Kratom is a drug with both stimulant and sedative effects, derived from a tropical tree that grows in Southeast Asia. The plant is related to the coffee plant, and kratom leaves contain both mood-lifting and opiate compounds. The leaves have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, although Thailand has banned kratom for the past 70 years due to its addictive potential.
While illegal in Thailand, the drug is perfectly legal in the US, although the Drug Enforcement Administration has made it difficult to import because of concerns about its addictive nature. The green powder is sold as a supplement or tea, and since 2012, has become popular in the United States as a natural “detox” from drugs like heroin or prescription opioid addiction. Since it has been on the market, however, there have been many reports that the capsules, powers, and teas have led to addiction and continued relapse for people who use them.
Kratom is known by the following names on the street:
- Herbal speedball
There are two basic compounds in kratom that affect the brain. These are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, and they interact with opioid receptors in the brain to produce a pleasurable sedative effect, decrease pain, and increase happiness. In low doses, people who use kratom report feeling more social and alert, and having higher energy levels. Higher doses produce effects similar to opioid drugs.
The drug’s popularity in the West appears largely due to the urban legend that it can help people detox from heroin or opioid painkiller addiction, which are both prevalent problems in the Western hemisphere. However, kratom is addictive, and it should not be used as a substitute for a rehabilitation program and detox with an overseeing medical professional.
Who Abuses Kratom?
Because kratom is rumored to help with heroin withdrawal or opioid painkiller addiction, a primary demographic for kratom use are people who already struggle with addiction. In some cases, the individual replaces one substance abuse problem with another, but in other scenarios, the individual becomes addicted to kratom, which then triggers a relapse of their previous addiction. According to WebMD, people who use kratom to ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms can develop an increased risk of suicide.
Young adults, especially in the college age group, also abuse kratom. However, kratom is not monitored by national drug abuse surveys yet, so it is difficult to know the exact demographic categories of people who abuse this drug.
As kratom gains popularity in the West, it has increasingly become a drug of abuse. One drug hitting “party” scenes is krypton, which is a dangerous mix of kratom and tramadol. Both of these chemicals are narcotics, and they can enhance each other’s effects, which increases the risk of overdose.
Studies on Kratom Addiction
In a study involving Thai citizens addicted to kratom, who used the drug between three and 30 years, a range of addictive behaviors and withdrawal symptoms were observed when the people were taken off kratom. In extreme cases, researchers observed kratom psychosis, which included hallucinations, extreme confusion, and delusion.
Another study published on PubMed investigating 293 regular kratom users from Malaysia found classic withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with opioid addiction, indicating that kratom can have similar addictive properties.
The Risks of Kratom Abuse and Addiction
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Increased urination
- Sensitivity to sunburns
There are some dangers associated with using kratom for a long time, including liver damage, although these effects appear to be rare. Extreme cases of kratom addiction may produce hallucinations, confusion, and delirium, but these cases are also rare.
Symptoms of Addiction and Withdrawal
- Decreased inhibitions and increased sociability
- Loss of motor coordination
Sedative effects are very similar to the effects from opioids like oxycodone or heroin. The effects of kratom begin around 10 minutes after consumption, and they can last up to six hours. People who use kratom in the US most often take the drug in supplement, pill, or capsule form, or chew or brew the leaves. Kratom is sometimes also snorted or smoked, although this is rare.
Because kratom is both a mild stimulant and a sedative, with opioid-like properties, it can be addictive. Withdrawal symptoms have been observed in populations that have had access to kratom for generations, such as Thailand and Malaysia. Kratom withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Irritability and mood swings
- Runny nose
- Twitches, tremors, or jerky movements
- Abdominal pain or upset stomach
Kratom overdose appears much like other opioid overdoses, and it can also be treated with naloxone to temporarily reverse the symptoms so the individual can get medical attention.
Get Help for Kratom Addiction
Kratom is mistaken by people struggling with heroin or prescription opioid addiction as a natural, safe method of detoxing and getting off their drugs of addiction. The truth is that kratom itself is addictive and can require treatment. Rehabilitation programs are the best course for people who struggle with addiction to any substance or behavior, including kratom.
Treating kratom addiction is much like treating addiction to heroin or opioid painkillers. Medical professionals may detox a person from kratom use via a tapering process, which might also include buprenorphine or Suboxone. For more extreme side effects, like seizures or hallucinations, the doctor may prescribe a small dose of a benzodiazepine, which is then lowered once the person has successfully detoxed from kratom.
Although kratom is technically legal in the United States, it is not safe, and it can lead to problems for people who use it. Individual therapy is the backbone of most treatment programs, addressing the underlying reasons that led to kratom abuse in the first place. Rehabilitation programs also offer social support in the form of group therapy and activities. These programs are vitally important because they help clients to build a support system and firm foundation in recovery.