Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tree-like plant from Southeast Asia that belongs to the same family of plants as coffee and gardenias. Kratom has been used as an herbal remedy in Thailand and neighboring countries for hundreds of years for a number of ailments. It has dose-dependent stimulant and opiate-like effects. In addition to being used for an energy boost as well as for some mild pain relief, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that it may be helpful in the management of withdrawal symptoms associated with opiate addiction.
Since 2000, there has been a substantial increase in the rates of kratom use in North America and Europe both as a recreational drug and for the self-management of pain and opiate withdrawal (a practice advised against by most medical professionals).
Is Kratom Harmful?
Scientific information about the effects of kratom is limited, and there have been no controlled clinical trials conducted to determine whether it is safe for human use. Most of our current knowledge regarding this drug comes from anecdotal reports by users and doctors, as well as animal experiments.
Kratom is not a controlled substance in the US, and is sold on the Internet and in head shops in various forms, including:
- Loose chopped leaves (to make tea).
- Compressed tablets.
Researchers have found more than 20 biologically active chemicals in the drug, including several that bind opioid receptors in the human brain and have the potential to lead towards physical dependence and addiction.
Although the plant has a long history of use as an herbal medicine in Southeast Asia, kratom abuse is also well known in the region–the drug has been banned in Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar due to its addictive potential.
Finally, some chemicals found in kratom interfere with drug-metabolizing enzymes in the liver and may cause dangerous interactions with other drugs or medications. Overdoses – some of them fatal – have been reported in users who have taken it in combination with other drugs.
Short-Term Effects of Kratom Use
Because of the unique mix of chemicals in kratom, the short-term effects of the drug are complex and variable. The balance between stimulant-like and opiate-like effects depends on the dose taken, and different users have reported significantly different experiences with the drug even when taking the same dose.
Kratom’s Effects at Low Doses
At a low dose (1-5 g) of kratom, stimulant-like effects predominate. These are felt within 10 minutes and last for 60 to 90 minutes. While reports by users indicate that most people find these effects pleasant, some users experience an uncomfortable sense of anxiety and agitation. The primary stimulant-like effects of kratom are similar to amphetamine, though less intense, and include:
- Increased energy and alertness.
- Decreased appetite.
- Increased sociability.
- Heightened libido.
Kratom’s Effects at Moderate to High Doses
Moderate to high doses (5-15 g) of kratom have primarily opioid-like effects that last for several hours.
The euphoric “high” induced by the drug is reportedly less intense than other opioid drugs, and some users describe the experience as unpleasant, or dysphoric. Other opiate-like effects include:
- Analgesia (pain reduction).
- Calm, dreamlike mental state.
- Cough suppression.
- Reduction in symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Doses of kratom greater that 15 g have effects similar to high doses of opioids, including extreme sedation and a loss of consciousness in some cases.
There are several side effects associated with kratom use that range in severity from inconvenient to dangerous. Like the sought-after effects listed above, it’s side effects are dependent on the dose taken and are similar to those found both for stimulant drugs and opiates, including:
- Pupillary constriction (tiny pupils).
- Facial flushing (blushing).
- Tremors or loss of motor coordination.
- Nausea and vomiting.
Serious toxic effects appear to be rare among reports by users and healthcare providers, but there is little information available to estimate the true danger of kratom use. Most serious toxic reactions have been associated with high doses of kratom (>15 g) and have been characterized by seizures.
The hazards of kratom use appear to be especially high in the case of “Krypton,” which is an herbal product marketed as an especially potent form of kratom. Krypton is actually a combination of kratom and O-desmethyltramadol, a chemical otherwise encountered as a metabolite of the pain medication tramadol (Ultram). This combination increases the depressive effects on the central nervous system, and Krypton use has been blamed for several deaths in Sweden.
Judging by research done on chronic, high-dose kratom users in Thailand, there are several unusual long-term effects of this drug such as:
- Hyperpigmentation, or darkening of facial skin.
- Anorexia and weight loss.
However, the available evidence does not suggest that long-term kratom use damages organs or other parts of the body.
Potential for Addiction
The most significant danger posed by long-term kratom use is the development of dependence and addiction. Some chemicals found in the drug activate opiate signaling in the brain and, in doing so, help mitigate the withdrawal symptoms caused by addictive opioid drugs such as heroin and oxycodone. These features strongly suggest that kratom itself can be addictive, and evidence from users supports this view.
Long-term users, whether in Southeast Asia or the West, have been reported to become tolerant to kratom and require progressively larger doses of the drug to experience the same effects. Some long-term users eventually develop compulsive drug taking behavior and are unable to stop their intake despite harmful effects from the drug or negative life consequences due to their drug use.
Effects of Kratom Withdrawal
In one study, more than 50% of people who used the drug regularly for at least 6 months developed a kratom dependency. Dependent users of the drug suffer physical withdrawal symptoms similar to those of opiates if they stop taking it suddenly. Some of the symptoms of kratom withdrawal include:
- High blood pressure.
- Runny nose.
- Joint and muscle pain.
- Intense craving for kratom.
Kratom Withdrawal Treatment
Users withdrawing from kratom may prefer to detox at a professional detoxification facility where trained medical staff can monitor them and provide medical support. Some symptoms of withdrawal, such as increased blood pressure, can present a medical risk to some recovering users, and by making the patient more comfortable, detox care can increase the chances a person will complete the often uncomfortable process of withdrawal.
Because kratom dependence is new and relatively uncommon in the West, there are no specific treatment regimens for withdrawal and addiction. To date, the scientific literature only makes mention of a few medications useful in treating patients with kratom addiction and managing withdrawal. These drugs are similar to those used for opiate addiction, such as dihydrocodeine, a weak opiate, and lofexidine, a drug used for high blood pressure.
Following successful withdrawal from kratom, drug rehabilitation treatment at an inpatient or outpatient facility can help patients successfully recover from addiction and regain their health. After-care programs and peer recovery organizations can help those in recovery adapt to a drug-free life and avoid future relapses.
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If you think you might have a problem with kratom addiction or dependence, you can reach out for help today. Before you call, try to have some information ready, including your insurance card. You may also prepare a list of questions how have about treatment, such as:
- What happens in the program? What is a daily schedule like?
- What are the program rules?
- Can I see visitors?
- Do you have financing options?
- Do you offer scholarships?
The more you ask about ahead of time, the more comfortable you’ll feel choosing a program. Get help today; it could save your life.
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