During the early years of the opioid crisis, I was on a regimen of low-dose pharmaceuticals for my chronic pain. The same doctors who told me I would start on a low dose and increase slowly for pain management gave me a hard time continuing my prescriptions. Because I was on the same amount for years, I wasn’t experiencing any pain relief.
I would have to physically come into the office to obtain my script on a bi-weekly basis due to the Drug Enforcement Administration (or DEA) monitoring of doctor prescriptions. After years of getting referrals, trying physical therapy, and taking pills, I felt defeat daily. I would sit in my gynecologist’s office in tears, and he would say my only other option was a very invasive surgery for my endometriosis, a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus, with uncertain results.
Due to the new oversight, my primary physician abruptly stopped prescribing all Schedule 1 drugs, and the specialists would refuse any long-term pain medicine out of the same fear. At every turn, I would receive a referral for a “pain management clinic,” or a pill mill. These clinics would charge hundreds of dollars a visit to prescribe pain medication without question.
During the proliferation of this type of shady clinic — the DEA eventually shut most of them down) — I couldn’t afford the costly visits. More invasive surgery wasn’t an option; I couldn’t afford to be out of commission for several months or more. Out of desperation to break out of the cycle and avoid buying drugs off the streets, I began looking for homeopathic methods.
A local kava bar was offering a kratom hot tea. It was expensive, but I had heard hopeful things about the plant’s ability to relieve pain. Curiosity got the best of me, and I split a $10 hot tea with a coworker after work. Because I only drank half of the eight-ounce tea, I didn’t notice much of a difference with pain, but I did sleep comfortably for the first time in a very long while.
In my research about pain relief alternatives, the kratom leaf did make an appearance, but there was little data at the time. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in plant medicine at the time, so it took me a while to understand the power of kratom. What I thought of just a cup of “magical tea” would turn into a life-long alternative to pharmaceutical pain pills.
Mitragyna Speciosa is the scientific name of kratom, a tropical evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia. It can be brewed as a tea, ground into a powder, put into capsules, made into a transdermal, or extracted into tinctures. A relative of the coffee plant, pure kratom won’t cause overdose deaths, unlike opioids (although mixed with opioids, overdoses can occur).
Once I began experimenting more with kratom, I stopped needing over-the-counter or prescribed medication. Over the years, I took too many pharmaceuticals to list, but nothing could touch the stabbing pain like kratom. For the first time in a long time, I felt relief from “painsomnia” (insomnia from intractable pain) and was able to sleep through the night.
For many years, I took everything and anything doctors would prescribe for my endometriosis pain. Even though my research found endometrial implants could land on any organ, doctors dismissed me as drug-seeking when I would talk about the debilitating flank pain or leg pain I was experiencing. It was a constant cycle of referrals, pharmaceuticals, demoralizing lectures, and intractable pain.
Aside from the pain, endometriosis can impact other areas of wellness, such as fertility and mental health. Research shows that up to 50% of unexplained infertility correlates to the disease. Over 200 million people have endometriosis, which results from endometrial tissue growing outside the uterus and attaching or implanting into other organs.
People with endometriosis have a high occurrence rate of co-morbidities or co-existing health conditions. For example, there is a correlation with the likelihood of certain cancers, other autoimmune diseases, gastrointestinal issues, and cases of endometriosis. Because many of the co-existing physical conditions are also painful, it can be challenging to treat the disease.
Endometriosis pain is so mysterious, according to Atlanta-based MD and cannabis advocate Dr. Felecia Dawson, because the pain does not correlate to the amount of disease present in the pelvis. The condition can also cause severe pain in other parts of the body: sciatic nerve, shoulder, leg, upper rib cage, bowels, and more.
“The pain doesn’t fully go away until you have successfully dried up on the endometrial implants typically with continuous birth control pills or a gonadotropin agonist or antagonist,” Dr. Dawson tells The News Station, “I’ve even had two surgically documented recurrences of endometriosis in two menopausal women who’d undergone total abdominal hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.”
Facing the idea that this disease will cause pain forever is daunting enough, but it is even more demoralizing when there is no access to pain relief. Kratom gives me and other endometriosis patients autonomy, even if the mainstream medical industry is still unaware of the benefits.
As with all plant medicine, proceeding with caution and starting with low dosages is the best way to find what works. It may take some trial and error to determine which method of ingesting it is best and find ways to side-step or downplay adverse side effects of kratom.
The CDC links kratom to irritability, drowsiness, nausea, hypertension, tachycardia, and psychosis. Most of the adverse reactions occur when consuming high doses or adulterated products, leading the American Kratom Association (AKA) to create the Kratom Consumer Protection Act (KCPA). States that adopt KCPA (Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Georgia are the only states currently) don’t allow retailers to increase the potency of any kratom compound.
Intense nausea and irritability are the worst side effects that I have felt over the last seven years using kratom. I consider that much more livable than any pharmaceutical I took for pain. Unlike pharmaceuticals, I can take tolerance breaks from kratom and tailor the dose for my specific pain at the moment. Pain pills would only magnify my pain, make me spacey, cut me off from emotion, and ultimately control my schedule.
Even though kratom research data is scarce, a lot of information is available for a curious consumer. Books like Dr. Michele Ross’s Kratom is Medicine: Natural Relief for Anxiety, Pain, Fatigue and More help guide every aspect of kratom use. Based on the West Coast, Ross is long-time cannabis, CBD, and kratom advocate who uses her background as a scientist and a patient to educate the public (she also has her own line of kratom products).
Along with extensive background on the plant’s legal status (it is currently illegal or banned in six states), Ross explains the scientific side of kratom pain management. More people are turning to this alternative because pharmaceuticals destroy autonomy and create a system of reliance, she explains. Additionally, she points out that managing pain through traditional channels is expensive and inaccessible to many because the United States doesn’t have an accessible or affordable healthcare system.
The importance of third-party testing is made clear throughout the book, along with details about advocacy groups like American Kratom Association (AKA), who are shaping policies that protect consumers. To encourage safe practices, the AKA has the Truth In Labeling program, which gives the public a place to report marketing violations from vendors. They also have a Good Manufacturing Practice Standard Program, which lists kratom vendors who agree to strict guidelines and audits.
Ross also offers suggestions for consumption methods and safety measures, and, even though I’m a long-time user who writes about the plant often, I found new information. For example, I didn’t know until I read Ross’s book that you can avoid nausea by eating something before taking kratom.
“Education aimed at opioid-dependent kratom users should focus on taking kratom tolerance breaks, lowering dose over time, and stress management,” as Ross says in her book.
It may seem like a lot of work, but taking pain management into my own hands was one of the best things to happen to me. Now I can manage the intractable pain without the constant headache and demoralization of a healthcare system set up to keep me miserable and broke.
Instead of sensationalizing plant medicine, our society needs to make it a safer and better alternative for people with conditions like endometriosis because I know it changed my life.