What Should You Know About Kratom and Kratom Addiction?
There is a dietary supplement that’s making the rounds online in forums and message boards. The name? Kratom. Kratom is a supplement that people believe has a number of appealing benefits. For example, some of the theoretical benefits of kratom include pain relief, mood booster, and an energy enhancer. Some people also believe it helps with opioid dependence and withdrawal. While there may be benefits associated with kratom, there are also potential risks including the possibility of kratom addiction. We explore what kratom really is, what the research says and what to know about kratom addiction.
What Is Kratom?
Kratom is an herbal supplement derived from the leaves of a plant that grows natively in Southeast Asia. For thousands of years, kratom leaves have been chewed by people where it grows originally. Leaves can also be swallowed or brewed into a liquid.
The first documented uses of kratom in traditional medicine were from the 19th century. Kratom was often used by working class people in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand as a way to help them have energy throughout long work days. For example, laborers and farmers would chew the leaves to help them get through the day with the stimulant effects. Traditionally kratom was also used to help treat a variety of ailments including diarrhea and chronic cough.
Even though kratom can have some stimulant-like effects, it’s also been used to alleviate stress and anxiety.
Kratom contains certain compounds which include mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.
What’s unique about kratom is that it can have different effects depending on the dosage someone uses. At low doses, kratom acts more like a stimulant. This can increase energy levels. At higher doses, kratom has more of an opioid-like sedative effect, and it may create feelings of euphoria as well.
Currently, kratom fans will say that they use it for a host of conditions and benefits. Some of the theoretical benefits of kratom include:
There is a lot of focus on pain relief as an increasing number of people deal with chronic pain, and opioids continue to be more regulated. The opioid epidemic has also seen tens of thousands of opioid overdose deaths a year in the U.S. alone, leading some people to seek out natural pain relieving options or safer treatments for their pain.
Some people use kratom to find pain relief.
When kratom is used, it may have pain relief effects because it impacts the hormone system of the user. Serotonin and dopamine can be released into someone’s body when they used kratom as well, which can also alleviate the emotional response someone has to pain.
Alkaloids within kratom may be able to dull pain receptors, and the substance is similar in many ways to morphine or opium in terms of its effects. The morphine-like effects are however one of the reasons it may be possible for a kratom addiction to form.
Strengthening of the Immune System
Some research on kratom indicates that there are alkaloid components in the leaves that can boost the immune system. Extracts from kratom leaves may be natural antioxidants, and they may have antimicrobial properties.
When someone uses kratom, it affects their metabolic system which can in turn increase energy levels. While many people still find the effects of kratom to be mentally soothing, they also have at the same time a sense of calm energy.
Sometimes people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome explore the use of kratom as a natural reliever of their symptoms.
Kratom may have some anti-anxiety effects. It is something relied upon by people with anxiety and mood swings, as well as chronic stress and depression. While not fully understood, kratom may help with anxiety by balancing certain hormone levels.
In traditional medicine, kratom has a long history as a supposed aphrodisiac. Kratom may help improve blood flow and provide an energy boost which can help with sexual function and fertility.
Kratom has been used as a way to help people struggling with addiction for a long time, although it just gained attention in western culture relatively recently.
Kratom has some of the same effects and activates many of the same receptor sites in the brain as opioids, so it may be a way for people to reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. There is controversy regarding kratom and addiction; however, because kratom addiction can also form so someone could replace one addiction with another.
Diabetes and Blood Sugar
Not as frequently, some people use kratom to help manage their blood sugar levels and diabetes. Kratom alkaloids, based on very limited research, may be able to help in the regulation of glucose and insulin.
While the majority of people who use kratom likely do so for therapeutic and medicinal purposes, some people do use it recreationally.
Kratom for Opiate Addiction
While we briefly touched on the use of kratom for addiction recovery and coping with drug addictions, it’s worth covering the topic more in-depth. Specifically, kratom’s popularity in the United States is growing as a way for people to get through opioid withdrawal when they are addicted to opioids and opioid-dependent.
Antidotally if you look at sources like Reddit, many people do tend to find benefits when they use kratom for opioid dependence and as part of an addiction treatment plan. Kratom has similar properties to opioids, and it affects the same opioid receptors in the brain as other opioids including prescription pain relievers and heroin. When someone takes kratom, with its opioid-like properties, the opioid receptors are activated, and it can feel as if someone is still using opioids, preventing opioid withdrawal symptoms.
While people may feel kratom brings them benefits as far as dealing with their opioid addiction and dependence, it’s not a magic cure-all. Much like other opioid replacement medications such as methadone, kratom may be addictive and it may require someone to go through withdrawal if they stop using it as well.
Side Effects and Risks of Kratom
Essentially everything is going to have some risks associated with its use, even if these risks are rare. The most common side effects of kratom include:
A few cases of psychosis related to kratom have been reported, with symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, and confusion although this isn’t common and seems to be linked to using very high doses of kratom.
Long-term effects of kratom can include weight loss and anorexia.
Hyperpigmentation of the skin can also occur. This is when patches of skin, especially on the face, become darker than other areas.
The primary risks of kratom seem to occur when someone takes concentrated extracts which are very potent, mix it with other psychoactive substances or drugs, or when it’s used by people who have a history of alcohol use disorder or heroin abuse.
Kratom has only to this point been linked to 30 deaths around the world, and none of those were because of kratom use alone, according to the DEA. The deaths were related to other drugs, or in some cases products people believed were kratom were laced with other ingredients.
The effects of kratom typically begin within 10 minutes after taking it, and effects may last for up to 90 minutes or sometimes longer.
As was touched on, with kratom, a low dose can lead to stimulant effects, and higher doses can create effects more similar to opioids. While the effects are going to vary depending on the person, the following is a general set of guidelines as far as how much kratom to use for certain effects:
- With anywhere from 2 to 6 grams, you’ll see stimulant effects
- At 7 to 15 grams of kratom leaves there can be some variance—some people may experience stimulant effects, while others may have effects of euphoria and sedation
- 16 to 25 grams will have very sedating effects
- 26 to 50 grams can lead to strong sedation but also hallucinations and delusions
If someone were to overdose on kratom, symptoms could include:
- Prolonged nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory depression
- Tremors or shaking
Is Kratom Legal?
There has been much controversy in the U.S. regarding the legality of kratom and whether or not it’s a drug of abuse. The Food and Drug Administration has described it as a dangerous opioid, and they have been working to have it banned.
The FDA even wants it to be a Schedule I drug like heroin. On the other hand, scientists and researchers want to continue looking at the medicinal benefits of kratom.
Currently, DEA researchers are looking at the two active components in kratom, and they will decide whether to ban both which would mean all kratom would be banned, or ban one and make the other available as a medicine.
This has been met with emotional responses from people who rely on kratom. Many people have come forward to share their stories about how they feel kratom has helped them tremendously, particularly in terms of recovering from opioid addiction.
Right now, while many anxiously await any decisions from the DEA regarding kratom, it’s an unregulated nutritional supplement so you can purchase it online.
Is Kratom Addiction Possible?
One of the primary concerns with the use of kratom is the potential for kratom abuse and kratom addiction to form. While there is still research to be done on kratom, what’s available currently indicates it’s a potentially addictive substance. The process for kratom addiction to occur can look something like the following:
- When someone uses kratom, it has a psychoactive effect. The euphoria created by kratom can cause a reward response in the brain, which happens with opioids and other addictive drugs as well.
- The reward response that’s triggered by the effects of kratom can then lead to a reward cycle. The person’s brain using the kratom will start to compulsively seek out the substance that led to the reward response.
- Once this happens, someone’s use of kratom is out of their control.
Even though kratom addiction is possible, it’s not as severe as opioid addiction in most cases, nor are the effects as detrimental.
Not everyone who uses it will develop a kratom addiction either. It’s very possible to use kratom repeatedly without ever becoming addicted.
Signs of Kratom Addiction
If a person does develop a kratom addiction, they may require treatment as with other types of addiction. A kratom addiction can range in severity from mild to moderate, and signs can include:
- A person might become preoccupied with the use of kratom to the point that they make it a top priority.
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and other activities and interests may be an indicator of kratom addiction.
- Trying unsuccessfully to stop using kratom or cut down.
- Developing a tolerance to the point that you need higher doses of kratom to feel the effect.
- Using it in spite of known negative consequences is one of the primary indicators of a kratom addiction.
Kratom Dependence and Withdrawal
Along with kratom addiction, there’s something else to consider which is kratom dependence. Kratom dependence may be similar to opioid dependence, based on what we currently know.
With dependence to kratom or any substance, the brain and body start to depend on the presence of that substance and its effects. The more someone uses kratom, and the longer they use it, the more likely dependence is to form.
Symptoms of Kratom Withdrawal
- Runny nose
- Aches and pains in the muscles and bones
- Jerky arm and leg movements
- Changes in mood
How Long Does Kratom Withdrawal Last?
The symptoms of kratom withdrawal usually start within 6 to 12 hours after someone takes their last dose. Then, within 2 to 3 days after the last dose, symptoms will peak.
Most people will see their kratom withdrawal symptoms start to subside within 5 to 10 days.
How long kratom withdrawal symptoms last can vary depending on:
- How much kratom someone regularly uses
- How often a person uses kratom
- Biology and genetics
- Any other substance abuse that may happen along with kratom use
- Mental and physical health concerns
Weaning Off Kratom
The reduce the risk of experiencing kratom withdrawal symptoms, it’s often advisable to wean off of it slowly. You can gradually reduce the dosage you use over time rather than stopping cold turkey. This allows your brain and body to adjust without an abrupt change that can come with stopping kratom cold turkey.
The Takeaways—Kratom Use, Kratom Addiction and Kratom Dependence
So what’s the verdict from our standpoint? First and foremost, always speak to your doctor. While it’s possible to become dependent and addicted to kratom, there seem to be some big advantages to the use of kratom, particularly for people battling opioid dependence.
It shows promise, especially as people are desperate to find relief for opioid addiction and dependence.
Let us know your thoughts about kratom and kratom addiction in the comments below, and share your experiences with the My Addiction info community.
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Staughton, John. “8 Impressive Benefits of Kratom Leaves.” Organic Facts. March 11, 2019. Accessed March 20, 2019.
Mayo Clinic. “Kratom for opioid withdrawal: Does it work?” May 17, 2019.
Sparks, Dana. “Home Remedies: Does kratom work for opioid withdrawal?” Mayo Clinic. May 31, 2018. Accessed March 20, 2019.
Brodwin, Erin. “A ruling is imminent on the legality of a controversial drug that’s used to treat addiction—but some have called it a dangerous opioid.” Business Insider. November 17, 2018. Accessed March 20, 2019.
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In Asia, people have used kratom in small amounts to reduce fatigue or treat opium addiction. In other parts of the world, people take kratom to ease withdrawal, feel more energetic, relieve pain, or reduce anxiety or depression