November 26, 2020

Kratom Isn't Euphoric, Says Mac Haddow of the American Kratom Association

The American Kratom Association's Senior Fellow on Public Policy, Mac Haddow, recently said that kratom doesn't provide a "euphoric reinforcing high."

Haddow made the claim during an interview with YouTuber Allie Severino, during which the two discussed the politics and science surrounding the plant. "If you're using pure kratom, you will not get a euphoric reinforcing high like you do with drugs," Haddow said. "It just won't happen."

In the past, Haddow has also stated that kratom isn't euphoric at all. In a 2019 Detroit Free Press article, he asserted, "[kratom] does not create any euphoric effect. None. If you're getting a euphoric effect from kratom, you're getting an adulterated product. You're getting kratom that's been cut with something else."

But Haddow's statements run contrary to recent kratom research. In a 2012 review of kratom literature, Prozialeck et al. stated that "Opioid-like effects, such as ... euphoria ... are typically associated with the use of moderate-high doses of kratom (5-15 g)," although these effects were less intense compared to opium and opioids. (Prozialeck et al., 2012, pg 796)

Christopher McCurdy, Ph.D., a prominent kratom researcher whose work Haddow frequently cites, has also illuminated kratom's euphoric effects. In a study published in 2008, McCurdy and others tested the receptor binding profile of mitragynine, one of kratom's primary alkaloids. They found that mitragynine interacts with Dopamine D2 receptors, which McCurdy himself later noted are "involved in drug abuse [and] drug euphoria" during a talk (46:45).

The binding profile of kratom alkaloid mitragynine

The kratom alkaloid mitragynine binds to Dopamine D2 receptors, which modulate mood and reinforce behaviour

In addition to euphoria, the Dopamine D2 receptors also influence how we seek pleasure. One researcher defined the receptors as "... [mediators] of experience-induced, drug-seeking, and relapse behaviors." (Baik, 2013)

Haddow stated that kratom doesn't have a "euphoric reinforcing high," but kratom's interaction with these receptors suggests otherwise. The plant's reinforcing effect isn't inherently bad, nor is it necessarily surprising. After all, the Dopamine D2 receptors are also responsible for reinforcing our desire to eat. (Baik, 2013)

Kratom's mood-boosting effects are so prevalent that the plant could be a candidate for treating mood disorders. In 2020, one team stated that kratom "... has affinity to serotonin and dopamine receptors, signaling its potential for treating depression, anxiety, and psychosis." (Johnson et al., 2020)

Haddow's claim is also at odds with the experiences of kratom users, who frequently report experiencing "euphoria" and "increased mood." Many of these experiences were documented in Dr. Henningfield's 8 Factor analysis, which can be viewed online. (PinneyAssociates, 2016) Similarly, 30.4% of kratom users reported experiencing euphoria in a qualitative study published in 2015. (Swogger et al.)

👥 User Comments

  1. The suggestion that a definition from Merriam-Webster on euphoria applies or is relevant to a discussion about the legal and scientific evaluations of the pharmacologic effects of any substance misses the point by a wide margin. More importantly, the context of the discussion about kratom and its addiction liability is tied directly to the claimed "euphoric" effects claimed by the FDA that leads to addiction. That is the focus of the discussion about whether kratom (and its alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine) can accurately be classified as opioids because the bind to the mu-opioid receptors -- as do many commonly ingested products, none of which are being targeted for scheduling by the FDA.

    Recreational opioid users generally report that kratom is a poor substitute for morphine-like opioids and does not produce the strong euphoria readily achieved with opium, morphine, or heroin. Thus, investigators who have studied certain effects of MG and 7-HMG that partially mimic opioids have described them as “atypical opioids”[See Kruegel, A.C., Uprety, R., Grinnell, S.G., Langreck, C., Pekarskaya, E.A., Le Rouzic, V., Ansonoff, M., Gassaway, M.M., Pintar, J.E., Pasternak, G.W., Javitch, J.A., Majumdar, S., and Sames, D., 7-Hydroxymitragynine Is an Active Metabolite of Mitragynine and a Key Mediator of Its Analgesic Effects. ACS Cent Sci, 2019. 5(6): p. 992-1001.] because many kratom effects are different from and/or weaker than those produced by morphine-like opioids. This has been verified in studies of kratom’s mechanisms of action, analgesia, receptor binding and other effects related to use, addiction potential and safety across a broad range of laboratory tests.

    As an example of the problem with finding demons in the words (even those defined in Merriam-Webster as we commonly use them) is found in how "addictive" cheese is. A joint study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan and Colorado State University and published in PLOS One used the Yale Food Addiction Scale—a 25-item self-report measure developed to identify those who may be most likely to exhibit markers of substance dependence—in order to determine the common denominator among “addictive” foods. Cheese proved to be a major culprit.

    The study found that highly processed foods like cheese were most associated with food addiction. In particular, they uncovered that casein, or protein fragments found in dairy products, could trigger the brain’s opioid receptors, which are responsible for addiction. Those receptors then release opiates called casomorphins. “Casomorphins attach to the brain’s opiate receptors to cause a calming effect in much the same way heroin and morphine do,” according to Dr. Neil Barnard, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He has characterized cheese as "dairy crack."

    The operationalization of the term "euphoria" associated with kratom consumption like one would experience in the consumption of cheese is dramatically different from characterizing it as the euphoria experienced in the use of heroin, morphine, or fentanyl. The discussion about kratom's reinforcing euphoric high -- as alleged by the FDA -- was referencing the legal standard for scheduling contained in the federal Controlled Substance Act.

    My apologies to Merriam-Webster.

    1. Hello Mac,

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts! At this point, we think there's enough science on the table to dictate the conversation. The conversation should be about degrees of euphoria, not whether or not kratom is euphoric. Whether you're the FDA or AKA, speaking in absolutes about kratom's euphoric properties is dangerous. Even though redefining kratom's properties could lessen the chances of punitive policy, there's a risk of mischaracterization and misrepresentation.

      Perhaps as a culture, we need to confront the stigma surrounding the term euphoria. As you've suggested, cheese has euphoric properties. Commonly used drugs like caffeine and nicotine also have euphoric properties. But when we speak about euphoric potential in binary terms, we stymie important conversations about how these drugs could potentially fit into our societies and help people.

      Cheers,

      -Kratomaton

  2. Kratom does not give me any euphoric feeling. I use about 5 grams three times throughout the day and have for over 6 years. It successfully freed me from using prescription oral medication in an inappropriate manner without having to resort to paying $250 a month to unscruplous providers who only substitute one pill for another. For that reason I am a staunch supporter and get involved with communicating with local senators to try and ensure that it will not be banned in my state. Kratom simply allows me to live a productive life free from pain and the terrible side effects that come from stopping oral pain medication abruptly.

  3. The word, euphoria, is very subjective and interpreted differently by our D2 receptors!

    FEELING BETTER is a HUGE EUPHORIC FEELING after drowning in physical misery with no relief (if waiting for help with managing pain conditions from our standard western medicine system, thanks to the makers of oxy, the Sackler family).

    Thanks to the Sackler family greed, the entire United States is not treating pain conditions. With anything except maybe guilt and shame.

    Finding a solution to the above atrocities is VERY EUPHORIC and relief from chronic pain is “addicting”, since it’s often so euphoric that kratom users continue to use the leaf for relief from pain (euphoria) daily!

    Ironically, kratom has become a mainstream pain reliever in homes where botanicals were never considered before. Thanks to the Sackler family!

    1. We agree: euphoria is very subjective. Even the term itself conjures up different ideas for different people. However, on Kratomaton, we use the term as Merriam-Webster defines it: "a feeling of well-being or elation." Kratom provides a feeling of well-being for many, so we think, by that definition, it's euphoric.

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