If you do a quick Google search for kratom, you’ll find a large amount of conflicting information on the herbal drug. While some organizations and scientists claim that it is a great tool for treating chronic pain, other trustworthy sources warn users of its potential for extreme harm and even death.
Although this blend of information can be confusing, here are the basics on what kratom is, side effects of kratom use, the potential for kratom addiction, and potential treatment options like drug detox and rehab.
Table of contents
Kratom: A Pain-Relieving Herbal Drug Similar to Opioids
According to WebMD, kratom is a tropical tree (Mitragyna speciosa) in Southeast Asia. Typically, the leaves of the trees are crushed and brewed as atea or used to make tablets, capsules, or liquids. These leaves have a pain-relieving effect but will act as a stimulant when taken in low doses. Kratom can also act as a depressant when taken in high doses.1
Although this herbal drug contains mind-altering opioid compounds, it is not currently an illegal substance in the United States. In fact, you can easily purchase it on the internet, where it is frequently sold as a powder, gum, or extract.2 Energy drinks and supplements containing kratom can also be purchased at some convenience stores, gas stations, and herbal remedy stores.3
To use this drug, most people chew the leaves or brew them in tea. Some people may also smoke the leaves or eat them in food. Street names for kratom include:
- Herbal Speedball
Side Effects of Kratom Abuse
Although kratom produces some pleasurable effects, the substance can also result in many harmful physical effects. Reported side effects of kratom use include:4,5
- Rapid weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Dry mouth
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), other serious side effects have been associated with kratom use, including:
- Liver damage
- Withdrawal symptoms
Kratom Withdrawal Symptoms
Kratom use does not come without cravings or withdrawal effects. In fact, one study of 150 kratom users found 70 percent of them experienced mild anxiety after quitting it and 30 percent experienced moderate anxiety. The study also found that 81 percent experienced mild depression and 19 percent experienced moderate depression.6
If a person regularly uses kratom and then abruptly stops, he or she will most likely experience withdrawal effects. The effects are typically felt between five and nine hours after the last use and the more kratom the person used, the more intense the physical withdrawal effects will be. Aside from the depression and anxiety noted above, some of the most common kratom withdrawal effects include:
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Watery eyes and nose
- Sleep disturbances
Although the physical symptoms usually last about three days, the psychological symptoms (anxiety and depression) may linger for several weeks after quitting kratom. As researchers learn more about the withdrawal effects of kratom, they also learn more about how it affects the human body.
Kratom for Opioid Withdrawal
Interestingly, kratom itself is promoted as a helpful aid in treating opioid dependence and many people claim it can reduce the side effects of opioid withdrawal during detox. However, research does not fully support this claim.7
Kratom may help reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms but it can also cause more problems. Instead of helping a person overcome the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, using kratom may actually lead to more uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, as using it regularly can cause physical dependence. It is also very possible to overdose on kratom, so people who use the drug to detox on their own at home without medical supervision may increase their risk of overdose.
The Debate: Helping or Hurting?
Many kratom advocates argue that the drug provides relief from pain, depression, and anxiety. Even some scientists regard it as a possible treatment for chronic pain and tool to combat the opioid crisis, but Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials are concerned.
In September of 2016, the DEA wanted to ban kratom and classify it as a Schedule 1 drug. This decision was strongly challenged by the public, so the DEA is now waiting on a scientific and medical evaluation as well as a recommendation from the FDA before moving forward with any plans to make kratom illegal.6
Meanwhile, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) classifies kratom as an addictive substance and reports that it can cause dependence in some users. When it is taken in high doses, the compounds in the leaves interact with opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in pleasurable effects. Even small doses can produce a stimulant effect, making kratom one drug with a high potential for abuse.
Yesterday, the FDA published a statement about the health risks and concerns associated with kratom use, in which the administration clearly states:
“There is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder. Patients addicted to opioids are using kratom without dependable instructions for use and more importantly, without consultation with a licensed health care provider about the product’s dangers, potential side effects or interactions with other drugs.”
In the statement, the FDA also cites the fact that calls to U.S. poison control centers regarding kratom have increased 10-fold from 2010 to 2015 and hundreds of calls are being made each year. Thirty-six reported deaths have been associated with kratom products and additional reports have been made about kratom being laced with other opioid drugs.7
These findings are serious causes for concern and currently, there are no FDA-approved uses of kratom. Evidence shows clear safety risks associated with its use.
Treatment for Kratom Addiction
According to news articles, some individuals have reported becoming addicted to kratom. Just like any other drug abuse behaviors, kratom addiction should be taken very seriously and treatment should begin with medically assisted drug detox before continuing with a drug rehab program.
Drug detox is an essential part of recovery, as it can help a person achieve a stable state of sobriety while managing the uncomfortable symptoms of kratom withdrawal. Once the person is sober and has completed the withdrawal process, he or she will be ready to enroll in an addiction treatment program.