Kratom Abuse, Addiction and the Available Treatment Options in WA State

Kratom addiction and abuse have become a growing problem in Washington State. People who become addicted to it should strongly consider going to detox and/or rehab to get help. Otherwise, it can be almost impossible to stop using it on one’s own.

This herbal supplement has been championed by a surprising number of people in the alternative medicine community. These individuals believe that it is the future of non-addictive pain relief. Some even think that it may hold the key to treating opioid addiction. But Kratom is not a benign substance on its own. It can be dangerous, and it is important to know the risks of using it.

The right treatment program can help people get off Kratom and embrace living clean and sober. We want to make sure people understand the side effects and both the short and long-term effects of this drug. We also want people to understand what to look for in a rehab center.

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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
  • Biak-biak
  • Ketum
  • Kahuam
  • Kakuam
  • Biak
  • Thang
  • Ithang
  • Thom

A few of the most popular kratom brands according to KratomGuides.com include:

  • SacredKratom
  • KratomSpot
  • Super Natural Botanical
  • PurKratom

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.

In late August of 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced that it planned on categorizing kratom as a Schedule I substance, thereby subjecting it to the same standards of drugs like heroin.

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:

  • Sedation
  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness 

At lower dosages, it actually tends to have the opposite affect and produces symptoms similar to stimulants like:

  • Increased alertness
  • Boosted physical energy
  • Talkativeness
  • Restlessness

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.

They include:

  • Nausea
  • Itching
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Increased urination
  • Tachycardia (abnormally rapid heart rate)
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anorexia
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Hepatotoxicity (significant damage to the liver)
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

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:

  • Delusion
  • Confusion
  • Tremor
  • Weight loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Anorexia
  • Seizures

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.

The Scope of Kratom Abuse in Washington State

In 2018, the Washington State Department of Health announced that people should not consume Kratom in any form. The reason they cited was possible salmonella contamination.

Three people had been impacted because of the outbreak, and there were concerns in 26 other states.

Many states are considering banning Kratom and for good reason. The CDC reports:

  • Between 2011 and 2017, the national poison center reported 1,807 calls regarding Kratom exposure.
  • Of the 27,338 overdose deaths that took place between July 2016 and December 2017, 152 of them tested positive for Kratom.
  • Medical examiners determined Kratom to be a cause of death for 91 of them.
  • Among these cases, 7 of them tested positive for Kratom and no other drug.
  • In 80% of these cases, the deceased had a history of substance abuse.
  • 90% of the people who died had no evidence that they were being medically supervised for pain treatment.

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
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Aggression
  • 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:

  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • 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.

What Type of Treatment is Needed for Kratom Addiction?

When a person is addicted to Kratom, they tend to not take it as seriously as they would if they were addicted to heroin. This might not be the most potent drug on the market, but it is one that can lead to an addiction. Stopping its use will lead to withdrawal symptoms, which can become quite severe.

One Kratom addict took to Reddit to describe what she was experiencing. She says, “One day I decided to quit cold turkey. I went to the doctor and they prescribed some meds that were supposed to help. The horrible feeling in my body just built up more and more all day. That night I was hanging on by a thread. I just wanted to take Kratom so bad because I knew the suffering I was going through. I was rolling around on my bed sweating and shaking and thrashing around. I had the worst restless leg syndrome I’ve ever had in my life.”

This person ended up giving in and taking a dose of Kratom just to get some relief. That is exactly how this drug works. This is why it is so important to get treatment and support. It truly may be the only way people are able to get off it.

Medical detox will most likely be recommended for anyone who is going through Kratom withdrawal. Because this is a drug that acts on the opioid receptors in the body, opioid replacement therapy may be effective. This involves giving the individual medications like Methadone or Suboxone to get off the drug.

But there is a lot of controversy surrounding the claim that Kratom is an opioid. Other medications can be helpful for withdrawal as well, and they may be given instead of ORT. Detoxing should only ever be done on an inpatient basis.

But it is not enough to simply detox off the drug. Everyone who is addicted to Kratom should transition into a quality drug rehab facility once detoxification has been done. It is critical to understand the reasons behind the addiction. Otherwise, and if this is ignored, the person is very likely to go back to using it again.

Many people with Kratom addictions are suffering from co-occurring disorders. In fact, they are why they started using the drug in the first place. Depression and anxiety are two common mental health conditions that people will use it to self-medicate. Also, many of these individuals have never had their mental illnesses diagnosed professionally.

Drug rehab allows people to understand why they started using substances like Kratom. Once they know, they can get treatment for the underlying cause of their addictions. This is such an important step and it should never be skipped.

Our Outpatient Addiction Recovery Program in Washington State

At Northpoint the Evergreen, we have one of the most celebrated outpatient rehab programs in the state. We have two locations in Seattle and Bellevue to help us better serve our clients.

Our program consists of three levels of care. We offer an excellent intensive outpatient treatment program, partial hospitalization, and traditional outpatient rehab. All of our clients are carefully assessed prior to admission to determine what level of care they need.

Learn More About Kratom Addiction, Abuse and Recovery

Once a person gets addicted to Kratom, getting off it can be a challenge. But that does not mean it is impossible. At Northpoint the Evergreen, we are here to support you as you work toward getting from this addiction.

Would you like to know more about Kratom and its effects on the mind and body? Do you need information about our treatment program? Please contact us today.

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