Kratom is a legal yet potentially hazardous drug that has increased in popularity due to the pleasurable effects that it produces in users. It has a reputation for helping to manage both chronic pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms. Despite these claims, kratom can have severe adverse short- and long-term consequences on the brain and body, can be habit-forming and lead to dependence, and may have the potential for a life-threatening overdose in rare cases.
What Is Kratom?
The tropical kratom plant (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tree found in Southeast Asia. The plant’s bitter-tasting leaves containing mind-altering compounds may be smoked, brewed as a tea, or ingested with food. It is not currently classified as an illicit substance in the United States and many countries worldwide.
Kratom can be purchased on the Internet or in stores, usually in the form of a green powder or capsule. It is sometimes combined with other harmful substances without the user’s knowledge, however, and this fact alone can lead to overdose.
Kratom’s Rise in Popularity
Kratom’s popularity has been increasing steadily in the last few years as an alternative treatment for dependence and withdrawal from alcohol and opioids. Kratom users have reported that the drug relieves unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and helps minimize opioid cravings. However, there is scant evidence to support these claims or to determine if it is safe to use for these purposes.
Users may take kratom to self-medicate their pain, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recognize it as a legitimate treatment for this purpose. Still, kratom’s purported analgesic effects have also made it popular to treat chronic pain of varying types. While some kratom proponents may use the drug in hopes of treating addiction, others use it recreationally for its ability to produce a short and pleasurable high.
Its widespread availability via the Internet has also contributed to its boost in popularity. Persons looking for an easy way to get high may use kratom because it can be readily accessed online.
Kratom use can induce a brief high, typically within 5-10 minutes, and lasts up to one hour. Kratom may cause different sensations when ingested at different doses:
At smaller doses, kratom can induce stimulating effects similar to stimulants such as amphetamine, including boosted sociability and alertness, as well as a boost in energy. When used in large doses, the compounds in the substance can interact with opioid receptors in the brain—the same receptors stimulated by drugs such as heroin and oxycodone. This can lead to feelings of euphoria, pain relief, and sedation.
Kratom can cause adverse short-term side effects, including the following:
- Dry mouth
- Decreased appetite
- Vulnerability to sunburn
- Increased need to urinate
- Increased heart rate
- Psychotic symptoms (rare)
Kratom has a reputation for being relatively mild and safe to ingested. However, there have also been kratom-related fatalities, and the risk of harm or death is increased when kratom is used in conjunction with other substances.
Is Kratom Addictive?
There has been considerable debate over whether kratom is addictive, but it has been shown to cause physical dependence, withdrawal, and cravings. While physical or chemical dependency is not the same as addiction, it is a component of addiction. Physical dependence indicates that the body is relying on a substance to work normally.
A dependent individual may experience withdrawal symptoms such as the following when they try to cut back on using kratom:
- Sleep disturbances
- Muscle spasms
- Weight loss
- Muscle aches and pain
- Fever and sweating
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
Although some organizations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) declined to say definitively that kratom is addictive, some people have reported becoming addicted to it, continuing to use the drug despite adverse consequences to their relationships, health, and work.
Signs of kratom addiction include:
- Using the drug in increasing amounts over time
- Failed efforts to cut down or quit
- Spending considerable time and energy obtaining, using, or recovering from the drug
- Cravings or intense urges to use the drug
- Failing to carry out essential responsibilities at home, work, or school and neglecting social activities because kratom use has taken priority
- Continuing to use kratom despite mental, physical, professional, or relationship issues
- Using kratom in risky situations, such as driving
- Manifestation of withdrawal symptoms when kratom use is reduced or discontinued
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), kratom is a potentially dangerous and habit-forming drug. In 2016, it announced that it sought to classify the active compounds in kratom as Schedule I substances. At the time of this writing, this has not come to pass, although it has been illegalized in several states. Schedule I drugs are considered to have a high potential for abuse and dependence with no known medical benefits. People in possession of these drugs can encounter severe legal consequences.
In addition to kratom’s short-term effects, this substance may have many long-term effects on the brain and body, including the following:
- Impaired concentration
- Loss of appetite
- Darkened skin
- Increased urination
- Liver damage
Some evidence also suggests that regular kratom use places individuals at a higher risk of using other dangerous and addictive drugs, including heroin, meth, and MDMA.
Can You Overdose on Kratom?
An overdose can transpire when a person ingests more of a drug than the body can handle, causing several dangerous physical effects and compromised health. Some fatalities have been attributed to kratom, and toxic levels can cause perilously high blood pressure, seizures, and death.
Some factors can increase the risk of an overdose when using kratom, including the following:
- Combining kratom with prescription drugs such as tramadol, paroxetine, methadone, or benzodiazepines
- Mixing kratom with alcohol
- Taking kratom that is adulterated or mixed with other harmful substances
Kratom and the Unknown
While the DEA has reported its intent to make kratom a scheduled substance, it is not currently recognized as an illicit drug in the U.S. Studies indicate that kratom is associated with several dangerous side effects and long-term health outcomes.
Kratom’s legal status in the United States, combined with its lack of regulatory oversight, creates a potentially dangerous situation for users—not only for individuals who intentionally use kratom but others unknowingly buying products with kratom in them. According to the FDA, some dietary supplements are being made and shipped with traces of kratom. Dietary supplement users may accidentally ingest kratom, putting themselves at risk of its adverse effects.
Because the FDA does not regulate the manufacture of kratom, users may buy and use the drug without knowing its potency or if it consists of other harmful substances.
Research indicates that kratom is associated with several potentially dangerous side effects and long-term health consequences. However, its impact on the brain and body is still not fully understood. Though it is known to cause physical dependence, little is known about kratom’s full addictive potential. More research is needed to understand precisely how kratom affects users.
Getting Help for Addiction
People addicted to kratom may benefit from several standard treatment approaches that are helpful for people addicted to other types of drugs, including the following:
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Peer group support
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer these services in programs with both partial hospitalization and residential formats. Our mission is to provide each person we treat with the tools and resources they need to obtain the life they deserve, free from drug or alcohol abuse.