to look at limited trials in humans,” Hemby said. “There are some other steps we have to go through to make sure these compounds are not toxic to humans.”

In February, the FDA released a statement that said it found evidence of opioid properties in the compounds that make up kratom, prompting concerns about its safety and abuse potential.

Some states have instituted bans on the substance for fear users will abuse its mild euphoric qualities and become addicted. North Carolina legislators have proposed a ban, but so far one hasn’t been passed.

The FDA reported 44 deaths associated with the use of kratom, but noted that limited information about the deceased in many of the cases made it hard to fully assess the role of kratom.

Hemby said he’s heard anecdotal evidence of people having mixed reactions to using the herb.

“People have called me saying this has changed my life,” he said. “I’ve had other people call up and say I’ve had a bad time with this. I can’t get off it, it’s like morphine to me.”

Finding a way to turn kratom into a medicine that won’t cause the same addictions its users are trying to get away from is a big challenge for researchers and the primary impetus for the HPU study.

It focused on two components of kratom: mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, or 7-HMG. Researchers found that mitragynine, which is present at moderate levels in the plant, does not have potential for addiction and reduces opiate consumption. Present at very low levels in the plant, 7-HMG was found to have high abuse potential and could increase consumption of other opiates.

Hemby said several groups, including his team HPU, are working on follow-up research now. The next step is determining how to harness the power of the mitragynine without having to contend with the risks associated with 7-HMG.

“It may not be the plant material, but since we understand this about mitragynine, it gave us the skeleton or the framework to work with compounds like that,” he said.

Source : Highpoint Enterprise News

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