November 14, 2019

Purdue Pharmacy Research: Opioid-containing Plant Better Than Heroin, But Still Addictive

Article origination WBAA-AM
Kratom leaves. - Manuel Jebauer/CC-BY-SA-3.0

Kratom leaves.

Manuel Jebauer/CC-BY-SA-3.0

Purdue University pharmacists say their study of an Asian plant containing opioids shows it may be a better alternative to hard drugs, but isn’t completely safe for human consumption.

Professor Richard van Rijn says the green leaves of the kratom plant contain compounds similar to opium – just as some pharmaceuticals and some illicit drugs also do.

His team has been searching for ways to treat addictions, including alcoholism. He says his most recent round of pre-clinical testing shows kratom may be used as an as a therapy – of sorts.

“Maybe they’re using heroin but they would rather not go out and purchase heroin on the market because it might be adulterated with fentanyl which is causing all these overdoes we see at the moment," van Rijn says. "And so this plant could be very much safer relative to heroin.”

Still, he points out kratom is also addictive, meaning it’s not a perfect replacement for other opioid painkillers.

He says the opioid-containing plant is available online and is used in a number of ways, including by Hoosiers.

“It’s a leafy green and currently people frequently buy it as a powder that they can then mix with, for example, orange juice or they make it into a tea,” he says.

While federal law doesn’t ban the sale of kratom, van Rijn says it is illegal in Indiana.

He says he hopes to use his research to learn more about how opioids bind to receptors in the body. He’d like to find compounds which offer pain relief or other benefits, without causing the user to need greater amounts of the substance over time or become addicted to it instead.

The study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, appears in the British Journal of Pharmacology.

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