Kratom is made from the leaves of a tree native to Southeast Asia and can be found in leaf and powder form. Also known as Mitragyna speciosa, is a drug that has become increasingly more popular over the past decade. Kratom is also known by other names, such as ketum, biak, thang, kakuam and thom.
Many people claim it can be used to help ease the side effects of opioid withdrawal, although some research has reported that it can become addictive when used often. The effects of kratom vary with dosage, which means the way someone may react when taking it can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that kratom can cause “uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects.” It also indicates in the same article that there is no scientific evidence that kratom is effective or safe for the purposes of treating addictions to opioids or other substances. And even after years of this drug circulating, no major drug approval company has approved it for widespread use.
What Is Kratom?
Kratom actually belongs to the coffee family. After taking small doses, users report feeling talkative, stimulated and alert, like they’ve drank a cup of coffee. Interestingly, a higher dose of the plant produces the opposite effect — it can make you feel lethargic and sleepy, similar to an opioid. In both cases, Kratom can decrease painful sensations and heighten feelings of pleasure.
People can take Kratom in many ways, usually orally. It can be smoked, brewed into tea or put into capsules to be taken like a medication. After taking the drug, most people start feeling the effects within 10 minutes and can expect them to last anywhere from two to five hours.
Although some swear it’s helped them both mentally and physically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved its use as a medication in any form. Also, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has put the drug on their list of Drugs and Chemicals of Concern.
However, many think Kratom is safe because it’s a natural plant. If you’re considering trying Kratom for yourself, think of all the plants you’ve heard of. Some of them are helpful in curing symptoms, yet plenty of plants we see in nature are poisonous when consumed. Although you likely won’t die from taking Kratom for the first time, the risk of adverse effects increases the longer you use it.
What Is Kratom Used For?
Historically, manual laborers in Asia used this plant in religious ceremonies or to increase productivity and combat fatigue during long days of work. The main challenge of Kratom is that it’s not a particularly popular drug in Western countries. It’s not a certified or well-known treatment for any major illnesses, so research on it is pushed to the side in favor of other medications and supplements. More often, Kratom is used recreationally to achieve a “high” or in conjunction with prescribed medications.
There is little evidence about the effects of Kratom on various body parts, like kidneys and the heart. However, common symptoms of Kratom use include increased urination and tachycardia, a condition where your heart beats rapidly and without rhythm, leading to the belief that Kratom has dangerous side effects that span throughout the entire body.
Some people consider Kratom to be helpful in treating their mental illnesses, particularly anxiety and depression, but research says the opposite, citing an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in long-term Kratom users. According to the DEA, consuming Kratom can even lead to psychotic symptoms like delusions.
When advertised in products, Kratom is usually lauded for its ability to suppress appetite and aid weight loss. However, it also comes with side effects like headaches, depression, hallucinations, muscle pain, breathing problems and seizures. In the past, some research indicated that Kratom could be helpful to people struggling with opioid addiction, but it was debunked when many users reported withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop usage.
Is Kratom Illegal?
While Kratom is not currently illegal federally or in all states, it is illegal in certain places.
Kratom is illegal to use, possess or purchase in:
Other more specific bans on Kratom include:
- Illegal for use in Jerseyville, IL
- Illegal for use in New Hampshire for those under the age of 18
- Illegal for use in Tennessee for those under the age of 21
- Banned in the City of San Diego, CA
- Banned in Sarasota County Florida
- Banned in Union County Mississippi
- Illegal for human consumption in Denver, CO
On November 14, 2017, the FDA issued a public warning against the herb. They cited 36 kratom-related deaths. But, there were also reports of the herb laced with hydrocodone and other opioids, which could link to these deaths. As of this post’s publish date, the FDA still advises people to avoid using kratom.
Is It Dangerous to Take Kratom?
Poison control centers have reported an increase in calls due to kratom misuse. Many of the effects of kratom are not yet widely known, which could make this drug potentially dangerous. However, there have also been reports about the benefits of kratom. After the DEA attempted to ban kratom back in 2016, the public and 51 Congressmen spoke up loudly about the numerous benefits of the herb, causing the DEA to drop the ban.
While overdose is rare, as with any drug or medication, it can become more dangerous when combined with alcohol and other drugs or medications. Despite its “legal” status, there still could be potential dangers that require addressing in regards to kratom and long-term, widespread medical use.
Because the medical community is still researching information about the benefits of kratom, this article explores both the potential dangers of kratom and its potential benefits.
Potential Benefits of Kratom
Advocates of kratom say it provides relief from anxiety, pain and depression. Scientists even say it could be a promising treatment for chronic pain and help combat opioid addiction effectively.
According to a study, kratom targets an area of the brain in mice that responds to drugs like codeine and morphine. The study found kratom’s synthetic compound, mitragynine pseudoindoxyl, does not cause harsh side effects like morphine does, such as:
- Respiratory depression (slowed breathing)
- Physical dependence (although other studies have shown it does)
Because many of the opioid overdose-related deaths were due to respiratory depression, researchers of the study believe kratom should be studied further to see if they can harness some of its compounds for medicinal benefits that are possibly less addictive.
Kratom could provide benefits both as a sedative and stimulant as well as antinociceptive, which inhibits pain sensations. A stimulant effect is considered an “upper,” causing rapid bursts of energy, elevated heart rate and restlessness. Alternately, sedative effects can cause a person to become more lethargic and slow moving, yet very content and euphoric. Kratom seems to hinder vascular permeability and pro-inflammatory mediator release and can boost immunity. Additionally, it could work as an anorectic, or medicine to promote appetite loss, and an antidepressant.
While many kratom users state they use the herb for its medicinal properties, other users say they take it recreationally to achieve the kratom high. Recreational use could lead to forming a kratom habit — or even moving on to more powerful opioids.
While individuals taking kratom believe in the value it has to offer, some researchers who have studied the herb believe kratom side effects and safety problems could offset any possible benefits.
Potential Negative Effects of Kratom
Kratom is a substance that has varying effects on people based mostly on dosage amounts. Usually, when ingested, the effect happens within ten minutes and lasts about 90 minutes. People report a small kratom dosage provides the effect of alertness and sociability while larger doses have an opposite effect, causing people to feel slow and heavy. Using kratom regularly could have potential long-term effects that could be unpleasant and potentially life-threatening.
Data research shows both sedative and stimulant dose-dependent effects of kratom do exist, along with its:
- Antidepressant activity
- Antinociceptive effects
- Anorectic effects
- Anxiolytic-like effects (relieves anxiety)
But, there is growing concern regarding the drug’s safety of use and effects that have led to national and international attention mainly because of the increase in deaths and hospital visits in a few countries believed to be due to extracts of the plant.
Some potential kratom dangerous side effects and adverse effects reported by users are:
- Loss of Appetite
Taking kratom regularly could cause significant weight loss and even lead to eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa. With highly restricted calorie intake, the body could experience severe and dangerous weight loss that could negatively affect internal organs. Anorexia can potentially lead to death due to starvation and organ failure and needs medical attention to rehabilitate.
With frequent and prolonged kratom use, the bowel and digestive system can begin to slow down. While this isn’t a serious condition, it can become highly uncomfortable to have infrequent bowel movements that are difficult to pass. In severe cases, this could cause colon issues or even ruptures if measures are not taken to alleviate the situation.
The body can have an inflammatory response to kratom with flushing of the skin in the cheek or facial region making it appear reddish purple. There have also been bouts of nausea, sweating and frequent itching reported. These effects typically occur upon ingestion of the substance and can sometimes last for hours, causing major discomfort. Some people will experience such irritation that it can lead to insomnia or disturbed sleep.
- Liver and Kidney Damage
Is there any kratom liver or kratom kidney problems? When used for a long time in high doses, the liver and kidney could become significantly damaged. Instances of very dark urine and yellowing of your skin is a sign this kind of damage is taking place. When the liver is compromised, the kidneys take on the task of filtering toxins from the body. They can become overworked, which can lead to kidney failure among people with liver damage.
- Heart Damage
Is kratom bad for your heart? Kratom in itself isn’t bad for your heart. But, when taken in higher doses or if you mix it with another substance, it could increase your heart rate. Also, if you already have a heart condition, you will probably want to avoid using kratom, or at least talk with your doctor first on how to take kratom or if you even should. It has been known to worsen already existing conditions in the past.
- Negative Interactions
Mixing kratom with other drugs can cause potentially hazardous side effects. Mixing this drug with psychoactive substances creates a negative drug interaction that can lead to potential seizures. When taken with opioids, each drug may intensify the effects of the other, causing a potentially life-threatening overdose. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of calls to U.S. poison control centers has skyrocketed and some overdose deaths have been reported.
- Accidental Overdose
People who already have a high tolerance for opioids who take kratom run the risk of overdose because they are not able to dose Kratom properly. Due to its leaf nature, those who buy powdered kratom have no way of verifying whether the substance was laced with other drugs to exaggerate effects.
- Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
There isn’t enough credible data and information surrounding the use of kratom during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Therefore, you should probably avoid using it altogether to stay on the safe side.
Kratom and alcohol don’t mix. Individuals who are dependent on alcohol and also use kratom seem to be at a higher risk of suicide when compared to individuals using kratom but with no alcohol dependency.
- Mental Disorders
Kratom could potentially make mental disorders worse. Those who already have a mental disorder and are using the herb seem to have a higher risk of suicide than those using the herb but don’t have a mental disorder.
Long-term use of kratom could potentially lead to developing an addiction and dependence to the drug. Certain chemicals in kratom activate the brain’s opiate signaling, and when this occurs, it helps regulate the withdrawal symptoms opioid drug addiction can cause. However, this does suggest kratom can also be addictive because of these psychotropic and mind-altering compounds.
Just like all drugs, people can become addicted to the effects of kratom. This is probably the most dangerous long-term effect of this drug, as a physical dependence can occur with time. As with all dependence, people who stop using kratom could experience uncomfortable withdrawals that include:
- Other symptoms
Those who use kratom long-term could develop a tolerance to the drug, requiring progressively bigger doses to feel the same effects. Some may even begin developing compulsive drug-taking behavior which can cause them to use the drug despite any harmful effects or negative life consequences because of their drug taking.
In one study researching kratom as a potential treatment for opioid withdrawal symptoms, individuals who took the drug for over six months reported experiencing similar withdrawal symptoms as those following opioid use.
More than 50 percent of the regular users who used the drug for more than six months developed serious kratom dependence. The other 45 percent displayed moderate kratom dependence. Individuals experienced physical withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Pain and muscle spasms
- Watery nose/eyes
- Sleeping difficulty
- Decreased appetite
- Hot flashes
Kratom diarrhea isn’t uncommon either, and doctors receive reports of tremors, delusions and other more serious issues.
Also, psychological withdrawal symptoms could include:
In a single dose kratom beverage, there was 79mg of the psychoactive compound mitragynine. This breakdown suggests a 276.5mg average daily intake. Those who consumed three kratom drinks daily had more risk of developing severe kratom withdrawal symptoms, dependence and inability to control their craving for the drug.
If you start craving kratom and develop a dependence on it, you may need the same type of treatment you would for opioid addition like buprenorphine (Buprenex) and naloxone (Narcan).
Because of kratom’s possible addictive nature, one effect you could experience is compulsive use of the herb despite the harm it could place on your life or mental state.
Treatment for Kratom Misuse or Addiction
Many illegitimate claims are seen on the internet from websites selling kratom that it can be used as a means to decrease opioid dependency during detox. None of these claims are substantiated by science, which means that kratom can be a dangerous and potentially harmful substance. People who started using kratom to help their opioid addiction only found themselves becoming addicted to kratom. Experts suggest not using it as a substitute for proper drug treatment, especially with opioids.
Some may find themselves dealing with a kratom addiction, whether they began using it to lessen their opioid misuse or by other means. No matter how one becomes addicted to kratom, the fact that there isn’t much-researched information on the substance can make this a frightening experience. While people are still seeking treatment for kratom addiction, the best treatment process is similar to other drug treatments — overseen by a medical professional.
If withdrawing from kratom, you might prefer detoxing at a professional detox facility where you’re monitored by trained medical staff and provided medical treatment. Some withdrawal symptoms like increased blood pressure could pose a medical risk, and a professional detox facility could make you more comfortable and increase your chances of complete recovery from the process of withdrawal.
Learn More About Kratom and Ask Questions
- Kratom is a Southeast Asian tropical tree with psychotropic leaves.
- Kratom is currently legal, and you can order it online or get it at a local headshop.
- Most individuals take kratom as a capsule or pill. Some chew its leaves or brew tea with the powdered or dried leaves. You can eat it in food or smoke it. Mitragynine and 7-a-hydroxymitragynine, the two compounds in the leaves of kratom, interact with the brain’s opioid receptors and produce pleasure, sedation and decreased pain.
- Mitragynine may also interact with your brain’s other receptor systems, producing stimulant effects.
- Kratom’s reported health effects include sweating, nausea, psychotic symptoms and seizures.
- Some users become addicted to the drug.
- Commercial forms of kratom may lace with other substances that have led to deaths.
- Medications and behavioral therapies haven’t been tested specifically for kratom addiction treatment.
But, does kratom have value as a medicine?
Some individuals have used the drug in recent years as an herbal alternative to traditional treatment for controlling cravings and withdrawal symptoms opioid addiction causes or to other addictive substances like alcohol. There is no scientific proof kratom is safe or effective for this purpose, and researchers need to study it more.
Contact AppleGate Recovery Treatment Centers for Help
If you are struggling with opioid addiction, contact us and let us help you get your life back. AppleGate Recovery Treatment Centers, a BayMark Health Services Company, offers outpatient medicine-assisted treatment for opioid addiction with buprenorphine and methadone.
We also provide case management, community resource referrals, substance abuse counseling and other supportive services to support our evidence-based treatment and help you reclaim your life.