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A journey finding pain relief and other benefits from the leaves of the Kratom tree and my reasons for working to keep it legal.
By Susan Ash, MS
"I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees!" The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss reminds me of my former life as a professional, paid "tree-hugger," a never-ending source of amusement for my family and friends who'd watched me turn into a hippie (well, as close as I could get at age 16. From that book comes my motto; "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." I used to speak for entire forests; large ecosystems our whole planet depends on. Now I speak for one tree that saved me, and for my right to purchase and consume it as I choose.
Born and raised in Virginia, I began my career 25 years ago as a Park Ranger in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. I'd received a Bachelor's of Science from Old Dominion University (ODU) and was already a budding environmentalist, having founded ODU's first environmental club. I spent three summers proudly wearing my "Smokey Bear" uniform, surrounded by the majestic beauty of a park owned by the American public. A life-long obsession with protecting public lands and natural resources was born, and I left Bryce (seen here, caught off guard behind the info. desk) in pursuit of a Master's of Science in Forestry from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Degree in hand, I went west to spend many years living my dream of getting paid to save the earth. This required frequent outdoor site visits to the forests and wildernesses I was trying to protect. It was the perfect job and it was, like the Lorax's, my life, too.
I moved to Oregon in 2000 to run wilderness, old growth forest and endangered species campaigns. I began experiencing a myriad of inexplicable health problems that ranged in severity and was diagnosed with "Fibromyalgia" and "treated" with narcotics. A lot of narcotics. And not only did they work, they gave me energy, decreased crippling anxiety, and made me happy. Every time I had a prescription filled, I felt like I'd hit the lottery. In 2008, plagued with too many symptoms to list, getting sicker and sicker, I became unable to care for myself. Heartbroken and devastated, home I went to live with my parents (after making sure my doctor sent me off with three months' worth of pills).
Two years went by on these meds, while suffering symptoms such as temporary paralysis, confusion, exhaustion and fatigue, slurred speech, unbearable neck, back, hip, knee and joint pain, daily flu-like symptoms, drenching night sweats, fevers, chills, migraines and digestive problems. This was no fibromyalgia! I traveled from doctor to doctor to doctor in search of answers. I finally got one in 2010 when my pain management doctor tested me and confirmed my diagnosis; late stage Lyme disease. All those years spent in the woods, dozens of doctors familiar with my vocation, and not one thought to test me for it.
My case was so severe I began a 10-month journey with daily intravenous antibiotics (that's me in the picture, too) followed by nearly 2 years of expensive non-traditional, not covered by insurance and experimental-type treatments (since there is no cure). As my tolerance grew, I was prescribed higher and higher doses of morphine. At one point I made a decision, with the help and encouragement of my family, to stop taking morphine and see if I could tolerate the pain on my own. I went to a doctor who prescribed me a weeks' worth of Suboxone (Buprenorphine), a drug designed to limit withdrawals, and promised me it would be a pretty painless process. But with that promise came accusations that I was a drug addict. I left his office offended and angry, but determined. Sure, I took more than prescribed at times but I'd never gotten my meds from other doctors, never doctor shopped, bought pills illegally, wouldn't dare touch a needle and I'd never run out early enough to suffer withdrawals. I didn't know anyone who abused drugs. I dabbled in recreational drugs when I was younger, but that was the extent of it.
This doctor neglected to give me proper directions for Suboxone, I took it before I had withdrawal symptoms, and my body went into precipitated withdrawals that lasted 10 full, excruciating days (he did admit liability after the fact). I was convinced I was going to die, and if I didn't, I wanted to. I thought I was losing my mind. You'd think that entire experience would have sworn me off narcotics for good, but my pain was just too severe. In 2010 I went back into pain management, was prescribed even more powerful drugs and for the first time in my life I started running out early and getting a monthly "flu," that always lasted 3-5 days. That's when I discovered Kratom.
The leaves of Kratom (Mytragyna Speciosa) a tree from Southeast Asia in the coffee family, have been used for hundreds of years to treat opiate withdrawals and pain, among many other things. It was suggested to me in an online support group for Lyme Disease to avoid withdrawals. I ordered it online and it worked! But I kept going back to the pain clinic. I kept getting newer and stronger medicines. And then it all came crashing down around me. There's no need to go into detail here. Let's just say an unexpected visit to "see" me wound up becoming a 45-day vacation from life that I didn't ask for, and much, much more.
I still suffer many symptoms from the Lyme disease. Pain, fatigue and chronic nausea are the worst of them. It's been a struggle to get up and out of bed for a long time. I was done with pain and fed up with the side effects and associated addiction issues of prescription narcotics. I needed something to help me. I remembered Kratom. I'm a scientist so I researched any dangers and risks, and came up with the following information. It is an all-natural, safer alternative to opiate pain medications and other prescription drugs, causes few side effects and unlike opiates, does not cause respiratory depression which can be deadly . You can't take too much or your body will reject it. With daily use you can develop dependency, as with almost anything. Stopping use abruptly, like its family member coffee, can lead to withdrawal symptoms. If this happens, while symptoms will be different for everyone, the leading complaint based on anecdotal reports from a study in the Journal of Addiction, is a runny nose. I decided I would use it wisely, responsibly, take breaks, and always have a plan in place to taper down and off of it to avoid discomfort.
Six months ago I weaned myself off a months' worth of high-dose OxyContin and Dilaudid, prescribed after major surgery, painlessly using Kratom alone, and I never went back to prescription pain medications. Once I began taking Kratom again, in a matter of two weeks I was up and around and no longer living a mostly home and bed-bound existence as I'd been for nearly a year. It relieved my pain yes, but also helped the anxiety and depression I've suffered my whole life. Kratom has improved my quality of life so much that I can't imagine what I would do if it were to become illegal in the U.S. Without it, I truly feel I am as good as dead. It is my goal in life right now to help people like me who wish to turn away from deadly narcotics and other prescription drugs to Kratom for help with pain, depression, anxiety and/or addiction issues. As I said in my introduction, "I am the Lorax." I still speak for the trees; only this tree is a little different from the ones I used to speak for. And I do care, a whole awful lot, so I know things are going to get better. This is my story. If you have a similar one, please join me and others in our efforts to keep this life-saving tree legal.
Ward J, Rosenbaum C, Hernon C, et al. Herbal medicines for the management ofopiate addiction: safe and effective alternatives to pharmacotherapy? CNS Drugs 2011; 25(12): 999-1007
Boyer E, Babu K, McCurdy S. Self treatment of opioid withdrawal with Kratom. Addiction 2008; 103: 1048-50
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