Kratom, or Mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical deciduous tree in the coffee family. It is native to Southeast Asia, and its leaves contain powerful compounds that bind to opioid receptors in the brain.
People in Asia consume kratom’s bitter leaves for its antidiarrheal effects, pain-relieving properties, and mind-altering capabilities. They either chew the leaves, or dry them and use them to brew a tea that produces stimulant effects in small doses and opioid-like effects in larger quantities. According to the Transnational Institute, eating kratom is a centuries-old tradition in southern Thailand, and in some districts, up to 70 percent of the male population does so daily. Many individuals in southern Thailand consider chewing kratom leaves comparable to drinking coffee.
In countries where kratom does not grow, individuals are more likely to purchase its chopped, dried leaves for smoking or tea brewing. Dried kratom powder is also available in capsule form. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), kratom is categorized as a “drug of concern” but remains a legal substance and is fairly easy to obtain over the Internet. Street names for kratom include thom, ketum, and thang, but individuals do not need to turn to drug dealers to purchase it.
Though kratom affects the body in a way similar to narcotics, it is rarely detectable in standard drug tests; however, people who consume anything but pure kratom may test positive for other substances.
Effects of Kratom
Most people who take kratom ingest it, and its effects arise rather quickly and can persist for several hours when taken in a large enough dose. The typical dose of kratom extract is 3-5 grams, but individuals who develop a tolerance for it may eventually need to take 10 grams or more to feel the same effects.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, users can feel euphoric within 5-10 minutes of ingesting kratom, which contains two compounds that interact with the brain’s opioid receptors: mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. These compounds often produce feelings of relaxation and pleasure; however, kratom can also produce uncomfortable and even dangerous side effects as well.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Increased urination
- Respiratory depression
- Psychotic symptoms
Though kratom does not contain opiates, it binds to the same receptors in the brain that opioids do and produces similar feelings of relaxation. For that reason, some people use kratom as a form of alternative medicine to control withdrawal symptoms caused by addiction to opioids. There is no scientific evidence indicating that kratom is effective at minimizing cravings or making opiate withdrawal more manageable.
Risks of Abusing Kratom
Many people do not consider kratom dangerous because it is legal; however, there are still inherent risks to consuming kratom in tea or capsule form. The substance itself may not result in a fatal overdose, but commercial forms of kratom are often laced with other drugs, which can cause serious health issues and even death.
According to a review originally published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, there is at least one brand of kratom, called “Krypton” that contains a synthetic blend of compounds and has been associated with mortality. Unless individuals are consuming pure kratom, the potential for contamination is present, and the risk of an opioid-related death is a real possibility.
Signs and Symptoms of Abuse
Kratom abuse appears to be a growing problem in American. In 2012, MSNBC reported that there was an increase in emergency room visits related to kratom from just two nationwide in 2005 to at least six at just one center in Arizona in 2011. Aside from the potential to overdose, individuals who abuse kratom also run the risk of developing an addiction.
Some signs and symptoms of kratom abuse are:
- Increased alertness and more energy
- Insensitivity to physical or emotional pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sudden sleepiness
In higher doses, kratom can have serious negative side affects. If an individual experiences respiratory depression, severe nausea, paranoia, or hallucinations, it is critical to seek medical attention immediately.
Some common withdrawal symptoms are:
- Muscle pain
- Sleep disturbances
Because of kratom’s accessibility, it is a popular drug among young people who cannot yet purchase alcohol and want to avoid potential drug charges for possession of marijuana and other substances. Individuals who use kratom frequently run the risk of developing a dependence on it and a subsequent addiction to it. Addiction is characterized by a compulsive use of the substance despite any negative consequences that might occur.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, withdrawal symptoms of kratom typically subside within one week.
Withdrawing from kratom is similar to quitting opiates because of the effects it has on the brain. Individuals who are struggling with severe withdrawal symptoms may be given nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, anxiolytics, antidepressants, or dihydrocodeine-lofexidine, which is a medication used to treat opioid dependence. Because quitting kratom is similar to quitting opiates, it is not recommended that individuals attempt to do so on their own without the help of medical professionals.
In a trial initiated by US WorldMeds in collaboration with the NIDA, subjects who were administered Lofexidine remained in detoxification treatment longer than those who were given a placebo. They also experienced a reduction in withdrawal symptoms, especially at the three-day peak, and researchers found the results to be statistically significant.
Medical Detox and Recovery
In medical detox, clients have access to a team of healthcare professionals who will ensure they remain as comfortable as possible while going through kratom withdrawal. When individuals attempt to go through withdrawal at home, they may reason that the only way to ease symptoms is to use again. In a medical detox setting though, clients have access to medication that will help them get through the worst of the withdrawal as well as support around the clock. They will also not have access to kratom so they cannot relapse.
The potential consequences of kratom addiction are vast, but it is important to remember that addiction is entirely treatable. With the right treatment approach and a supportive network of treatment professionals, family members, and friends, individuals are able to quit kratom altogether and lead a fulfilling life of sobriety.