Kratom is a tree native to Southeast Asia and a central nervous system stimulant that people use to boost physical and mental energy. As the drug appears more frequently in gas stations, health food stores, and online marketplaces across the US, it is crucial we understand the potential benefits of kratom use, but also its drawbacks and high risk of addiction.
What is Kratom and Where Did it Come From?
Kratom leaves contain psychoactive compounds that act on opioid receptors in the brain to promote stimulant and pain-relieving effects. The type of effect users experience depends on how much of the drug is consumed. When people take lower doses of kratom, they may feel more alert, talkative, and energized. At high doses, people might feel more of its sedative effects, which many people use to self-treat their opioid use disorder.
Kratom use dates back to the 1800s when it was used by laborers in Southeast Asia to sustain energy throughout the day and relieve pain associated with the demands of their job. They would chew the bitter leaves, mix them into tea, or grind them into a powder. Kratom is ingrained in the region’s culture as some women use the substance as a household remedy for fevers, coughs, and anxiety. Men often consume kratom as a drink during social gatherings as a way to unwind. Although the drug can be habit-forming, there is far less stigma attached to kratom than alcohol in countries like Malaysia and Thailand.
Over the last two decades, the US has seen a jump in kratom availability as well as usage. An estimated 10 to 16 million adults in America consume kratom regularly. Some experts believe the sudden popularity could be attributed to people’s interest in seeking natural alternatives for pain management and opioid withdrawal. The FDA does not currently regulate the drug under the Controlled Substances Act, so it is up to the states to regulate kratom.
Why Do People Use Kratom?
Many individuals turn to kratom as a holistic alternative to manage chronic pain, seeking relief from conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, or back pain. Some kratom supporters believe it can treat other physical and mental health ailments including opiate and alcohol cravings, low sex drive, and symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Research for kratom is still in its early stages and is by no means “safe” or approved for medical use.
While some people have reported positive experiences with kratom, its use, and effects can vary among individuals. Each person’s reaction is different which is why it’s important to consider potential risks and side effects associated with kratom before using. Some of the negative implications of kratom use may include:
- Appetite loss
- Dry mouth
- Liver damage
What Are the Different Forms and Strains?
Kratom comes in powder, and capsules, and can be brewed into tea. More recently, “K shots” have been seen on the shelves of some retailers. These products have highly concentrated amounts of kratom extract and are supposedly similar to energy drinks.
On top of this, kratom is also available in various strains, each with its own unique physical and psychological effects. Different strains of kratom are produced based on how the trees are grown and when the leaves are harvested. The most common strains are red, white, and green kratom. Some people claim that red kratom has more calming and soothing properties while white kratom is used for its energizing effect. Green kratom is considered a middle ground between the two other strains.
Since the kratom industry lacks standardized regulations, this means that the quality, potency, and purity of products can vary significantly between different strains and vendors. We don’t have enough concrete knowledge about the effects of different strains, so it is challenging for people to make educated decisions when it comes to use.
Is Kratom Legal?
Kratom’s legality is a controversial topic as it has not been regulated on a federal level. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned consumers not to use kratom because it affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine and carries the risk of addiction, abuse, and dependence.
The lack of regulation opens the doors to kratom products being contaminated with other drugs and quality issues. The Kratom Consumer Protection Act or KCPA, is a bill that was created to protect users in the industry, requiring vendors to follow specific safety guidelines and good manufacturing practices. The KCPA prohibits the sale of kratom to minors, bans dangerous substances that can alter the strength or quality of the kratom in a way that could harm the customer, and more.
Currently, only four states – Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Utah – have passed the KCPA. A few states have banned the drug entirely while others have left it unregulated. As the FDA continues to research this drug, it is important to spread awareness about kratom and explore all possible side effects.
Can Kratom Be Used to Manage Opioid Addiction?
While some people have substituted kratom for opioids and seen success, there are also alarming reports of people struggling with the negative effects of kratom on their families, relationships, finances, and mental health.
Jana Wu, Director of Cultural Integration, shares, “Several clients have reported that while kratom initially ‘helped’ them manage opioid cravings, their tolerance increased to a problematic level. This kratom abuse affected their daily living, with some stealing thousands of dollars to support their regular use, missing work, and making choices they would otherwise not make had they not been under the influence of this substance.”
If you are experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms, it is important to seek professional help. There are FDA-approved medications that can help to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse.
Why Can the Drug Be Dangerous?
Kratom may cause liver damage, respiratory depression, seizures, and even fatalities. Additionally, the herbal supplement is not regulated or standardized, leading to inconsistencies in potency and purity. Not to mention, the effects of kratom can be unpredictable so it can be challenging for users to know the kind of reaction they will experience.
It is rare to overdose on kratom on its own. According to the CDC, there were 91 fatalities resulting from kratom overdose in 2016–2017 throughout 27 states in the United States. In 84 of these 91 cases, other substances were also involved, with fentanyl being the most common.
One of the primary concerns of kratom is its addictive nature. Since the herbal substance acts similarly to opioids, prolonged and excessive use of kratom can result in physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and addiction. Individuals who develop a dependence on kratom may experience cravings, insomnia, anxiety, and irritability when attempting to quit or reduce their usage.
Kratom Addiction Treatment
For individuals with a lower level of dependence on kratom, undergoing detoxification may not be necessary. However, others may benefit from a medically supervised detox, which ensures a withdrawal process that is both safe and more manageable. Withdrawal from kratom shares similarities with the withdrawal process associated with opioid drugs, so providers may prescribe buprenorphine to manage uncomfortable symptoms and decrease cravings.
To maintain long-term recovery, it is suggested that you transition to a residential treatment program. Clinical counseling can help you identify and change self-destructive attitudes and behaviors, particularly those that lead to drug use. A therapist can work with you to help you cope with cravings, avoid substances, and prevent relapse.
Those who relied on kratom to relieve pain, stress, or mental health disorders, particularly as a “natural alternative” to traditional medicines, might benefit from wellness therapies. Mountainside offers qigong, acupuncture, and adventure-based therapies that can boost mental health and sustain long-term recovery. Clinicians will work with clients to find the most effective treatment plan that combines therapy and wellness practices.
Let’s Talk About Kratom
Join us on Tuesdays, starting 7/18 at 7 PM (ET) for a virtual support group and discussion about this trending herbal substance. It is a central nervous system stimulant that can be used to boost physical and mental energy, as well as for pain relief and with growing interest in kratom, it is crucial that we understand potential benefits, possible drawbacks, and potential risk of addiction for some individuals. Register & Join the Meeting