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Pregnancy is a beautiful time in a woman’s life, but it’s as uncomfortable as it is magical. Worse? Pregnant women are expected to steer clear of medications and supplements they might use to find some relief from the hormonal aches and pains that come along with growing a human. Kratom has been used for decades by the locals of countries like Thailand and Malaysia for its pain relieving and energizing properties, but is it safe for pregnant and lactating women? With recent reports of infants exhibiting kratom withdrawal symptoms days after birth, we decided to look at this traditional medicine to see whether it might be a viable option for new moms and moms-to-be.

The Low Down on Kratom

Kratom is a traditional herbal remedy that grows wild in Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. In these countries, farmers and laborers would harvest the leaves to chew or smoke them, or brew them into a strong tea. These concoctions could increase energy, banish fatigue, reduce pain, even suppress coughing – all of which were ideal for helping workers get through long, laborious workdays. Mitragyna speciosa was also an affordable substitute for opium.

In the mid 1970s, the government of Thailand banned the use of kratom, though the reasoning behind this is not clear. Some believe it was banned because there is a risk for abuse and addiction, while others believe it was a move by the government to regulate a compound that was difficult to tax. Either way, the “Thailand Defense” has been applied in several regions throughout the world, but Mitragyna speciosa remains legal in the United States. That is, most states have not set rules around distribution and use, although nine have: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, as well as Denver, San Diego, and Sarasota, Florida.

How Kratom Works

Mitragyna speciosa (kratom) contains chemicals called alkaloids that are responsible for kratom’s potent healing properties. More than 40 alkaloids have been isolated, but the two most prevalent are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. The varying proportions of alkaloids present in the leaves of different strains are thought to account for the different stimulating and sedating effects of each strain.

There hasn’t been a lot of research invested into the exact mechanisms of kratom’s activity in the brain, but the alkaloids are believed to interact with various receptors, including opioid receptors – mu and delta – to promote pain relief and the other effects.

In some jurisdictions, kratom has been classified as an opioid, but while these alkaloids act like opioids, they are, more accurately, opioid agonists: mitragynine is a partial agonist with effects like morphine; 7-hydroxymitragynine, mildly psychoactive and four times more potent than mitragynine, affects the central nervous system. Unlike opiates, kratom will produce stimulating effects at low doses, but mimics opioid effects at higher doses, inducing less-intense euphoria and no respiratory depression (a common concern and leading cause of overdose with opioids).

Is Kratom Safe During Pregnancy?

Upset stomach, headaches, colds, anxiety, aching muscles and joints, extreme fatigue – these are all common complaints for pregnant women, but they have little to no recourse for relief, so it comes as no surprise that expectant mothers would turn to holistic solutions.

Recently, there have been two cases in the news where newborn babies exhibited symptoms of withdrawal from kratom. At first, physicians were baffled, and the mothers were sure they hadn’t done anything wrong. Only after careful investigation was it revealed that these women had been drinking kratom tea to ease discomfort over the previous nine months.

There is evidence to suggest that the psychoactive alkaloids in kratom, when ingested, are degraded by the stomach acid, metabolized by the liver, and then eliminated when you pee; therefore, this doesn’t explain why newborns exhibit symptoms of withdrawal after exposure. These symptoms, most often associated with chronic and long-term use of kratom, include nausea, weight loss, fatigue, insomnia, constipation, dehydration, frequent urination, and hyperpigmentation of the cheeks. Mother’s themselves may also notice (and shrug off) psychological withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, restlessness, tension, anger and aggression, sadness, delusion, hallucination and intense craving. In most cases, these symptoms are fairly mild and can last upwards of two weeks.

With the understanding that even a little risk is too much, we recommend that mothers should abstain from using kratom during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, or exercise extreme caution if choosing to treat pain and discomfort with kratom supplements, specifically:

  • Use kratom sparingly – once or twice a week should be sufficient, and under these conditions, you will be less likely to develop a tolerance.
  • Take kratom with food – having something in your stomach will help slow the uptake of kratom and may also help dilute its presence in the system.
  • Stay hydrated – drinking lots of water is important for expecting mothers regardless, but water will help to flush any unwanted toxins from your system more quickly, and hopefully decrease the amount of time kratom alkaloids stick around.
  • Only buy kratom from a trusted vendor offering certified organic products that have been lab-tested by a third-party entity to ensure purity. Some companies will artificially increase the content of psychoactive compounds or include other additives that can either waste your money or increase danger.
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