Controversy remains over whether Kratom should be used or if it is even safe to use. The government sees it as an unregulated opioid that offers no medical use while users and supporters say it is an herbal pain reliever that can treat a range of ailments, from body aches to opioid withdrawals. Whichever side of the fence people are on about the herbal supplement, there’s evidence that regular use can lead to dependence or a psychological addiction that can be difficult to end.
Kratom, scientifically known as Mitragyna speciosa, is an herbal plant native to Southeast Asia that has been used in traditional medicine in that region.
Kratom leaves, which come from a tropical evergreen tree, are chewed, crushed, smoked, or boiled as a tea. The stimulant and pain reliever also can be ingested as a liquid or an extract, or taken as a capsule or tablet.
Kratom is used to treat a wide range of ailments—from carpal tunnel and back pain to more serious medical conditions such as opioid withdrawal to those who are managing anxiety and depression.
Federal officials started to pay closer attention to kratom in 2016. That was the year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noticed more shipments coming into the United States that either were kratom or contained the ingredient kratom in products’ makeup. In November 2017, the FDA sent out a public health advisory that expressed concern about the risks associated with the substance.
Once kratom is in the body, it binds to the delta opioid receptors in the brain, instead of the mu opioid receptor, as other opioids do. As a stimulant, kratom elevates users’ moods and decreases anxiety as the brain is flooded with dopamine and serotonin.
Some sources say it’s safe to take in low doses. HealthLine reports that when low doses are taken, kratom’s stimulant effects make users feel more alert and have more energy. They also may make users appear more sociable and giddy. There may be reduced motor coordination, however.
But even at small doses, kratom has the potential to become habit-forming and high doses taken over time can lead to users developing a high tolerance for it. Larger kratom doses work as a sedative and make users feel euphoria and numb to their emotions and sensations. Consuming large amounts of it over a period of time can lead to addiction.
There are advocacy groups such as the American Kratom Association that view the plant as a natural botanical capable of helping people achieve improved health and well-being. According to the group’s site, “Kratom is a natural analgesic which has been used for hundreds of years to safely alleviate pain, combat fatigue and help with the effects of anxiety and depression.”
Some research asserts kratom’s usefulness in a variety of settings. One such study indicates that kratom “may be useful for analgesia, mood elevation, anxiety reduction, and may aid opioid withdrawal management.”
However, there are a number of parties, including federal regulatory bodies that vehemently object to its use. The FDA has issued warnings about the plant, asserting that its use poses serious risks, effectively rejecting claims that it can treat or cure opioid addiction. In 2019, the FDA warned two companies for making unproven claims about kratom’s benefits, states this USA Today report.
What’s more, it has been reported that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has considered classifying kratom as a Schedule I controlled substance, the strictest classification for substances, right alongside notoriously illicit drugs like heroin, ecstasy, and peyote.
Kratom addiction is not as common as some others, but people’s behavioral and mental health can change as a result of chronic use. If you or someone you know is abusing Kratom, they may exhibit symptoms such as:
Kratom addiction can happen quickly, so the signs and symptoms listed above can take place right after someone has used the substance. A sure sign of dependence is if the person exhibits changes in how they think, feel, and behave when kratom use stops. If so, then it is quite likely that withdrawal has started because the effects of the substance have gradually worn off.
According to Verywell Mind, kratom withdrawal symptoms may include:
People who want to end their kratom use may find it difficult to do on their own. If this is the case, professional drug rehabilitation treatment is the next step. When addiction treatment begins, expect a medical detox, which is typically the initial step.
This procedure rids the body of kratom and any other substances used. Withdrawal can be uncomfortable as well as unpredictable, so detoxing from the substance in the care of addiction specialists and medical professionals ensures you are kept safe. The 24/7 process is monitored by medical staff and can last anywhere from three to 10 days. If needed, medications are given to recovering substance users to affect any ailments that accompany withdrawal.
Once the detox period ends, customized treatment options are recommended based on the client’s initial evaluation. These recommendations are given to ensure that recovery is successful. Recovery programs generally fall into two categories —inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment.
Inpatient programs usually run 30 to 90 days and require the person in recovery to stay on site at a residential facility during that time. For this reason, some facilities may call these programs residential treatment. This treatment setting requires a closer look into addiction and the reasons people abuse substances.
An inpatient program is ideal for people with moderate-to-severe addictions because it allows time away from drugs and alcohol, as well as any triggering factors that would lead one to use them. People who enter this treatment environment are given the tools they need to cope without using drugs and the strategies of how to live in sobriety once they leave the center.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is commonly used in addiction treatment as it guides people to look deeper into their thoughts and feelings that influence them to use drugs. The therapy aims to help break those negative patterns in thinking, feeling, and doing so that clients make better choices.
Inpatient often is followed by an outpatient program, which offers a minimum of nine hours a week of therapy. People with mild kratom addictions or those in the early stages of it may want to consider an outpatient program.
Outpatient programs are also beneficial to people in recovery who need help as they rejoin society. The transition period can move along smoother with help from a supportive network that understands the challenges of entering the world again after addressing addiction in treatment. Clients in this position also can find support in sober homes and other kinds of transitional housing that promotes sobriety.
Recovering kratom users may also want to consider attending 12-step meetings, joining a support group, or continuing individual therapy. All of these will increase the chances of kratom users having a successful recovery.
According to the FDA, kratom is the source of significant health concerns despite claims of the plant’s healing properties. Among them is that kratom can cause toxicity in multiple organ systems and that consuming it can lead to health problems.
In its 2017 statement, the federal agency claims that kratom calls made to U.S. poison control centers increase 10-fold from 2010 to 2015, with hundreds of calls made each year. It also says it has been made aware of 36 deaths that were reportedly linked to products made with kratom.
Kratom users are also warned that products containing the supplement have been laced with other opioids such as hydrocodone, which is more commonly known as Vicodin. “The use of kratom is also associated with serious side effects like seizures, liver damage, and withdrawal symptoms,” the FDA writes.
The statement also addresses claims that kratom can help people with physical and mental health conditions.
“The FDA knows people are using kratom to treat conditions like pain, anxiety, and depression, which are serious medical conditions that require proper diagnosis and oversight from a licensed health care provider. We also know that this substance is being actively marketed and distributed for these purposes. Importantly, evidence shows that kratom has similar effects to narcotics like opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse, addiction, and in some cases, death.”
The agency also goes on to warn about kratom abuse and appears particularly concerned about using kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms. “At a time when we have hit a critical point in the opioid epidemic, the increasing use of kratom as an alternative or adjunct to opioid use is extremely concerning. It’s very troubling to the FDA that patients believe they can use kratom to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms,” it writes.
“There is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder. Patients addicted to opioids are using kratom without dependable instructions for use and more importantly, without consultation with a licensed health care provider about the product’s dangers, potential side effects or interactions with other drugs.”
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