Depending on whom you ask, kratom is either a godsend in the battle against opioid addiction or a poison every bit as harmful as an illicit drug.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) placed kratom on its Drugs of Concern list, which is reserved for substances not currently regulated by the Controlled Substances Act but pose risks to people who abuse them.
In 2019, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that kratom claimed nearly 100 lives through overdose in the U.S. from July 2016 to December 2017.
Federal regulatory authorities have dismissed claims that kratom is safe as an opioid addiction treatment drug. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued this statement in 2017 that further established his organization’s staunch opposition to the plant as an opioid treatment medication.
Yet, there are nearly 5 million users in the U.S., according to the pro-kratom, advocacy group, the American Kratom Association.
There is also anecdotal evidence that kratom has helped users kick opioids. For instance, a North Carolina woman told the Washington Post that after trying kratom for several months, she had not used heroin since.
Another man who turned to kratom for his pain, anxiety, and depression said that by his third use, his pain lessened, his mood brightened, and “his energy surged.”
“I feel like I have gotten my life back,” he said, according to that Washington Post report.
However, that same article profiled the mother of a 27-year-old man who died from the toxic effects of kratom. He began using the plant in place of his heroin treatment medication.
“If kratom hadn’t killed him, he’d be alive and sober,” she said. “It was like someone ran a red light and killed him.”
Whatever the case, kratom has the potential to enact harmful effects, especially when it is misused. Research indicates that it also can generate harmful withdrawal effects.
Read on to learn more about this controversial and enigmatic substance.
What Is Kratom?
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is an actual tree native to Southeast Asia. Its leaves have mind-altering effects, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). This naturally occurring substance has the uncanny ability to mimic the effects of opioids and stimulants.
The two compounds in kratom — mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine — interact with opioid receptors in the brain. This action produces feelings of sedation and euphoria while generating the sensation of decreased pain states NIDA.
The mitragynine component also interacts with other receptors in the brain to set off stimulant effects.
Kratom can be ingested in a variety of ways. According to Healthline, kratom’s dark green leaves are either dried, crushed, or powdered. It can be brewed as a tea and is also made available in capsule, paste, and tablet form.
People use kratom to help them with a variety of conditions like chronic pain, digestive problems, and opioid withdrawal.
It is also used in a recreational fashion for its euphoric and sedative-inducing properties.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), a few grams of dried kratom leaves are enough to induce stimulant and euphoric effects, which can begin within 10 minutes of use and last up to one and a half hours. The EMCDDA also reports that regular and addicted persons will chew kratom leaves between three and 10 times a day.
Users report experiencing sensations like giddiness, reduced motor coordination, sociability, and alertness, says Healthline.
Not much is known about the plant’s exact mechanism of action. Yet, its use can produce dangerous side effects.
Kratom Side Effects
Harmful side effects can occur from kratom use, including:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Increased urination
NIDA says some people have reported psychosis symptoms from kratom use.
Kratom Withdrawal Symptoms
When someone is in withdrawal from any substance, it usually means they have become dependent or used to having that thing in their body. It also means that once the substance leaves the system, withdrawal symptoms ensue.
According to NIDA, these withdrawal symptoms have been reported with kratom:
- Muscle aches
- Difficulty sleeping
- Emotional changes
- Jerky movements
- Runny nose
Kratom Withdrawal Timeline
Withdrawal from any substance impacts individuals differently. Several factors can determine how kratom withdrawal occurs and how long it lasts.
Those factors include:
- A person’s substance abuse history
- The length of time kratom has been used
- The amount of kratom used
- Whether that person has a mental health issue or some other co-occurring disorder
- A person’s physical health
- How kratom was ingested (in tablet, powder or tea form)
- Was kratom abused with other substances like alcohol or drugs
Despite those factors, there is a general timeline for kratom withdrawal. That timeline looks like the following:
Day 1: Around 12 hours after last use, a person in withdrawal will likely experience depression, anxiety, and nausea, along with flu-like symptoms.
Days 2-3: This withdrawal phase is where the most intense and uncomfortable symptoms manifest. The cravings for kratom will not only intensify, but a user may likely experience physical and psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression, mood swings, headaches, and body aches.
Days 4-6: At this juncture, many withdrawal symptoms will subside, especially the physical ones. However, the psychological effects may continue to linger, like kratom cravings and depression.
Day 7 and beyond: After a week, the majority of the physical withdrawal symptoms should diminish completely. Nevertheless, psychological symptoms may remain in some form.
Why Detox Is Necessary?
There is evidence that kratom can exert significant psychological dependence and addiction. Thus, someone who seeks to rid themselves of the drug can relapse due to those compelling symptoms.
This threat is why a professional treatment program that begins with a medically supervised detox is vital.
In medical detox, a team of doctors, nurses, and other medical staff will safely remove the kratom and other toxins from your body. They will also treat the withdrawal symptoms that arise, which ensures a safe and comfortable process.
It’s worth noting that a “cold-turkey” detox off kratom can be risky, leaving users prone to relapse and enduring health problems. Overdose with kratom is certainly possible.
Kratom overdose is not deadly when the person has exclusively taken the plant. However, deaths have occurred when kratom was ingested with other substances like alcohol, caffeine, cocaine, benzodiazepines, fentanyl, and diphenhydramine, NIDA says.
Kratom Withdrawal Treatment
The goal of detox is to rid you of the immediate effects of dependency or addiction while helping you achieve stabilization. The treatment component addresses the vital, psychological reasons behind your kratom use.
Treatment for this substance will involve behavioral therapy, which encompasses an array of approaches aimed at changing detrimental thoughts and behaviors. Such approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) have been proven to treat the root causes of addiction.
These approaches are offered in a residential treatment or outpatient program setting. If you abuse kratom with other substances or your case is deemed severe, you may be recommended for residential treatment services. In this type of program, you will receive treatment and live at a facility that offers full-time therapy and care. Residential offers clients around-the-clock care. It also offers a distraction-free environment so clients can concentrate on the goal of recovery.
Outpatient treatment is usually recommended for people with milder cases of kratom dependence or addiction. Outpatient programs provide clients to receive therapy and care while allowing them to live independently.