Kratom Abuse and Addiction: An Herbal Supplement with A Dangerous Side
Kratom is championed by a surprising number of members of the alternative medicine community.
Many believe that it is the future of non-addictive pain relief and may even hold the key to treating opioid addiction once and for all.
But the truth is, kratom abuse and addiction can actually be incredibly dangerous on their own. Here’s what you need to know about this deceptively dangerous herbal supplement.
What Is Kratom?
Kratom is a term usually used to refer to the leaves of the Mitragyna speciose, a tree native to Southeast Asia and Thailand, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia. It belongs to the Rubiaceae family which also includes coffee and gardenia.
The kratom leaf has a long history of use in its native region and has recently grown in popularity in the west for its similarity to opioids as well as its stimulant effects.
Some of its most common uses according to Drugs.com are to provide muscle pain relief, treat diarrhea, reduce the severity of opiate withdrawals and addiction, and even to help sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Given its relatively recent surge in use in the west, there hasn’t actually been too much research conducted on the drug. In fact, more than half of the scientific literature on the substance is from after 2012.
What is known though is that continued abuse of this substance has been shown to result in dependency and addiction in some individuals and, as a result, can become especially dangerous when used inappropriately.
How Is Kratom Consumed?
Methods of consuming and administering kratom are pretty basic compared to other substances which are often injected, snorted, dissolved, or inhaled. With kratom, people typically tend to chew the leaves themselves or drink powdered or dried leaves in a tea.
That being said, kratom’s rise in popularity has also helped spur retailers to package the substance in a more easily consumable form. As such, you can also find kratom in the form of capsules, tablets, liquids, and even gums and resins.
Some users may smoke the dried leaves but generally most people agree that it diminishes the drug’s effect and is by and large a more painful way of ingesting kratom.
Kratom’s effects are similar to those of opioids, though to a much milder degree. It produces pleasure, sedation, and decreased pain when taken at higher levels and, paradoxically, increased energy, alertness, and sociability at lower levels.
Kratom interacts with the brain due to its interactions with two of the plant’s chemical compounds: mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. These chemicals activate the opioid receptors in the brain to produce the sedative and euphoric effects typical of other opioids like heroin, fentanyl, and hydromorphone.
However, mitragynine also appears to interact with other systems in the brain besides opioid receptors. Certain serotonin and adrenergic receptors may be impacted by this chemical and could result in the stimulant effects experienced in low doses.
As with most chemicals that directly affect the brain’s natural processes, continual kratom use and abuse has been shown to cause dependence and actual addiction. As these behaviors increase in frequency, the risk of developing a kratom use disorder rises even higher.
While kratom is still relatively new in the world of recreational drugs, it’s already earned itself quite a following. As such, the drug lexicon has also expanded to incorporate it.
Some of the most popular street names of kratom according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) include:
- Herbal Speedball
A few of the most popular kratom brands according to KratomGuides.com include:
- Super Natural Botanical
Kratom’s Legality Up in The Air
As it stands today, kratom is currently not a scheduled substance under the Controlled Substance Act. It is therefore entirely legal to give, trade, sell, and consume kratom.
However, in its short time in the limelight, kratom’s legality has been called into question several times. In 2014, for example, the F.D.A banned its import into the United States under the suspicion it may not be safely used as a dietary supplement.
The ban still stands today. In 2016, the U.S. Marshals seized 90,000 bottles of a beverage containing kratom at the behest of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The seizure was valued at over $400,000.
The crux of the matter seems to rest on how a kratom product is marketed. If it is sold as a product that is intended for human consumption (as it really is), then the F.D.A. is within its jurisdiction to seize such a product until the potential for serious harm is ruled out entirely.
However, the emergency scheduling was withdrawn on October 13th, 2016 due to an enormous public outcry that caused the DEA to reconsider their position and call for more public comments to help them evaluate the issue.
In the six-week comment period following the announcement they received over 23,000 comments, many of which supported maintaining access to the drug. As of now, kratom is still legal in the eyes of the DEA, though its status as an herbal supplement is still being questioned by the F.D.A.
Proponents of using kratom point to its potential benefit in being used in treating opioid addiction and withdrawals, the symptoms of which can be especially troublesome and unbearable.
Cold sweats, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, muscle aches, cramping, and vomiting are all par for the course when it comes to opioid withdrawals. The symptoms can be so severe that many addicts fall back into using again simply to find relief from the excruciating effects of detoxing.
The reason for these symptoms is that the body’s opioid receptors are used to being stimulated. Without opioids in the bloodstream though, your nerve cells go through a range of detrimental effects because of their absence.
Some people have found that using kratom can actually help reduce the severity of these symptoms since it also acts directly on the body’s opioid receptors, though to a much lesser degree.
And when you consider the gravity of the opioid epidemic our country is in the middle of today, it seems like we should be using every tool we have to combat this deadly problem.
However, kratom may not be as harmless as some people think. In fact, while it has been used to make opioid withdrawals a bit more bearable, some people have found that its use during recovery can actually be the main factor in relapsing.
The high that it creates may, in a sense, whet the appetite of a recovering addict and function as a gateway drug of sorts back into the lifestyle they may have been trying to turn away from in the first place.
As a result, it’s advisable that you seek out professional help if you are dealing with an opioid addiction rather than using this potentially disastrous substance.
Kratom produces a number of effects when it is abused. At higher dosages, it mimics the effects of opioids with symptoms such as:
At lower dosages, it actually tends to have the opposite affect and produces symptoms similar to stimulants like:
- Increased alertness
- Boosted physical energy
While these effects by themselves may not seem too worthy of concern, the DEA points out that there are a number of other short-term effects that make kratom abuse seem not quite as harmless.
- Dry mouth
- Increased urination
- Tachycardia (abnormally rapid heart rate)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Hepatotoxicity (significant damage to the liver)
While the short-term benefits of using this drug may seem attractive at first then, the additional dangerous side effects should be enough to steer most people away from this damaging drug.
As kratom has only recently become a subject of study in the field of addiction research, not a lot is known about its true long-term effects and, more importantly, the extent to which it can lead to permanent damage.
However, long-term chronic use of the plant’s active chemical (mitragynine) has been documented as causing several potentially dangerous side effects including:
- Weight loss
As mentioned before though, it’s worth remembering that this substance is still relatively new and as the research expands and continues, these symptoms may end up being attributable to another factor in the documented cases rather than the kratom itself.
That being said, kratom does share a very real danger with many other street drugs on the market today, namely whether or not the drug has a high level of purity or if it’s mixed with other, undisclosed substances.
Like many drugs used in the “club” scene, kratom may contain a variety of “fillers” or even compounds that might mimic the intended effects of the drug. The danger comes from both not knowing what these other chemicals might be as well as the potentially harmful drug interactions that may come about as a result.
In fact, one study found that a whopping 60% of herbal products contained substances that weren’t listed on the label. What’s more, almost one third of the tested products actually switched out its main ingredient for a different product. And finally, one fifth of these products contained fillers like wheat, soybeans, and rice as well.
It seems clear, then, that you never quite know what you’re going to get with kratom, or any other drug for that matter.
Is Kratom Really Addictive?
Despite what some kratom proponents may claim, this substance is in fact addictive. The DEA points out that some studies have shown that users who had been taking kratom for years exhibited signs of withdrawal, one of the hallmarks of physical dependency and addiction.
However, while some studies do in fact point to the potential for addiction, the number of corroborating studies are few and far between. What’s more, the actual severity of kratom addiction is another topic that has yet to be investigated to a satisfying degree.
What is important to realize, however, is that even when a substance is shown to not have any risk of developing a physical dependency, it is still possible to become addicted to it.
Addiction is a set of compulsive drug-seeking behaviors, not necessarily just a physical dependency. Many hallucinogenic substances, for example, typically don’t carry the risk of physical dependence but they can still become quite addictive.
As such, don’t get too hung up on the dependence side of addiction. Often times it’s the psychological aspects that can actually be the most difficult to overcome.
Symptoms of Kratom Withdrawal
While the research is still out on just how severe the risk of physical dependence on kratom can be, there have been a number of cases reported where individuals experienced symptoms of withdrawal from the drug.
As pointed out by NIDA, these symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Emotional changes
- Runny nose
- Jerky movements
As kratom is still relatively new to the medical community, not much research exists on the full effects of kratom, including the effects of using too much of this drug.
However, there have been a number of especially hazardous side effects in individuals who were using kratom at the time and these may be indicative of the symptoms of kratom overdose.
Some of the most notable side effects according to include:
- Extreme sedation
- Depressed respiration
Kratom has also been associated with at a small number of deaths, though they may have been caused by an interaction with other drugs rather than by kratom itself. Regardless of the cause though, kratom can be quite dangerous by itself judging by the above symptoms.
Kratom: A Not-So-Harmless Herbal Supplement
Though kratom may be championed by the alternative medicine community, the side effects of abusing this drug along with its potential for addiction make it one substance not worth trying.
What’s more, as a supplement that isn’t currently regulated by any federal agencies, the potential toxicity of these drugs can’t be ignored entirely.
If you think you may have a kratom addiction, get the help you need today. Your life just may depend on it.