Humans have been using natural psychoactive substances since our earliest records, but according to a study published by Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the last two decades have seen a major increase in both exposures and psychoactive substance-related poison control calls. Between 2000 and 2017, US Poison Control Centers received more than 67,000 calls relating to exposure to some psychoactive substance, or around 10 calls per day.
According to the study, around 47% of these calls involved marijuana in some form, which makes sense seeing how general marijuana exposure grew by 150% within the years of the study. This increase is due, in part, to the recent wave of marijuana legalization:
“As more states continue to legalize marijuana in various forms, parents and health care providers should treat it like any other medication…with edibles and infused products especially, curious children are mistaking them for kid-friendly candy or food, and that poses a very real risk for harm.”Henry Spiller, Director – Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Despite marijuana being a factor in nearly half the calls, marijuana accounted for very few hospitalizations, and was usually used in combination with another substance should a hospitalization occur.
Kratom, a legal natural psychoactive derived from an evergreen tree that is native to areas of Southeast Asia, was another substance that rose in popularity during the study, with exposures to the substance increasing by nearly 5,000%. In the case of kratom, this substance was commonly associated with severe cases requiring hospitalization and additional care.
Substances like kratom have been used by Indigenous people and proponents of natural psychoactive substances for centuries, used for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Under the right circumstances, some individuals have even indicated that kratom could help in the process of overcoming opioid addiction and improving mental health and wellbeing.
Then why the increased poison control calls? A lack of education.
As psychoactive substances become more available, use becomes more widespread, increasing the chances that someone may not use proper dosing and/or be exposed to a substance without realizing it ahead of time. Many of these substances are “natural”, thus people believe they won’t be as powerful or as effective as synthetic substances, which in turn contributes to the increase of poison control calls. This highlights the importance of education surrounding psychoactive substances.
As with all things, natural psychoactive substances have their pros, and they have their cons. Having an experience with marijuana, kratom, or any other natural substance – without hospitalization or having to call poison control – involves harm reduction practices, education and appropriate dosing. It’s all about responsible use. And remember, keep your edibles and other substances away from minors and animals.