Researchers, trying to develop treatments to help people cope with drug withdrawal, have found that a mixture derived from a tree found in Southeast Asia can wean people off drugs.
Christopher R. McCurdy from University of Mississippi and his team found that kratom, a mixture obtained from Mitragyna speciosa, is effective in helping people cope with giving up addictive substances like cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and morphine.
Kratom is used in Southeast Asia as a remedy for coughs, diarrhea and pain, McCurdy said. He added that the mixture is also used as a replacement drug for opium.
"A lot of people who become addicted to methamphetamine, cocaine or even heroin truly want to quit. They begin with recreational use and don't think they will become addicted, but (they) soon get to the point where they almost must take the drug to survive, because withdrawal is so intense," McCurdy said in a news release.
Researchers tested the efficacy of the compound by testing it on mice addicted to morphine, according to a news release. Researchers first made tea from Mitragyna leaves and then fed it to the mice. Results showed that there were certain side-effects of the compound on the mice. But, the mice recovered from these effects.
Also, researchers isolate another compound from the leaves called mitragynine. They found that this compound had higher levels of activity than methadone. Treating people with variations of this compound may help them get over their methadone addiction, the study found.
"Mitragynine completely blocked all withdrawal symptoms and could provide a remarkable step-down-like treatment for people addicted to hardcore narcotics such as morphine, oxycodone or heroin. The compound has been known for years, but we're working to come up with an improved synthetic analog or a better formulation of the tea for testing in humans," McCurdy said.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lists Kratom as a "concern drug" due to many people landing in emergency rooms after taking the mixture. When McCurdy and his colleagues analyzed Kratom samples, they found no contaminants. However, they found that the seizures associated with Kratom use were actually linked with the use of modafinil before Kratom.
In addition to the research on Kratom, McCurdy and his team have studied effects of molecules that specifically target the receptors in the brain that respond to drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine.