Maxime Ruel was a carpenter until he was electrocuted on the job, which left him in severe chronic pain and unable to work. After trying various medications with horrible side effects, and contemplating suicide, Max turned to kratom which he says saved his life.
You can listen to the audio version of this interview, Kratom Science Podcast #41
KratomScience: So you live in a cabin in Quebec with no electricity. How do you charge your phone?
Maxime Ruel: I plug it in my car. That works the best. Other than that I have a small wood stove and I get by.
How cold is it up there now?
Yeah it’s cold. There’s wind. There’s about a foot of snow on the ground.
How did you come to live in a cabin?
It’s an alternative to being homeless for me. I couldn’t afford the treatments I was doing for pain. So I opted out of my room share. And I came to the cabin. It’s a family cabin. I’m traveling all the way to Ontario once a month to get ketamine infusions done.
You were working as a carpenter and you got electrocuted, is that right?
Yeah. I was replacing this rotten plywood on a porch. I was bending over and this wire was sticking out of the wall. As I put a knee on the ground the side of my head touched a live wire.
I can’t imagine what it feels like to get electrocuted. What did you feel? Was it painful?
It’s beyond pain. It was over-riding, I would say. It instantly overrode my consciousness or any ability to remember I’m a human being, or that I’m doing something at this place. No memories. It was very intense. But it was, all that there is, all that there ever was, was this blue flash of pure intensity. It touched the side of my head for about three seconds. It felt like a million years. Some people say when they smoke DMT, they go into another world completely, and they forget who they are, they forget they took a drug. I have the same words to describe the experience.
The brain acts on electrical impulses. With that wire right against your head, I can’t believe you came out of that alive. That’s crazy.
Yeah, it’s like a miracle. People don’t usually walk out of these things. Or if they do, they can’t speak, or they’re badly injured.
The real miracle, the way I see it, was this little girl was playing near the porch for about a week, just before we got there to replace the floor. I saw her. She was playing at that very spot. She could’ve got hit ten times before the time we got there. Instantly when I came back from this, and I realized what happened, I was like, man, that’s a real miracle. I was pretty happy about it actually. It was like well, there are two miracles here today.
The consequences of an electrocution like that often happen with a delay. In the weeks to months following that, I started to have pain, insomnia, and sensory loss, like I don’t feel things as good with my fingers.
When did this happen?
This was four years ago. So, in 2016.
So weeks later you started to feel pain. I thought maybe if you would have been on a roof and fell, that’s why you were in pain. But feeling pain was how your brain responded?
If you think the nervous system as like, the brain would be a computer, and the nerves would be like wires running down our body. So, when too much electricity goes through this, the electricity is going to try to go through the nerves, because that’s where electric impulse is going to be easier.
The nerves are conductors, in other words.
Exactly. And there’s an insulation layer around the nerves called myelin. When this myelin, a fatty substance that coats the nerve, when it dissolves, when it gets damaged by too much impulse, it doesn’t grow back the same way. So that will bring some damage but delayed between the accident and the symptoms.
It’s very akin to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. That’s not what I have, but it’s pretty much the same in that the nervous system is degrading by too much constant stimulation.
What does your pain feel like? Is it like a tensing of the muscles?
It’s an aching pain. I can compare it to growing pains. When I grew up I had growing pains in my legs.. like an aching.
Were you having that all the time, or would it come in spurts?
It’s worse at night. It does wake me up in the morning, or during the night as well. Before I had kratom, I tried many medications and none of them worked. For a year and a half, I was having this intense pain but without any way to tone it down. It was pretty constant. It still is, but now I have kratom as a pain management tool. That gives me like four to five hours of pretty good relief. I would say between 50-80% relief for about four hours. Those are the breaks I get from the pain. Otherwise it’s pretty constant.
What medications did you try before you found kratom?
I tried tricyclic antidepressants. I tried three of them: amitriptyline, nortriptyline, duloxetine was another one. I tried pregabalin or Lyrica, and desipramine also.
Are any of these opioids? How did they make you feel?
Nope, they are antidepressants that sometimes work on neuropathic pain. They will give it to people who have neuropathic pain for diabetes. Because my pain is neuropathic, they thought this would help.
I didn’t want any opiates. But also in Canada it’s very hard to get prescribed opiates, especially at my age. On top of that, I told them I’m gonna be dead in two years if I start those because I’m in too much pain, and this is gonna be forever. So if I start taking those, I fear for my life.
What is your age?
I’m 34. I know what happens with opioids. For chronic pain conditions that you know is gonna last the rest of your life, you’ll have to take this opioid for the rest of your life, and tolerance… Because I’ve read a lot online. People say “I started taking this, but it wasn’t enough. And my doctor doesn’t wanna give me more.” After a few years, sometimes people will say that it’s not sustainable as a way to diminish their pain. And then they turn to kratom. I thought, might as well go on kratom right away. I don’t want to go the opioid route. I guess I was fearing for addiction, and the lack of efficacy in the long run. I know they really can be useful, like if I get surgery, I want morphine. Other than that, I try not to take the big guns if you don’t have to.
How did you become homeless? Was the pain so bad you couldn’t work anymore?
Yeah, yeah. It had a pretty big impact on my life. I moved away. I lost my house. Everything changed. I had to withdraw into myself and get help. I kept a few friends. I came closer to my family. I’ve been doing some volunteering around.
For a while, before I had kratom, it was really hard to picture myself living in the future. I was getting really suicidal. That’s the reason I’ll always say it: Kratom saved my life. You can’t live your life always being in pain, not able to sustain your own cost of living, and suffering on top of that. That’s not gonna work for everybody. It surely wasn’t working for me.
But as soon as I got some relief from the kratom, like within three weeks, I moved out — I was living in this field. Some shady farmer let me stay in this field — and I was living in my car sometimes. Within three weeks I was like, alright, I think I’m good. I had the energy to start looking for roommates. I found some people who didn’t know me or anything, but it was in a bigger city, so I tried that. A couple weeks after I moved in I started doing volunteering for the food bank. Two months later, I was fully active, doing as much as I could. I was doing very small shifts. But every day I would go there, and do a few hours of volunteering at the food bank. And then COVID hit — after a few months of that I was like, alright, I’ll go back in the cabin I think. But I found a better cabin.
I took kratom as my only way to relieve pain for about six months.
How long ago did you discover kratom?
I knew about kratom for over 10 years. I’ve always been curious about plant medicines and these kind of things. But I thought it probably was not gonna be very strong. Also, because I thought my pain was neuropathic and I read that morphine and opioids in general work on the nociceptive pain – I thought these were two kinds of pain, very different. I thought, I’m not gonna go do morphine or anything like that to relieve neuropathic pain. But I was wrong about that because a very small amount of kratom takes care of that really well.
So I didn’t consider taking kratom. That’s why I spent a year and a half trying five different medications that all made me sick, one after the other. At the end I was like, alright, I’m done with these pills. I’m gonna give kratom a shot, or I’m gonna end it. But I thought, let’s try kratom first. And it really did save my life. This was one year ago exactly.
What about ketamine infusions? I remember ketamine as “Special K” in the 90s, at raves. What is ketamine and what does it do for you?
Ketamine is very old. It’s the most widely used anesthetic in the world. They use it in war zones and emergency situations. They will use it with kids. It’s preferable to opioids because it doesn’t depress respiration. So you can’t overdose from it in the way that you would from opioids.
Just like kratom.
Exactly. The two K’s. They don’t kill. So it’s an NMDA receptor antagonist. The way it works is that it shuts down communication between certain parts of the brain by shutting down the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain which is glutamate. When too much pain is felt for an extended period of time, it leads to neurons dead. They die because they’re overstimulated. The glutmanergic neurons are overstimulated for too long. It’s like if you try to plug way too many Christmas lights on a small, cheap extension cord. At some point, the extension cord is gonna eat up, and it’s gonna melt, and when it melts like that, it’s gonna spark, and it’s gonna get worse.
So what ketamine does, is it unplugs that whole chain of Christmas lights. It lets your body, during that time what the brain does with the BDNF and GDNF that are released in your brain, it reorganizes itself, and it does that really quickly. Within a few hours, the pain is absolutely gone. It’s pretty much instant. You feel like a buzz. When the buzz goes away, you walk out of the clinic feeling like you never hurt before in your life. It feels very clear-headed too.
They inject it IV?
It’s a slow IV infusion. So they’ll push the same amount – it’s very constant, the rate of delivery. That’s for three hours. Mine are for three hours, but the depression protocol calls for one hour. So roughly the protocols for pain are three times the dose, and three times the amount of times you have this infusion. It’s gonna be repeated every four to eight weeks.
You must have done a lot of research into how the brain works.
Absolutely. There’s not much information on this. I really wanted to know what happens with me, and what I can do. There isn’t much research done on it. There’s only one hospital that will treat people that got an electrical injury. It’s not available to everybody that would need it. So I really had to become my own researcher, my own doctor, if you will. And I had to convince my doctors that this treatment was right, so I did a lot of research on it. And I had to find a second opinion to make him feel secure to refer me. He already knew that I take kratom.
That’s one of my general questions. Do you have a doctor you can talk to about kratom and what do they say?
Yes, absolutely. I got a family doctor about one year after the injury, and he’s willing to work with me, and I’m totally honest with him. I told him there’s two natural things maybe I would like to try. I’m coming to you because I don’t know what to do. He said let’s start with the pills, and if they don’t work, you’ll still be able to go your natural route, or anything you want. So I said OK. I spent one year and a half trying medication with him. The last one made me so sick. I had no energy all day every day. During the night I would wake up feeling like I would throw up on myself while sleeping. It was bad. That was Cymbalta – that was the worst.
So when I finished Cymbalta I was like, “Look, I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I’m never gonna take those pills again.” So I walked out of his office, but two months later he saw me again. I told him, “I have some news for you. I take kratom and it helps me a lot. So I wanna talk to you about it.”
And he’s like, “You don’t have to convince me. I can see right away you’re doing much better.”
If I had looked like shit and begging for money or something. He would have seen me and said, Ok maybe that’s not so good for you. But the difference was so clear, before and after, when you’re in pain and when you’re not, there’s a big difference in mood, it shows in your face, everything’s different.
Is kratom legal in Canada?
Absolutely. You can’t sell it and tell people to use it. But as we do these things, we talk about it – that’s why I respect you so much because we need public speakers. We need to hear this in the news and the media, internet and social media. We have to talk about it. We have to write letters to our officials. We need to make some noise because this can help so many people. It saved my life, so I’m always going to be repeating that, whether people like it or not. We have to let people know that there is an alternative to opioids and pain and depression.
Is there a different attitude in general in Canada than in the United States toward the type of drug use that doesn’t promote antisocial behavior, like kratom, marijuana, a little bit of beer?
I think yeah, it’s definitely different. We legalized weed, even for rec purposes recently. It went pretty well. Only a few people were like, Oh maybe that’s not so good. Mostly people were ready. There was no big discussion about it. Most people were happy and relieved that finally we’ll be smart about it and change that law. And they don’t regret it. Everybody’s happy that weed’s legal now. It does generate revenue. Huge companies are here because of that.
I don’t know about the difference between Canada and the US, but I think our societies, the both of us, are getting more open to natural alternatives. Sometimes you here things about synthetic weed, spice, K2, but when you tell people [kratom] is in the coffee tree family, it’s just a plant, it’s the leaf from a tree, it’s ground up, and that’s all there is, and you can’t overdose on it – that’s usually the way I tell people about it. I never really had any real push-back. Some people will say, but is it addictive, or does it slow down your reflexes? People are curious, but I think people are relieved to hear more about the good alternatives to the bad pharmaceutical drugs we have. I think there’s more of that than opposition to a new thing.
Do you do toss-and-wash or do you drink it as a tea? How do you prepare kratom?
I tried the toss and wash once and I almost died. I just mix it up in a cup and drink it with just water. If I have time I just pour hot water over it and wait till it cools down. I didn’t find much difference in effects between a high dose and a low dose, or between making tea or toss-and-wash or mix-and-wash. I don’t feel much difference at all, even between strains. Pretty much pain relief, that’s it.
A lot of people say Less is More. You can taper down to two teaspoons or whatever per day and get the same effects.
When I started I would take about 30 grams per day.
That’s a lot.
Yeah, it was quite a lot. I was hurting. I just realized it wasn’t necessary so I tapered back down to like 15 grams. Since I started ketamine infusions, I take always a few days with no kratom at all, because I don’t hurt at all for close to a week. And after that, I’ll start slowly. I would say my average now is about 8 grams per day.
The effect of kratom is so, so low compared to morphine, or even like ADHD meds – a lot of people take kratom to be able to focus. I think for those people kratom would often be a better choice than Ritalin or Adderall.
Have you ever had any bad side effects with kratom?
Not at all. I’ve never had one side effect whatsoever. I can’t believe it, actually. Am I not supposed to feel bad at some point if I feel good from something? But no! Nothing.
In the beginning I had to look for the effect of kratom. I think I was expecting a buzz of some kind. That’s why I kept taking more. But it never happened. Maybe euphoria a little bit. I think I was looking for an opioid type of buzz. But I stopped doing that. If I take 4 grams, my pain is mostly gone. And if I take 25 grams, my pain is gone and nothing more happens. You just add more sludge to the drink. There was no point to it. For me I don’t see at all how I could abuse this thing.
What did you do to decrease your dose?
I wanted to reduce my dose from 30 to 15 in two weeks. Every day I would take one gram less than I did before. So after two weeks, I was down to 15. That’s it. I didn’t feel like I was taking less. I was feeling the exact same pain relief, the exact same way, than I did when I was at 30 grams per day. I was like, alright, maybe I can still go lower. I found there was like a minimum. But I was able to go down to 10 grams a day and still feel the same amount of pain relief. When I start to take doses below 2.5 grams, they don’t work as long, sometimes they don’t work at all. Maybe my tolerance is there. But what I found is if you go too high too quick, maybe you’ll have some extra pain relief. If you go down too quick, maybe you’ll have some withdrawal symptoms. But if you just give yourself like one or two weeks to reach your next desired dose, especially when you want to go down, just say Monday I’ll take 10 grams, Tuesday I’ll take 8. Keep that up for a couple days, then I’ll do 6 grams. You can go down to a smaller dose within a week, no problem. But everybody is different. Some people need like a month to do that transition. Some people can do it overnight. So it really depends and you gotta listen to your body and what it’s telling you.
Is kratom becoming more well-known in Quebec on in Canada in general?
It’s not well-known at all. I don’t know anybody in real life that I’ve met in person that takes kratom. The people I know who take kratom are friends I’ve made over the internet on kratom forums. I don’t think there’s a million people who use it. That would be very surprising to me.
There’s no kratom association [in Canada], but we should do one! If there’s some Canadian fellows who want to contact me or you about that, that would be a good idea!
Another author’s note: I recently followed up with Max after recording this interview. He was in a terrible car accident. This is what he had to say: “i crashed my car monday night, broke a few discs they had to pull me out of the the car.. got surgery yesterday and have metal plates screwed in to hold them now.. im on max doses of hydromorphone every 90 min. Its fuckibg painfull. Crazy how shit happens eh. They fed me fentanyl, hydromorphone and benzos every hour at the hospital and 12h later tested my urine and found positive for opiates and benzos so they labelled me as drug user and gave me the hardest time for their own drugs! Its crazy i cant belive it. Look the start of a new story…”