Kratom is a substance that’s widely available in smoke shops throughout the U.S. While the drug can mimic the effects of stimulants when consumed in low doses, it produces sedative effects similar to opioids when taken in higher doses. Researchers still don’t understand how it can simultaneously cause the effects of a depressant and stimulant, but research is being done every day to learn more about them.

Traditionally, kratom has been used by farmers to boost energy and relieve stress.

More recently, the drug has received national attention about its ability to manage chronic pain and fibromyalgia. Many people use kratom as an alternative to more powerful narcotics, such as Vicodin or Percocet. It’s also viewed as a more natural herbal approach to pain relief, but it’s been met with ethical pushback about its effectiveness.

Reportedly, a woman gave birth to a newborn dealing with withdrawal symptoms similar to opioid addiction, but she denied opioid use. Over 30 hours after she gave birth, the baby was still showing signs of withdrawal. The medical team asked if she would take a drug test, which she passed. Later, she admitted to drinking kratom tea every day to help her sleep and relieve her opioid withdrawal symptoms.

This story highlights a more prevalent trend among pregnant women seeking alternatives to opioid painkillers. Unfortunately, opioid use has recently spiked among pregnant women, so there’s been a corresponding influx of women giving birth to opioid-addicted babies. Since some women live with chronic pain symptoms and require pain relief, kratom is seen as a happy medium and a safer alternative to opioids.

As of February 2018, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officially classified the components in kratom as opioids. These findings are based on a computer analysis that shows receptors in the brain activated by kratom only responded to opioid consumption. Kratom has caused its fair share of controversies, and it’s still sold as an alternative for coping with opiate withdrawal. The problem is that you’re essentially trading one addiction for another.

What is Kratom?

Kratom is a naturally occurring plant that grows on trees in the tropical rainforests of Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Indonesia. Originally, farmers chewed the leaves of the plant to manage pain from rigorous labor in the fields. It slowly gained popularity, due to the medicinal benefits it offered. It’s available in many different forms, such as:

  • Teas
  • Juices
  • Tablets
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Powders

After rigorous testing by government agencies, kratom has been officially labeled as an opioid. Kratom binds to opioid receptors in the brain, blocks the pain, and produces euphoric effects that are similar to morphine. However, it differs from other opiates, as it provides stimulating properties when it’s consumed in low doses. Specifically, it can increase energy and alertness, and these effects can last up to five hours.

Due to a lack of thorough research, several questions are answered, including why it gives off  opposite effects, depending on the dose. However, testing on mice in 2013 showed kratom’s effects are13 times stronger than morphine. This study highlights the potency of a substance that children can produce at a gas station.

What are the Signs of Kratom Addiction?

Kratom and opioids create similar reactions in the human body. Extended use of either drug will alter the brain chemistry and create a tolerance, which is characterized by needing to take a larger dose to achieve the original effects. Eventually, tolerance can lead to a chemical dependence, then addiction.

The physical symptoms of kratom abuse include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anorexia
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Aches
  • Irritability

The behavioral signs associated with kratom use are:

  • Mood swings
  • Lack of motivation
  • Isolation
  • Inability to stop using it, despite multiple attempts
  • Hiding abuse
  • Increasingly risky behavior

What’s Involved in Treatment for Kratom Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease, and the subsequent treatment is comprised of a continuum of care. In most cases, treatment starts with medical detoxification.

The objective of detox is to manage the risks that stem from withdrawal. Since there’s limited research about the effects of kratom, attending treatment is the safest option, as it will give you’ a better chance at long-term sobriety.

The next stage of care is contingent on many factors. It could take place onsite at a residential treatment center or an outpatient center. Some factors include co-occurring disorders and the severity of the addiction.

Treatment will give you access to several types of therapy that help you cope with triggers, such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Addiction education
  • Family counseling
  • 12-step support programs

Kratom Abuse Statistics

  • Reportedly, 70% of the male population in Southern Thailand uses kratom.
  • In 2017, at least 44 deaths were related to the use of kratom.
  • 80% of users couldn’t stop using kratom on their own.
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