When it comes to drugs of abuse in the United States, kratom is a relative newcomer. Kratom has been around for thousands of years, however. In Southwest Asia, it has long been part of traditional medicine. It was used as an anti-diarrhea medicine, as a painkiller, and even as part of religious ceremonies. Kratom comes from a tropical evergreen tree. While traditionally taken as an herbal supplement in small doses, today’s commercial formulations of kratom often come in the form of capsules or tablets.
Proponents of kratom believe that the drug offers safe relief from mild to moderate pain. They also claim that it helps with anxiety and depression. Some people even claim that it can help reduce the cravings associated with addiction. However, people self-medicating with kratom on their own are more likely than not to develop an addiction, which ultimately worsens the conditions they are trying to get relief from.
Kratom has distinct effects at different doses. At low doses, kratom functions as a stimulant. Kratom’s effects on brain receptors at low doses cause people to experience a burst of energy. They may feel more alert and eleven more social.
However, when a person takes larger doses of kratom, the drug functions as a sedative. Kratom contains two distinct compounds that interact with opioid receptors. This is how the drug produces its effects, which run the gamut from sedation and pleasure to pain relief. At very high doses, kratom may indeed feel indistinguishable from opiates.
It is important to note, however, that even though kratom acts on opioid receptors, it does not cause the same side effects as opioid drugs. Moreover, at high doses, it does not pose the same risks as opioids do. Opioid drugs like morphine and fentanyl can cause respiratory depression at high doses, which can be fatal. While kratom does not lead to these specific symptoms of overdose, however, the drug is not without its risks.
Kratom Side Effects
Since kratom abuse has only recently emerged as a trend in the United States, it has not been studied in clinical trials as much as other drugs of abuse. This means that the health effects of consuming kratom are unpredictable. However, some of the most common health effects of abusing kratom include:
- Being more sensitive to sunburns
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Increased urination
Kratom abuse, especially over long periods of time, can also cause psychotic episodes. While kratom rarely leads to fatal overdoses, it should be noted that commercial formulations of kratom often contain unpredictable additives. These additives and compounds, when taken at high enough doses, can cause toxic shock and poisoning.
Legal Status of Kratom
In the United States and Europe, kratom is not very regulated. While efforts are underway to make the drug illegal or at least more tightly controlled, at the moment it is legal for stores to sell kratom. Unfortunately, many young people have the misconception that legal drugs are perfectly safe. As a result, many school-age young people abuse kratom, believing that it is a safe alternative to other recreational drugs.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime classifies kratom as a “new psychoactive substance.” This is the same category used from drugs like khat, mephedrone, and synthetic ketamine. Young people often obtain these drugs online.
Kratom Routes of Administration
Traditionally, kratom leaves were chewed raw. The leaves of the kratom herb can be dried, crushed, and consumed in a tea. The dried leaves can also be smoked.
However, in the United States kratom is available in many different formulations. Kratom pills, capsules, and extracts are common products available online and in smoke shops. Kratom is often sold as a green powder. These packets are often labeled “not for human consumption.” It is also increasingly common for kratom to be sold as gum or extract.
Why Do People Abuse Kratom?
There are many reasons that people are drawn to kratom. Kratom is appealing to young people because it is legal. Since kratom abuse is not criminally punishable, young people who are generally drug-avoidant may be more likely to experiment with kratom. It is also often abused by people who believe that kratom can help them recover from a physical or mental health problem. Individuals with pre-existing drug or alcohol use disorders often turn to kratom in the mistaken belief that the drug will reduce their cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Many people abuse kratom because they believe that it helps them overcome their anxiety or makes them more relaxed in social settings. Individuals with insomnia sometimes take kratom to help them fall asleep. A small amount of preliminary research has shown that kratom may reduce opioid cravings, but only when taken under strict medical supervision. When taken freely, it leads to further addiction.
Kratom abuse often comes about as a result of self-medication, which is the process of self-administering substances to mitigate the symptoms of a physical or mental health condition. Self-medication is rarely effective, and it is often dangerous. While it may sometimes lead to short-term improvements, over the long run it generally exacerbates the symptoms of the underlying disorder. Once kratom addiction sets in, individuals often find themselves suffering from an additional set of painful symptoms as well.
Kratom Abuse Statistics
Kratom abuse and addiction are relatively new subjects of study. As a result, statistics and figures related to kratom abuse and addiction are still fairly scarce. Nonetheless, the following figures are cause for concern:
- Between 2014 and 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has recognized 15 deaths that are a direct resulted of kratom abuse.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have even higher figures. Over a 17 month period, they found that nearly 100 people died due to kratom abuse. They also estimate that 7% of cases of kratom abuse are serious and life-threatening.
- 42% of cases of kratom abuse between the years 2010 and 2015 lead to dangerous health problems that required treatment.
Kratom Street Names
Since kratom is popular among young people, it is common for individuals to use slang terms while referring to the drug. Common street names for kratom include:
- Herbal speedball
While many people mistakenly believe that legal drugs are safe and non-addictive, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Kratom is highly physically addictive, and it is common for users to unwittingly develop a physical dependence on the drug. When a person develops a physical dependence on kratom, their bodily systems and brain become accustomed to the presence of kratom. At this point, a user may need kratom to function.
The FDA and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration categorize kratom as a “drug of concern” because there is growing evidence that it is highly addictive. When the substance is regularly abused, individuals often find it difficult to stop. The cravings for kratom that people experience can be very intense. This is because kratom affects the brain’s opioid receptors — the same areas of the brain that heroin and fentanyl affect.
Ironically, many young people turn to kratom because they believe that it can help them eradicate their addictions. Since kratom affects opioid receptors, it is often touted as a helpful tool for weaning off opioids. While there is indeed some preliminary evidence that taking kratom can reduce the withdrawal symptoms that people experience when they quit heroin or other opiates, it is vital to understand that users may end up simply replacing their opioid addiction with a kratom addiction.
Research on the progression and timeline of kratom addiction is scarce. Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence points to a basic timeline. After a month of daily use, most people find that they develop some degree of psychological dependence on kratom. The physical dependence on kratom usually develops after six months. It should be noted, though, that this timeline depends on the specific type and strain of kratom a person is abusing. Certain strains of kratom are far more potent and lead to addiction more quickly.
Signs and Symptoms of Kratom Abuse
The first sign of kratom addiction that a user will notice is an increased tolerance for the substance. After several weeks of regular use, most people will discover that they no longer experience the effects of kratom at the same level of intensity. To combat their increased tolerance, they have to increase their dosage of kratom. It is at this point that kratom addiction tends to get progressively worse.
Individuals who develop an addiction to kratom will often find that they think about kratom constantly. Their obsession leads to regular cravings for kratom. Many severe addicts are unable to function without kratom. They may end up using kratom many times a day, even when it is not appropriate to do so. In some cases, they may avoid events or activities that prevent them from using kratom. When a person suffers from kratom addiction, then they experience severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking kratom — so they will go to any length to ensure a consistent supply.
There is a distinction between kratom addiction and kratom abuse, however. Individuals who are taking kratom may not exhibit the characteristics of addiction. But kratom use can be identified by the effects of kratom. When a person has ingested a small dose of kratom, their behavior will be somewhat altered. They will be more alert, talkative, energetic, and sometimes even more sexual. Small doses of kratom can also lead to decreased appetite and some degree of anxiety and coordination issues.
Taking higher doses of kratom has distinct effects. When taken at high doses, kratom has effects that are similar to opioids. After an initial period of euphoria, kratom abusers can seem sedated. They may also experience itching, constipation, and nausea.
Signs You’re Addicted to Kratom
If you are concerned that you or a loved one is addicted to kratom, you can look out for the following signs of kratom addiction:
- Being preoccupied with using or obtaining kratom. Kratom addiction causes people to put all of their energy and financial resources into procuring and using kratom.
- Using kratom even when negative consequences are the result. This could mean using kratom despite negative performance at work or school.
- Realizing that one has an addiction to kratom but being unable to stop. They may even recognize the serious harms of kratom abuse but feel powerless to manage their substance abuse.
- Loss of productivity at school or work, or loss of interest in hobbies or friends.
- Lack of control when they use kratom — or having a strict routine with kratom that they seem to have to follow.
- Becoming unusually secretive, defensive, or withdrawn.
- Changes in personality or mood.
Kratom addiction can also lead to many indirect changes in a person’s health and behavior. Red flags can range from changes in sleeping and eating patterns to unexplained weight loss.
The early research that scientists are doing on kratom has not shown that kratom has a high potential for overdose. In fact, it is somewhat difficult to overdose on kratom. Nonetheless, kratom abuse has been associated with several deaths. One 2019 paper found that between the years 2011 and 2017, 11 people died in the United States after taking kratom. These deaths were not a direct result of kratom abuse, however. Rather, they were the result of taking kratom alongside other substances.
Commercial formulations of kratom are unregulated. As such, they are likely to contain unpredictable and dangerous chemicals alongside kratom. Taking these regularly or at high doses can result in health problems that require emergency medical attention.
Preliminary evidence also shows that kratom abuse may increase a person’s vulnerability to overdosing on other substances. The FDA notes that most kratom-associated deaths were the result of a person abusing kratom and other drugs, including benzodiazepines, opioids, gabapentin, cough syrup, and alcohol.
Kratom Withdrawal and Detox
Since kratom affects opioid receptors, taking the drug regularly is likely to result in physical dependence. Once a person has developed a physical dependence on kratom, they will experience painful withdrawal symptoms when they try to reduce their dosage or stop taking kratom. Reports of the following kratom withdrawal symptoms are common:
- Muscle aches
- Emotional changes
- Jerky movements
- Runny nose
- Hot flashes
- Sweating and tremors
- Restless legs
Most of the time, these symptoms will begin somewhere between 12 and 48 hours after a person last takes kratom. After 3 days, most symptoms will subside.
However, it is important to recognize that many kratom addicts experience what is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Individuals who suffer from PAWS can experience withdrawal symptoms much longer than 3 days, which increases the likelihood of relapse.
If you or a loved one is withdrawing from kratom, it is important to get professional help from a rehab center, where staff can help you deal with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and provide you with the support you need.
Recover from Kratom Addiction at NuView Treatment Center
Many people struggle for years to overcome kratom addiction, with little success. One common mistake is believing that physical dependence and addiction are the same. In these cases, individuals may successfully withdraw from kratom and conclude that they are cured. But addiction is a mental health condition that causes obsessive cravings and thoughts about substance abuse even in the absence of physical symptoms. Without a solid treatment plan for addiction in place, many people return to kratom abuse in the days, weeks, or months after withdrawing.
As a mental health condition that affects willpower, addiction cannot be cured without outside help. Making a firm commitment to oneself and trying hard to quit is not sufficient. Unfortunately, many people fail to get the help they need because they worry that having a problem with kratom is somehow weak or shameful. If you or a loved one suffers from addiction, it is not due to a moral failing. Addiction is a highly treatable chronic health condition.
NuView Treatment Center is an outpatient treatment center for substance use disorders and mental health conditions. Our facility is located in West Los Angeles. At NuView Treatment Center, clients can benefit from the most cutting-edge therapies and treatment modalities. We employ both physicians and masters-level clinicians who take an evidence-based approach to recovery.
Our programs cover all levels of addiction severity. They include:
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs)
- Outpatient programs (OPs)
- And aftercare planning
No matter where you are on your recovery journey, our clinicians will work with you and offer compassion and empathy. You will learn the important coping skills you need to prevent relapse and stay drug and alcohol-free. Moreover, you will get the individualized attention you deserve to address underlying issues that may be motivating your kratom abuse. As you progress in your recovery, you will find yourself rebuilding your life and reaching for goals that felt previously unattainable.
If you or a loved one suffers from kratom addiction, reach out to NuView Treatment Center today for a free and confidential consultation. Recovery is possible.