Kratom: Panacea or Poison?
What is Kratom?
Kratom (scientific name: Mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family that is native to the jungles of Southeast Asia; specifically found in Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia. It is also found in Papua New Guinea. Other names for kratom include thang, kakuam, thom, ketum, and biak. Whatever it’s called and wherever it may be found, this tree, or at least the leaves on it, has been causing quite a commotion in recent years.
The Scientific Scoop
Mitragyna speciosa leaves contain multiple active components, referred to as alkaloids, with properties ranging from stimulant-like energizing and uplifting to opiate-like drowsiness and euphoria, so this makes it difficult to characterize kratom as one particular type of drug, i.e. as “stimulant” or “opiate.” Kratom’s two main alkaloids are mitragynine and its active metabolite, 7-hydroxymitragynine, which has strong activity at the µ-opioid receptors (where µ is pronounced like ‘you’ but with an m: mu). This is the main opioid receptor, the same one that is the primary binding target of opioids like heroin and oxycodone. Why is this so important? Why do we need to know exactly where kratom binds and what effect that has? Well, so we know how it may be used. Here in America, the government isn’t so good with just accepting that this ancient Asian secret does xyz just because they said so. Because kratom binds to µ-opioid receptors just like heroin etc, opponents say that it must be categorized as a narcotic and therefore, it must be addictive just like heroin etc. But Narcan/ naloxone is also categorized the same way, and obviously it’s not addictive; in fact, it’s used to save people in cases of opioid overdose.
There is a great deal of supportive scientific evidence from many independent laboratory studies using mouse models and multiple human cell lines that confirms that kratom’s alkaloid metabolite 7-Hydroxymitragynine is in fact a key mediator of the analgesic effects of kratom, through its agonistic binding to the µ-opioid receptor. This has also been confirmed by the finding that in the presence of the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone, the pharmacological blockade of the analgesic effect will occur. In plain language: they’ve clearly shown that kratom binds specifically to the µ-opioid receptor in human cell lines, and demonstrated that this binding produces analgesic effects by giving it to a specific type of live mouse that essentially models the human system. So after the mice were given kratom, they exhibited analgesic effects from it– through previously established and accepted behaviors that I’m totally not going into here– just trust people. And then, as if that’s not enough, to further prove that this analgesic effect the mice were having was definitely the result of kratom’s binding to the µ-opioid receptor, they then gave the kratom-dosed mice Narcan, aka naloxone, which is a µ-opioid receptor antagonist. What does that mean? Think of it this way: the Narcan “antagonizes” the µ-opioid receptor; it basically bullies anything already bound to that µ-opioid receptor, pushes it off, and then it binds to it and blocks it so that as long as it’s parked there, nothing’s getting by it to bind to those µ-opioid receptors. That’s how and why Narcan saves people from overdose: it pushes all the opioids off all of the µ-opioid receptors and then sits on them, and hopefully that happens soon enough that the person survives the overdose. If they do, and if they then ingest more opioids for several hours after being given the Narcan, they won’t feel the effects of the drugs for as long as the Narcan is present there on those receptors, because the drug’s opioids won’t be able to bind to the µ-opioid receptors, as the Narcan will be sitting there. So there’s been a lot of work done in various labs all over the globe to elucidate kratom’s form and function. But despite all of this work, there’s much more to be done! I’ll talk more about that later.
None of kratom’s uses are clinically proven, as it has not been studied in the human clinical trials that the FDA requires to allow a drug compound to be legally available on the open market. Clinical studies are very important for the development of new drugs, as they help to identify consistently harmful effects, harmful interactions with other drugs, and dosages that are effective, yet not dangerous. That said, there have been many legitimate published laboratory studies with clear demonstrable findings in mouse models and human cell lines that do allow us to at least extrapolate the effects of kratom in humans with some accuracy and relative safety. Most findings have been positive, and there is a large vocal community of kratom supporters with numerous anecdotal testimonials of kratom’s effectiveness in treating various conditions. But despite this, because treatment practices using kratom have not been rigorously studied as either safe or effective, the DEA staunchly maintains that it has no valid medical uses or benefits. In fact, several years ago, the FDA threatened to make kratom a Schedule 1 narcotic, meaning it would be grouped with marijuana, LSD, and ecstasy, among others, and this elicited a huge backlash… tens of thousands of kratom proponents complained vociferously, signed endless petitions and all that yada yada, and the FDA caved, dropping the issue, at least for the time being. But that’s not going to be the end of that story people… not when the government’s involved. So for now, kratom’s status should be listed as “to be continued.”
What is Kratom Used For?
In its native regions of Southeast Asia, kratom has been known to be used as a traditional medicine for more than a century, but has likely been used for multiple centuries. There in Southeast Asia, the leaves of the kratom tree are typically chewed directly from the tree or consumed as a tea, and they induce stimulant and opioid-like analgesic effects, depending on the amount used. This is because the effects felt from ingesting kratom have been found to be dose-dependent: at low doses, which is generally considered 1 to 5 grams, kratom has been reported to work like a stimulant, imparting feelings of being more energetic, more alert, and more sociable. At higher doses, considered to be 10 to 15 grams, kratom has been reported as being more sedating, dulling emotions and sensations while producing euphoric effects. Anything over 15 grams is considered risky.
The stimulant type effects have traditionally made kratom popular among Southeast Asian agricultural workers especially, who use it to aid them in their long hours of hard labor. But for generations there, kratom has also been used successfully in its native regions for several other purposes: as an aphrodisiac to increase sexual desire, as an energy booster, to ameliorate withdrawal symptoms following cessation of opioid use, and for treating cough, diarrhea, and chronic pain. More recently, here in the US, there has been an uptick in the use of kratom by people who are self-treating chronic pain and managing acute withdrawal from opiates, while seeking alternatives to prescription medications. While some people claim to have success using kratom to treat depression and anxiety, and others say that kratom can also be used to treat muscle aches, fatigue, high blood pressure, diarrhea, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some studies report that kratom possesses anti-inflammatory, immunity-enhancing, and appetite-suppressing properties, but obviously more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
Kratom: Processing and Forms
The psychoactive compound referred to as kratom is found in the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa, and the processing seems pretty straightforward: after the plant’s large dark green leaves are harvested, they can be prepared in several ways: fresh leaf, dried leaf that is pulverized and powdered, dried leaf that is simply crushed, and concentrated liquid leaf extract. Kratom can typically be purchased in multiple forms, including paste, capsule, tablet, gum, tincture, and extract. In certain forms it is often combined with added sweetener to overcome its harsh bitterness. Kratom can be brewed into a tea as well, a form that is offered in kratom tea houses present in a few US states. Kratom can also be smoked or vaporized, though this is not very common.
While the use of Mitragyna speciosa is certainly not new, the alkaloid extraction and refinement methods to turn the alkaloids from the plant into kratom has certainly evolved, and now purity is said to be higher. I’ve read that now there are also fortified kratom powders available, and these contain extracts from other plants in a nod to the nutraceutical angle. In the United States, kratom is usually marketed as an alternative medicine, and often found in stores that sell supplements. Kratom can also be found in gas stations and paraphernalia shops in most parts of the US, except in the handful of states and cities that have banned it. Many people purchase kratom over the Internet, where it may be sold for “soap-making and aromatherapy,” a lot like what happened with synthetic marijuana or spice; that’s in an effort to circumvent the FDA’s 2014 ruling that made it illegal to import or manufacture kratom as a dietary supplement in the US.
Is Kratom Legal?
Although kratom is technically legal at the federal level, some US states and municipalities have chosen to ban it, making it illegal to sell, possess, grow, or use it. Other states have imposed age restrictions. In the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin, kratom is illegal to buy, sell, possess or use. There are special cases in some states: while kratom is legal in California, it is banned in San Diego. While it’s legal in Colorado, in Denver it’s considered illegal for human consumption. Kratom is legal in Florida, except for Sarasota Country, where it’s banned. Kratom is legal in Illinois for those over the age of 18, except in the city of Jerseyville, where it is banned. Kratom is legal to use in Mississippi, except in Union County, where it’s banned. In New Hampshire, kratom is only legal for those over the age of 18. Please don’t quote me on these people- make sure to double check if you’re wanting to purchase- not that I’m encouraging that or even saying it’s acceptable btw.
As far as countries around the globe go, kratom is illegal in: Australia, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Myanmar, Malaysia, New Zealand (unless prescribed by a doctor), Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, and Vietnam. Note that most places where native Mitragyna speciosa grows, it’s illegal… funny! Speaking of that, the country of Thailand has recently reconsidered the status of some illegal substances, so kratom might not remain illegal there.
In countries like Ireland, Italy, and the United Kingdom, the rules may vary from one city to the next. It’s also important to note that the status of kratom legality isn’t widely known for some countries. For example, it isn’t clear whether it is legal in China, or in many of the African nations. However, as the drug kratom becomes more widely known, countries, counties, and cities that don’t currently ban kratom may choose to do so at any point.
Is Kratom Safe?
Proponents say kratom is an amazing compound, a game-changer and lifesaver. Opponents, like the FDA, say it has no viable medicinal properties. How the US DEA, medical professionals, and millions of regular kratom users can have such divergent views of the same plant is hard to fathom. The overarching “company line” seems to answer this question “No!!” They state that kratom is considered addictive, that people can develop a physical dependence on it, and that in and of itself indicates that it’s not safe. There are some anecdotal reports of people becoming dependent on kratom, but there are more reports of people successfully using it to recover from opioid addiction; not to mention successfully treating chronic pain, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, on and on. So in my book, the jury’s out people.
The question of kratom’s safety comes down to two factors: the lack of regulation and the interactions with other drugs or substances, whether endogenous or exogenous.
Lack of Regulation
Any time a substance, including herbal supplements, isn’t regulated by the FDA, there are potential safety hazards. This is because there is no standardization when a substance isn’t regulated. That means that companies, particularly if they’re operating online, can market the product however they want. There are no official drug warning labels for kratom, and people may take it without knowing what other substances it contains. A buyer never knows what level of potency a kratom product could have or whether it’s pure. In addition, the active ingredient in kratom varies widely by plant species. As with marijuana strains, different kratom strains have slightly different effects; there are multiple species of the tree, so this makes kratom’s effects unpredictable. This unpredictable nature leads to a risk of overdose and other serious side-effects, including seizures, hallucinations, chills, vomiting, liver damage, or even death.
Because there is little research currently available on how kratom interacts with other substances, the breadth and severity of effects are yet unknown. This unpredictability adds to the dangers of using kratom in combination with something else, because you’ll have little idea what it could do to you. Potentially negative effects can be even more severe when kratom is combined with other drugs and prescription medicines. Some of the kratom chemicals have been shown to interact with how the liver metabolizes other drugs, which can lead to dangerous interactions. Another risk is presented when people buy commercial versions of kratom that have been combined with other drugs or substances, especially if they too work on the same opioid receptors. The potential consequences of many drug interactions can range from seizures to liver damage.
Various Points on the Kratom Controversy
Depending on what you read and who you believe, kratom is a dangerous, addictive drug with no medical utility and severely deleterious side effects that include overdose and death, or it is an accessible pathway out of undertreated chronic pain and opiate withdrawal, as well as being useful in treating many other health issues. There are great physicians and impressive institutions with interesting facts on both sides of this issue.
Recent increased kratom use in the United States, combined with concerns that kratom represents an uncontrolled drug with abuse potential, has highlighted the need for more careful study of its pharmacological activity. The major active alkaloid found in kratom, mitragynine, has been reported to have opioid agonist and analgesic activity in vitro and in animal models that are consistent with the purported effects of kratom leaf in humans. However, preliminary research has provided some evidence that mitragynine and related compounds may act as atypical opioid agonists, meaning they induce their therapeutic effects like analgesia, while also limiting the negative side effects that often accompany classical opioids. One such side effect that is absent in kratom is constipation. A chronic pain medication like kratom that doesn’t cause constipation like current opioids all do sounds like a good thing, but as I said before, it’s a long way from here to there, especially considering the FDA’s current opinion. And something tells me they won’t be changing their collective mind any time soon.
As it stands now, there is little to no control or reliable information on growth, processing, packaging, and/ or labeling of the kratom currently sold in the US; and all of this adds to the already considerable uncertainty of its health risks. In 2018, the FDA instituted a mandatory recall of all kratom containing compounds over concerns about Salmonella contamination in these products. More recently, the DEA placed kratom on its “Drugs and Chemicals of Concern” list, but as I mentioned before, it has not yet labeled it as a controlled substance, though not for lack of trying. Time will tell how long that lasts.
Kratom can be addictive due to its opiate-like qualities, and a small minority of users may end up requiring addiction treatment. The CDC claims that between 2016 and 2017, there were 91 deaths due to kratom; but this claim should be met with healthy skepticism, as all but seven of these casualties had other drugs in their system at the time of their deaths, and that makes it totally impossible to uniquely implicate kratom.
A patient wishing to use kratom to treat chronic pain or to mitigate opioid withdrawal symptoms could expect to encounter several problems with doing so, not all of which even have anything to do with the intrinsic properties of the kratom itself.
A patient that wants to use kratom to treat a legitimate illness or condition will likely face four problems for the foreseeable future:
-The first problem is that the DEA still occasionally threatens to make it a Schedule 1 controlled substance, along with drugs like heroin and ecstasy. This would make kratom very difficult to access, and would likely make the supply as a whole even more dangerous than it is now. Generally, it’s not a good idea to use something to treat chronic pain or addiction that may soon become less available and less safe: you want to know it’s going to be readily available, and that as a cure, it won’t cause more problems than the illness it’s being used to treat!
-The second problem is that the complete lack of oversight and quality control in the production and sale of kratom makes its use potentially dangerous.
-The third problem is that kratom has not been well studied for any of the uses its proponents claim it has an affinity in treating! Maybe the FDA hasn’t heard the saying that goes, “Absence of evidence of benefit isn’t evidence of absence of benefit.”
-The fourth and final problem is that kratom doesn’t show up on drug screens. I like kratom’s potential, but I can argue that adding another potentially addictive opiate-like substance while an opiate epidemic is already going on may not be the best course of action.
Is there a sensible path forward with kratom?
I’m not sure that anyone has the answer to that question, but at a bare minimum, the safety of kratom could be improved through:
-Regulation: it would be safer if people knew the exact dosage of kratom they were truly consuming, and that it was totally free of contamination.
-Education: educated consumers who know all of the potential benefits and dangers of the compound they are consuming are far less vulnerable to misleading claims.
-Research: if kratom does in fact have the benefits that have been demonstrated in the laboratory for treating either addiction or chronic pain, we should absolutely know it and make it known: accurately defining the risks of using kratom is critical, as is making all medical personnel and laypersons informed.
If all four of these points could somehow be accomplished by scientists and public health specialists, without: overdue distortion from corporate interests, anti-drug ideology, and romanticism by kratom enthusiasts, then we should have enough clarity to answer the basic questions about kratom, including the most important question of all…is it harmful or helpful?
Effects of Kratom: Good, Bad, Ugly
Recall that the expected effects from kratom are dose-dependent: that smaller doses will produce a stimulant-like effect, while larger doses will produce sedative or opioid-like effects.
A small dose of kratom to produce stimulant effects would be up to just a few grams, and these effects would be felt within 10 minutes after ingestion and can last up to 90 minutes. These expected stimulant effects include increased energy, alertness, and sociability, increased sex drive, decreased appetite, and giddiness.
A larger dose of kratom, between 10 and 25 grams, can have a sedative effect, imparting feelings of sedation, calmness, euphoria, pain reduction, and cough suppression, which last for much longer periods of time, potentially up to six hours.
Potential unsafe and negative effects of regular kratom use, even at low doses, can include: agitation, tachycardia, drowsiness, vomiting, confusion, anxiety, tremors, itching, sweating, insomnia, lack of appetite, tremor, coordination problems, and withdrawal symptoms.
There can also be negative effects of high dose kratom, including: addiction, nausea, itching, constipation, and withdrawal symptoms of tremor and sweating.
There can be negative side effects of taking any dose of kratom at irregular times or random intervals as well. Many users of kratom have reported something called “The Kratom Hangover” the day after taking it, the symptoms of which can include irritability, anxiety, nausea, and headaches.
Because kratom can cause problems with coordination and sleepiness, it’s dangerous to drive or operate machinery while using it. For this same reason, pregnant women are also advised never to use kratom.
There can be grave side effects from taking kratom, which can include seizures and respiratory and/ or cardiac arrest.
If a person takes a high dose of kratom and falls asleep, they may vomit and choke while asleep.
There are numerous calls into the CDC poison centers for kratom overdose every year.
The risk of overdose increases when kratom is taken with another substance, especially opioids.
Recent studies have found evidence of fatal kratom-only overdoses involving severe and negative side effects that can occur when someone takes too much. Some of the symptoms of taking too much kratom can include: impaired motor skills, lethargy, slurred speech, either shallow or very heavy breathing, tremors, listlessness, aggression, delusions, and hallucinations.
Long-term and heavy use of kratom can lead to liver problems, as kratom tends to make it more difficult for the liver and kidneys to process and filter toxins out, contributing to the potential for this type of organ damage.
Signs of liver damage include dark-colored urine and yellow skin and eyes.
Kratom: Necessary Evil or Just Plain Evil?
Kratom is currently considered a dietary supplement, as it is not approved nor regulated by the US FDA. That said, there are anecdotal reports of beneficial effects of kratom use, though there is no clinical evidence yet to support them. In the future, with the proper supporting research, kratom may indeed have proven potential.
But without this research, there are a lot of unknowns with kratom, such as effective and safe dosage, possible interactions, and possible harmful effects, including death. These are all things that you should weigh before taking any drug, but for kratom, they’re all question marks. In the final analysis, going by laboratory findings, kratom holds great potential. But if you’re thinking about using kratom to treat chronic pain or opioid addiction, or anything else… exercise extreme caution people.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it to be interesting and educational. Sharing means caring, so please feel free to share it with family and friends. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, leave comments, and share those vids! As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
Opioids: History, Use, Abuse, Addiction
How Did We Get Here?
Anchored in the history, culture, religion, mythology, biology, genetics, and psychology of the earliest civilizations to the societies of present day, humans have long tried to balance the positive medicinal properties of opioids with the euphoric effects that have so often led to their use and abuse.
Before we get into their history, first a quick fyi lesson in the semantics of the terms opiates vs opioids vs narcotics. While the terms are often used interchangeably, they are technically different things.
The term opiate refers to any drug that is derived from a naturally occurring substance, ie from opium alkaloid compounds found in the poppy plant. Types of opiate drugs include opium, codeine, and morphine. The term opioid is broader, and refers to any synthetic or partially synthetic drug created from an opiate. Examples of opioid drugs include heroin, methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Narcotics is an older term that originally referred to any mind altering compound with sleep-inducing properties.
For the general public, only the term opioid is really necessary, as it includes all opi- substances. In my practice and in my blogs, I sometimes make a distiction between the terms, but if you’re looking for a safe bet, or maybe a trivia win, the term opioid is the best and most accurate choice. Regardless of the word used, one is not any safer than the other; any opiate or opioid has the potential to treat pain, to be abused, and to cause dependence.
Following are some of the most common opioids and their generic names, listed in order of increasing strength.
Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Hycodan)
Morphine (MS Contin, Kadian)
Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet)
History of Opiates
A long, long time ago, opiate use began with Papaver somniferum, otherwise known as the opium poppy. Native to the Mediterranean, it grew well in subtropical and tropical regions fairly easily, a fact that contributed to its historical popularity. Unripe poppy seed pods were cut, and the milky fluid that seeped from the cuts was scraped off, air-dried, and treated to produce opium.
In case you’re wondering… today, legal growing of opium poppies for medicinal use primarily takes place in India, Turkey, and Australia. Two thousand tons of opium are produced annually, and this supplies the entire world with the raw material needed to make the medicinal components. Papaver somniferum plants grow from the very same legal and widely available poppy seeds found in today’s many seed catalogues. But, planting these seeds is less legal, with the DEA classifying them as a Schedule II drug, meaning that technically, they can press charges against anyone growing this poppy variety in their backyard. You can ask this one dude in North Carolina about it, as he was busted for having one acre of these big blooming beauties behind his house. At about 9 feet tall and topped with big red blooms, they’re not exactly inconspicuous. Another grow was discovered after an Oregon state patrol officer stopped to look at a field of beautiful “wildflowers,” wanting to cut a bouquet for his wife… a story that I personally find totally hilarious. Evidently, when he cut the first one, he was surprised by the sap that got all over his hands, so instead of taking some home to his wife, he took one to a fellow cop friend that was big on horticulture, and she enlightened him on what it was. Good thing too, because he had even thought about how cool it would be to dry the “wildflowers” to seed and plant them in his side yard! You just can’t make this stuff up.
Archaeologists have found 8,000 year-old Sumerian clay tablets that were really the earliest “prescriptions” for opium. The Sumerians called the opium poppy “Hul Gil,” meaning the “Joy Plant,” which was regularly smoked in opium dens. Around 460-357 B.C. Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Medicine” acknowledged opium’s usefulness as a narcotic, and prescribed drinking the juice of the poppy mixed with nettle seed. Alexander the Great took opium with him as he expanded his empire- it’s surprising that he was so great, because some accounts seem to suggest that he was a raging addict. Arabs, Greeks, and Romans commonly used opium as a sedative, presumably for treating psychiatric disorders. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Arabic traders brought opium to the Far East. From there, opium made its way to Europe, where it was used as a panacea for every malady under the sun, from physical ailments to a wide variety of psych issues. Biblical and literary references, and opium’s use by known and respected writers, leaders, and thinkers throughout history, including Homer, Franklin, Napoleon, Coleridge, Poe, Shelly, Quincy, and many more, made opium use perfectly acceptable, even fashionable.
19th Century Opiates to Opioids
There was a lot of unrest and violence around the globe throughout the 1800’s. Wounded soldiers from the American Civil War, British Crimean War, and the Prussian French War were basically allowed to abuse opium. And sure enough, beginning in the 1830’s, one-third of all lethal poisoning cases were due to opium and its opiate derivatives, and this really marked the first time that a “medicinal” substance was recognized as a social evil. Yet, most places around the world still really turned a blind eye to opium and opiate use. But, so many soldiers developed a dependency on opiates that the post-war addiction state was commonly known as “soldier’s disease.”
In 1806, German alkaloid chemist Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner isolated a substance from opium that he named “morphine,” after the god of dreams, Morpheus. The prevailing wisdom for creating morphine was to maintain the useful medicinal properties of opium while also reducing its addictive properties. Uh huh, sure. In the United States, morphine soon became the mainstay of doctors for treating pain, anxiety, and respiratory problems, as well as consumption and “female ailments,”
(that’s old-timey for tuberculosis and menstrual moodiness/ cramps) In 1853, the hypodermic needle was invented, upon which point morphine began to be used in minor surgical procedures to treat neuralgia (old timey for nerve pain). The combination of morphine and hypodermic needles gave rise to the medicalization of opiates.
Well, morphine turned out to be more addictive than opium, wouldn’t ya know it. So, as with the opium before it, the morphine problem was “solved” by a novel “non-addictive” substitute. Of course… I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Your first clue is that this novel compound was the first opioid, and was called heroin. See where this is going? First manufactured in 1898 by the Bayer Pharmaceutical Company of Germany, heroin was marketed as a cough suppressant, a treatment for tuberculosis, and a remedy for morphine addiction. Well, as you can probably guess, that worked great, until heroin proved to be far more addictive than morphine ever thought of being. So what to do? Hmmm… what…to…do… I know! Let’s make a “non-addictive” substitute for the heroin! That’s the best plan, definitely.
20th Century: Opiates to Opioids
By the dawning of the 20th century, the United States focused on ending the non-medicinal use of opium. In 1909, Congress finally passed the “Opium Exclusion Act” which barred the importation of opium for purposes of smoking. This legislation is considered by many to be the original and official start of the war on drugs in the United States. Take that, Nancy Reagan! In a similar manner, the “Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914” placed a nominal tax on opiates and required physician and pharmacist registration for its distribution. Effectively, this was a de-facto prohibition of the drug, the first of its kind.
In 1916, a few years after Bayer stopped the mass production of heroin due to the dependence it created, German scientists at the University of Frankfurt developed oxycodone with the hope that it would retain the analgesic effects of morphine and heroin, but with less physical dependence. Of course they did, because this worked out so swimmingly before. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, we know how this story turns out.
First developed in 1937 by German scientists searching for a surgical painkiller, what we know today as methadone was exported to the U.S. and given the trade name “Dolophine” in 1947. Later renamed methadone, the drug was soon being widely used as a treatment for heroin addiction. But shocker… unfortunately, it too proved to be even more addictive than its predecessor heroin. Captain Obvious says he’s sensing a trend here.
In the 1990’s, pharmaceutical companies developed some new and especially powerful prescription opioid pain relievers. They then created some equally powerful marketing campaigns that assured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to these drugs. Gleefully, docs started writing for them, and as a result, this class of medications quickly became the most prescribed class in the United States- even exceeding antibiotics and heart medications- an astounding statistic. Well, we now know that the pharma co’s were full of crap: opioids were (and still are) the most addictive class of pharmaceuticals on the planet… and so in the late 90’s, the opioid crisis was born.
Opioids: True and Freaky Facts
The real fact is that 20% to 30% of all patients who were/ are prescribed opioids for chronic pain will misuse them. Further, studies on heroin addicts report that 80% of them actually began their addiction by first misusing prescription opioids. That’s a big number people, but I think it’s actually higher. Food for thought for all the pill poppers out there saying ‘I’ll never use a street drug like heroin.’ And speaking of that, by the turn of the 21st century, the mortality rate of heroin addicts was estimated to be as high as twenty times greater than the rest of the population. Twenty times, people.
Opioid Addiction and Overdose
Opioids produce a sense of wellbeing or euphoria that can be addictive to some people. Opioids are often regularly and legitimately prescribed by excellent, well-meaning physicians when treating patients for severe pain. The problem is that even when taken properly, many people develop tolerance to these opioids, meaning they need more and more to get the same effect and relieve their pain. That’s just one factor that makes them so insidious. In addition, we cannot predict who will go down this tolerance and potential addiction path, because it can happen to anyone who takes opioids. However, there are some factors that make people more susceptible to addiction, such as the presence/ prevalence of mood disorder(s) and especially a genetic/ familial history of addiction, which contributes to nearly 50% of abuse cases.
When people become addicted to opioids, they begin to obsessively think about ways they can obtain more, and in some cases they engage in illegal activities, such as doctor shopping, stealing prescriptions from friends and family, and/ or procuring them on the street.
Another insidious facet of tolerance is that the tolerance to the euphoric effect of opioids develops faster than the tolerance to the dangerous physical effects of taking them. This often leads people to accidentally overdose as they chase the high they once felt. In this attempt to get high, they take too much and overdose, dying of cardiac or respiratory arrest. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and there are more drug overdose deaths in America every year than deaths due to guns and car accidents combined. According to the CDC, 2019 drug overdose deaths in the United States went up 4.6% from the previous year, with a total of 70,980 overdose deaths, 50,042 of which were due to opioids.
There’s a kahuna in Opioidland that’s so big and so bad that it bears a special mention… fentanyl. Referencing the above statistics, of the more than 50,000 opioid overdoses, fentanyl is specifically indicated in more than 20,000 of those fatalities. Again, I think it’s way higher than that. Regardless, I think we can all agree that it’s deadly. Fentanyl is so crazy dangerous because it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, so it takes the teeny tiniest amount to overdose. A lethal dose of fentanyl for adults is about two milligrams- that’s the equivalent of six or seven grains of salt people!
Obvi, there are tons of chilling statistics about fentanyl, but here’s another one for you: in one-third of fentanyl overdoses, the individual died within seconds of taking it. Get this- they died so quickly that their body didn’t have enough time to even begin to metabolize the drug, so no metabolites of fentanyl were found on toxicology screens at the time of autopsy. The moment you ingest or inject any drug/ pharmaceutical, the body immediately begins to break it down into components called metabolites. After a certain period of time (which varies according to many different factors) the drug is completely metabolized by the body, so a toxicology screen will pick up those metabolites rather than the complete molecule(s) of the drug. Every drug has a known rate of metabolism, so tox tests can tell how long ago a drug was used or ingested. This data is saying that in one-third (33%) of fentanyl overdose deaths, tox screens pick up zero metabolites, because the body had no time to even begin to start the process of making them. The screens detected the presence of the full complete molecule(s), but no breakdown products. It’s a very significant and scary hallmark of fentanyl use/ abuse/ overdose: the fact that you may not live long enough to regret using it.
How did fentanyl become such a big part of the opioid epidemic? Around 2010, docs were getting smart to the use and abuse of opioids and the ensuing crisis, and many stopped prescribing them. This left a lot of addicted people, including many who legitimately required relief from pain, unable to get prescriptions and SOL. At the same time, buying prescription drugs on the street was crazy expensive due to increased demand and decreased supply. But also, heroin had became so abundant that it suddenly became cheaper than most other drugs, so addicts started to switch to heroin. In one survey, 94% of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they used heroin only because prescription opioids became much more expensive and harder to obtain.
Next, to make things exponentially worse, drug cartels discovered how to make fentanyl very cheaply, so huge quantities of fentanyl started flooding the market. Because fentanyl is easier to make, more powerful, and more addictive than heroin, drug dealers recognized the opportunity, and began to lace their heroin with fentanyl. People taking fentanyl-laced heroin are more likely to overdose, because they often don’t know they’re taking a much more powerful drug. Fentanyl can be manufactured in powder or liquid forms, and it can be found in many illicit drugs, including cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine. And let’s face it folks, the people making this garbage aren’t exactly rocket scientists, so all of these drugs can (and usually do) contain toxic contaminants and/ or have different levels of fentanyl in each batch, or even varying levels within the same batch. These facts just add to the lethal potential of this stuff.
Now fentanyl has found its way onto the street in yet another form: pills. When fentanyl pills are created for the street, they’re pressed and dyed to look like oxycodone. Talk about insidious! If you go looking to buy oxy’s on the street and the dealer is selling them dirt cheap because they don’t know any better, or care is probably more accurate, you’ll probably think ‘Wow- these oxy’s are cheap! Let me get those!’ If your body is accustomed to using real oxy’s and you unknowingly take fentanyl, you will absolutely overdose. Like see ya later, bye overdose.
But believe it or not, it gets worse… A new variation of fentanyl is finding its way into the drug trade. Carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fenatanyl, which makes it 10,000 times more potent than morphine. While it was originally developed as an elephant tranquilizer (hel-looo??!!) the powdered form of carfentanil is now commonly used as a cutting agent in illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable. But an important thing to remember is that opioid withdrawal is not generally life threatening if you are withdrawing only from opioids and not a combination of drugs. This is because each drug class is pharmacologically different, so withdrawal is different for each one. FYI, the most dangerous withdrawls are from benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, etc) and alcohol, even though alcohol isn’t technically a drug, it reacts, is metabolized, and physically withdraws from the body like any drug. Individually, either can be lethal in withdrawl and require medical supervision.
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal typically includes the following symptoms to varying degrees:
Hot and cold sweats
Muscle aches and pains
Stages of Opioid Withdrawal
-The first phase (called acute withdrawal) begins about 12 hours after the last opioid use. It peaks at around 3 – 5 days, and lasts for approximately 1 – 4 weeks. This acute stage has mostly physical symptoms.
-The second phase (post-acute withdrawal) can last for a long time, with some references documenting up to two years. The symptoms during this phase are mostly emotional, and while they are considered less severe, they last longer.
Symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, variable energy, low enthusiasm, variable concentration, and disturbed sleep.
But, don’t let concern over withdrawl symptoms keep you from getting off of opioids. There are medications that can significantly decrease all of these. Two of the most common are methadone and buprenorphine. Being that drug detox is one of my specialties, in next week’s blog, I’ll outline both of these and tell you my reccommendations.
Now that we’ve covered the history and background on opioids, if you think you might have an opioid addiction, I have a separate quiz that will bring some clarity to you on that question. I will upload a more detailed assessment as a separate blog, but for now, here’s a short generalized screen to take first.
Do You Have an Opioid Addiction?
Answer yes or no to each of the following questions. If you answer yes to at least three of these questions, then you are likely addicted to opioids and should definitely take the detailed addiction self-assessment test which follows. I also suggest that you print the assessment and answers and take them with you for a professional evaluation.
Addiction: Basic Screen1) Has your use of opioids increased over time?2) Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using?3) Do you use more than you would like, or more than is prescribed?4) Have you experienced negative consequences to your using?5) Have you put off doing things because of your drug use?6) Do you find yourself thinking obsessively about getting or using your drug?7) Have you made unsuccessful attempts at cutting down your drug use?
Again, if you answered yes to at least three of these questions, then you are likely addicted to opioids and should take the detailed addiction self-assessment test which follows as a separate blog. Be sure to print both with you for a professional evaluation.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and found it to be interesting and educational. Please feel free to share it with family and friends. Be sure to check out my YouTube channel with all of my videos, and I’d appreciate it if you would like, subscribe, leave comments, and share those vids! As always, my book Tales from the Couch has more educational topics and patient stories, and is available in office and on Amazon.
Thank you and be well people!
Steroids: Seductive Today, Sinister Tomorrow
An Appointment and Cautionary Tale
I got a new patient who came into my office- we’ll call him Rocky- and he said to me, “Ya know, I’m here because I’ve been having trouble with rage.” And then he just looks at me expectantly. After eleven words, he’s waiting for me to open my desk drawer and take out my magic wand. Bing! You’re cured! He’s clearly never been to a shrink. We talk here.
In all honesty, I didn’t even need a magic wand at that point, because between those eleven words and my eyes, I had already diagnosed him. I should’ve waved my pen at him like a wand and said “Stop using steroids. You’re cured.” Instead, I said, “Let’s explore this a bit.”
He says “I’m worried, I might be bipolar….” How did I just know he was going to say that? It is so typical. At 32 years of age, Rocky’s a big boy, unnaturally bulky, looks like he’s been lifting a lot of weights. Compared to his trunk, his head looks like somebody washed it in hot water. His face is oily, pock-marked with acne and scars. I’m noting all these things, jotting them down on my pad, jot jot, as he goes on. “…and I like to go to the gym to blow off some steam…” Rages jot. Acne jot. Oily skin jot jot. Bacne jot. Receding hairline jot jot. “…and lately everybody just pisses me off and I can’t…” Angry jot jot.“…I mean, I can bench a lot. So the other day, I was with my buddy and I finally figured it out; I realized that he’s jealous; that’s his problem with me…” Paranoia jot jot. “…and I know I’m his competition. I undercut him all the time. He would love to see me fail and close up shop, but…” Ah ha. Psychotic? jot jot. All of this is very typical with steroid use and abuse. “…so anyway, I can push harder, lift more, ya know? I work at it! The steroids help, but the work is all me.” Bingo! Finally! Now we’re getting somewhere.
So tell me about that…the steroids. Who’s prescribing? “Oh no, I am buying it at the gym.” Well, how much are you using? “I’m doing 200mg every two days.” Injecting testosterone cypionate, 200mg Q 2 days jot jot jot jot jot. Buys at gym jot jot. And how long have you been using them? “Uhh, maybe about three years?” Times 3+ years jot jot jot. Do you think maybe you have a problem? “Oh, no. No.” Denies problem jot jot. I explain that he’s at a max dose for someone who has virtually no gonad function. Confusion jot. I explain that means someone who produces no natural testosterone. I spell it out. You’re taking the max dose that a person with no gonad function, zero testosterone would take, and that’s on top of your normal testosterone levels. Or I should say your natural testosterone levels. So you would be way above normal- ten times normal levels or more. And you’re wondering why you’ve been having these rages? Losing control? Loses control jot jot. Banging on s÷=%t at home jot jot jot. Screaming at wife jot jot. Have you ever hit her? “No. I haven’t hit her. But I’ve wanted to hit something. My fists are clenched and I want to tear something apart with my bare hands.” Denies hitting wife jot jot. Clenched fists jot jot jot. Believes he’s bipolar jot jot. I tell him that he’s not bipolar. Steroids are the problem here. He says, “No, it’s not. Can’t be.” No. It’s the steroids, I’m sure. Rocky says, “Ya know, I’ve been reading, and I’m saying it’s probably bipolar.” He’s just holding on to the bipolar excuse. Addicted jot jot. I mean, he would rather be bipolar- actually fight to be bipolar- than admit that his precious steroids are the sole root of his many issues. Denial jot. Steroids don’t cause a typical high, it’s more of an exhilarating positive feeling, an energized, almost super power feeling. For dudes like Rocky, with his temperment, he is all about that musclebound feeling of power.
Have you noticed your hairline is receding. “Oh. You can tell?” Umm, yeah, I can tell- it’s like three inches back from where it should be- that’s why I mentioned it. That’s what steroids do. “Really?” Really. Bipolar doesn’t do that. Have you noticed your oily skin and acne on your back? “Yeah, I have.” Yeah. Bipolar doesn’t do that either. Guess what does. You get really argumentative and pissy. Some people actually become psychotic. “Oh, I’m not psychotic, man.” Really? But, you know, in our conversation, you said you’re always worried about people at the gym being jealous and giving you side eye and you said people are trying to destroy your business. You know, maybe you’re getting a little paranoid. “Oh, I am not paranoid.” Uh huh, yeah. I tried to explain. When you’re getting paranoid, you don’t know you’re getting paranoid. He saw all these deep meanings and he was making these deep connections, why people would be tracking him and why government agencies would be interested in monitoring his business. Rocky is in the nursing home business. He’s not even actually running a nursing home, he just provides services to nursing homes. It’s not like he’s involved with any government agencies. He’s contracted to bring in ancillary services to nursing homes. It’s a fairly big business and he’s been pretty successful financially, but there was no root in reality for the paranoia he was demonstrating.
I asked him if he noticed anything else, like maybe breast enlargement? “Ahh, maybe a little bit, but no big deal.” Mmm hmm. + breast development jot jot jot. He says, “You know, my muscles got bigger, I got leaner, and my endurance increased. I felt trimmer, more energetic.” You said your endurance went up, how much cardio do you do, Rocky? He says, “Well, I used to do more, but man, I’ve gotten so much bigger that it’s hard to breathe when I do heavy cardio, you know?” No, I don’t know, because I don’t abuse steroids. Androgenic erythrocytosis jot jot jot. That means that you have increased the number of red blood cells in your blood, so your blood becomes thick and viscous like oil. You have so many red blood cells, it’s tough for your heart to beat, it’s tough for your lungs to get oxygen, because there’s drag from the increased viscosity, so when you do cardio, you can’t breathe. “Yeah, yeah. I can barely run. I used to do triathlons. I can’t do them anymore, but I can lift way more weight.” Yeah, because not only are the steroids making your blood thick like oil with RBCs, the thick blood makes the left heart ventricle- the one that does most of the pumping of the blood- thick. It’s a muscle, so the thick viscous blood overworks it as it tries to pump that thick gross blood through, so it makes that left ventricle wall thick, really thick. So instead of having a thin elastic pump that pumps blood in and out easily, you get this thick, wide left ventricle wall that cannot pump effectively. It enlarges the left ventricle wall, so you can’t pump good oxygen rich blood through. It’s called hypertrophy. With all those factors going on, it’ll cause hypertension. “Oh, yeah, I take medicine for that.” Like no, big deal. Aah, I just take medicine for the damage that I’m causing myself. Duh! + hypertension jot jot jot. + medication jot jot. And did you tell the doctor that prescribes that med that you’re using steroids? “No.” Nice. Prescribing Dr. unaware of illicit steroid use jot jot jot jot jot. Do you know that hypertension leads to kidney disease? “Really? My kidneys work good I think.” I’m thinking ‘maybe for now’ to myself. You think you look good on the outside, although you’re balding, your skin is oily, you have pitted acne scars on your face and acne on your back and you’re growing boobs like a teenage girl and your testicles are microscopic and you have low to no sperm and your penis doesn’t work… and you can’t breathe with any amount of exertion because your blood is thick and gross so your heart is all enlarged and your blood pressure is so high you have to take medication like a man more than twice your age. And you’re causing all of it! Through your steroid addiction. And as if the physical side isn’t bad enough, now it’s affecting you mentally. You’re paranoid, on the verge of psychosis…really you’ve got a toe or two over that line if you want the truth. So no matter how big your muscles are, no matter how good you think you look (and my raised eyebrows were clearly saying that was debatable) you are destroying your body. “Um, like what? How?” Now he’s really listening. I continued. Do you understand what hypertension actually is and does? Cause and effect? How about atherosclerotic plaques. What are those? What do they mean? The arteries in your heart become lined with plaques that are basically made of fat. These fat plaques are sticky, so as your thick gross blood slogs through the arteries, the fat plaques gather and narrow the arteries, so you cannot push blood through the arteries. Eventually, they clog off. It’s like a tunnel being filled with more and more muck, so there’s not enough room for blood to flow through and you get a heart attack and die. But before that happens, you’re incapacitated with high blood pressure because your thick oversized left ventricle is trying to push your thick gross blood through arteries that are filled with fatty muck, athersclerotic plaque filled arteries. “I didn’t know all that.” I’m sure you don’t, but I’m not done educating you yet. It gets better. Well, actually worse.
Education jot. Steroids decrease HDL, which is the good cholesterol that helps keep your arteries open. And it also raises the LDL, which is the bad cholesterol that causes the fatty plaque to build up. So lowers the good while raising the bad. Got that? “Yep. Got it.” So that causes hypertension, and makes you prone to heart attacks and strokes. Did you know that hypertension also makes your kidneys malfunction? I didn’t think so. Right now, your kidneys are trying to pump under hypertension, and that kills them. The gross viscous blood thick with red blood cells kills them. So your kidneys shut down. Do you like to be able to take a piss? To be able to clean your thick slaggy blood of all the toxins you make? He nodded that yes, he rather liked to be able to take a piss and clear his thick slaggy blood of all the toxins he makes. I thought so. Enjoy it while it lasts. Before long, a machine will do that for you: four hour sessions, three times a week…if you’re lucky enough to live that long. If the massive heart attack doesn’t kill you first. Honestly, Rocky looked like he was about to have a heart attack right now. I know I’m hitting him pretty hard with all of this at once, but this guy was in a romantic relationship with his precious steroids, and I need him to break it off, clean and quick like. But wait, there’s more!
Now, with all this bad stuff going on, the little vessels throughout your body do not pump blood as well because they are clogged and they are hypertensive. So all those tissues, joints, and bones are starved of nutrients and oxygen. You get something called avascular necrosis. Avascular means without vasculature- blood vessels- and necrosis means death. It’s everywhere, but especially in the hips, with the ball and socket joint. The little vessels that feed the balls of your hip joints, where the femur meets your hip? Hello, the blood supply gets occluded- it gets starved- and then it gets dead. So you can recognize all the steroid abusers out there: they’re the 40 year olds using wheelchairs and walkers, whining about the pain in their hips. Balding, acne, boobs, erectile dysfunction, heart problems, kidney issues, disability, chronic pain. On and on. Oh yeah, it’s pretty bad, but it gets worse. His face fell. I couldn’t let up now. You enjoy being able to lift weights? You enjoy being physically capable? Like a zombie, he mumbled on a sigh “Yes…” I’m glad you do. But don’t get too used to it. Because if you keep this crap up, keep injecting that garbage, you’ll build your muscles up beyond what your body can handle. You’ll build them up- your muscles will get bigger- but your ligaments and tendons can’t be built up, and they can’t support these unnaturally large muscles. Do you know what muscles without ligaments and tendons do? Not much. Without healthy ligaments and tendons, big muscles are useless for anything but causing pain, debilitating pain. When you’re pumping iron, lifting really heavy weights, your ligaments and tendons get damaged. In no time, the muscle size supercedes the ability of the damaged ligaments and tendons, so you get irreversible chronic muscle pain. Sounds great, right Rocky? Oh, wait, and to top it all off, now you’re having psychological effects. You’re having rages. You want to tear something apart with your bare hands. You said that. What’s scary is that right now, at this moment, you have the physical ability to do that. If somebody pushed you too far on a bad day, you might go there. You could kill someone. I’ve seen it happen to a patient. A guy a lot like you. He came in here young and dumb and I explained everything to him, just like I’ve done with you. For several years, I begged him to stop. He refused to listen; didn’t believe me. Ultimate in denial. He’s in prison now for the next 30 years; that equals a life sentence for him. It’s scary. What’s even scarier is that if you keep this crap up, keep sticking yourself with that needle, you won’t be able to tear somebody apart for long. You might want to, but you’ll be too debilitated. That guy in prison? He’s in a wheelchair now 90% of the time. He uses a walker sometimes- when he can stand the pain- which isn’t often.
I’ll make this very plain. You are addicted to steroids. They are physically wrecking your body, the body you seem to worship. Oily skin, acne, bacne, boobs, receding hairline, balding, teeny tiny testicles, a penis that you can’t get up…and no sperm to come out of it anyway. And that’s just the stuff on the outside that people can see! Your insides get wrecked too. Thick slaggy gross blood, hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, kidney dysfunction, erectile dysfunction, avascular necrosis, chronic pain. And now you’re raging, scaring the crap out of your wife, you’re paranoid, becoming psychotic. You have nothing positive happening in your life. So it’s your call, Rocky. I can help get you off the train here before it runs your ass over. He was nodding very slowly, but clearly shell-shocked. Look, how about this. Don’t use for two weeks and see me again. You’ll have some time to digest all of this. Can you do it? If you can’t- if you feel like you’re gonna hit that needle- I’ll see you sooner. Here’s my cell number. Call me anytime, but especially if and when you’re tempted to use. Deal? “Deal.” We shook on it.
Dx: steroid addiction, assoc features jot jot jot jot
Pt agrees to d/c use jot jot jot
F/up 2 weeks, will call/ see sooner prn jot jot jot jot jot
Here’s the bottom line on steroids people. Your body just does not like these drugs in excess. There may be some use for them in people with anemia, in people who have wound healing problems, a temporary use in people with HIV or cancer who do not want to eat, and in muscle wasting diseases for short periods of time and in very regulated doses, okay…fine.
But, for my Olympic athlete patients, my professional athlete patients: you all know who you are. All of my Rocky’s out there: cut it out! You’re sterile, can’t get it up, scared everyone’s gonna see your breasts, hello, they are! I know you’re saying ‘but I cycle them on and off, doc!’ I say bullshit. No, it causes permanent damage to heart, kidneys, tendons, and ligaments. Not to mention the cosmetic aspects: the oily skin, the acne on your face and back, the balding, receding hairline… and you say ‘oh, but to minimize the breasts I use an estradiol’ (an anti-estrogen, because testosterone breaks down to estrogen, so if you use an anti-estrogen in someone who is abusing testosterone or testosterone-like drugs, you will not get the breast enlargement) Yes, that’s true. I’ll give you that. But, you still get all that other crap, guys! Hellllo!! All my elite athletes, you all whine like ‘No, no, no, I need it to stay competitive, because everybody else is doping!’ Whatever! You are addicted to the high, the performance, and the cosmetic enhancement. You get big muscles, tiny balls, and tinier brains. You also get limp and sterile, permanent damage to the ventricles, the heart, and the kidneys, hypertension, and its host of other problems. You are predisposing yourself to coronary disease, heart attack, and stroke. You become delusional, and you fly into rages when the wind blows.
As you are my patients, I’ve probably told you about other patient stories. For those that haven’t heard them: one steroid abuser was very paranoid and psychotic, but of course didn’t know it, because you will not see yourself becoming psychotic. He was stopped at red light. I don’t know what he was doing, but when the light changed green, he didn’t go right away. So the car behind him honked. He started ticking like a time bomb, and the car kept honking, but for whatever reason, he still didn’t go. Instead, with the light still green, he got out of his car. With a golf club. He went off, banging on the guy’s car with the golf club, and he just didn’t stop. Eventually, they called the police. The police came and they had to subdue him with a tazer because he was out of control. When he was transported to the emergency room, he continued there, even continuing to spit and scream, even after being put in four-point restraints. Finally, he had to be pharmacologically restrained with a freaking rhino dart. Unbelievable. I mean, he was all black and blue, like he had been beaten, but he did it by thrashing, all by himself. His whole affect was totally inappropriate. I know that some people are beaten by police for no reason; they don’t deserve it, but this maniac was taking every opportunity to hit the police officers for absolutely no reason. In the hospital, he was arguing with nurses, disturbing the entire emergency department for no reason. His wife finally came in, but even she couldn’t calm him. He just lost it, in every sense. He was (or had been) on the road to being Mr. Olympia or some such title. He was 190 pounds, and bench pressing over 450 pounds. It was just crazy. Eventually, but not long after, he went into kidney failure. But it wasn’t from the steroids. Yeah, right. Denial!! jot jot
You know, it also causes immune suppression, so you don’t fight off pathogens like viruses, like COVID-19, like any bacteria. I had someone who had a heart attack and died. He was 25. Another stroked out in his late 30’s. These patients are Olympians, professional athletes, and really elite level people. They’re so hyper-disciplined about their diets and their training and supplements and sleep patterns and all of that. But they’re abusing steroids. It’s a crazy dichotomy. Some have made it. Big success stories that stopped and then did it the right way. But many don’t. Right now I have a 45-year-old man who is just going into kidney failure. And the one with psychosis that killed the guy that set him off. He’ll die in prison. Now I have Rocky. I hope I opened his eyes.
Remember, people… just because you cannot see what’s going on doesn’t mean the steroids aren’t destroying you. They are. But you can get there without them. And PS, for those that are wondering, there is a steroid withdrawal: headaches, drowsiness, decreased appetite, weight loss, fatigue, depression, dizziness. It’s a mess when I get them off, especially when they do high dose. It takes two to four weeks, and they are miserable, cranky, irritable, and obnoxious people to deal with when they are in withdrawal. I use benzodiazepines, things to help them sleep; I sometimes add anti-psychotics because they can’t see themselves drifting to the psychotic lane, sometimes hearing voices and seeing things. It’s a spectrum. And lots of misreading events in reality… “Those people are talking about me. They’re plotting against me. Those police officers are here to get me, or that group of people talking over there are planning something against me or these workers are not working because they are all in a grand plot against me. They are very faint signs and forms of psychosis. Hearing voices and seeing things, disorganized speech and behavior is the extreme. But there can be the unextreme, the misreading, the over-emotional abnormal response to normal events, thinking people are plotting.
Probably from age 10 to 30 is when most people started and abused the steroids. And too often, it’s a one way trip, once they start, they get lost in it. You know, “I am superman now” and they don’t stop, and then they stroll into my office and then I deal with them when they are 45 to 50 and that’s when their kidneys shut down, when they get a heart attack, when they are debilitated with degenerative disk disease from lifting too heavy weights, their ligaments and tendons go, they become sterile, they cannot have kids, they’re in constant horrible chronic pain. They have heart problems and kidney problems, and that’s what gets them. If they have heart and kidney failure, to the point where the organs have just given up, that’s what kills them.
Hopefully not Rocky jot jot jotLearn More