While the opioid epidemic rages on, we all have a story to share on how it’s affected our lives in one way or another. While the typical suspects such as heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone have shared the limelight, there have been other opiate-based substances emerging on the drug scene. These types of drugs give those with substance use disorders alternatives to achieving a high if they cannot physically obtain drugs like heroin or oxycodone. There are inherent dangers from these drugs in that we know nothing about them.
In specific cases such as kratom, where it has been used for more than half a century in countries like Thailand, information about its abuse is limited in the United States.
It has remained largely unregulated, and because of this, there is not a clear understanding of its dangers.
Between 2010 and 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saw an exponential spike in calls to poison control centers due to kratom exposure from 26 in 2010 to 263 in 2015. In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) collaborated and took an in-depth look into this problem. They want to see how dangerous this substance could be to the public’s health. This is a massive task in which the outcome could save lives.
Kratom grows from a tropical tree that is in the coffee family of flowering plants. It is native to Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Indonesia, and it is often used to boost energy as well as relieve pain.
Its actual name is Mitragyna speciosa. It was used by farmers who would chew the leaves of the plant to counteract the effects of hard labor.
As it grew in popularity for some of its medicinal benefits, it has become available in several forms such as:
Kratom is commonly referred to as an opioid because it works in the brain similarly to how other opioids do. It will bind itself to the brain’s opioid receptors and block pain. In turn, it will produce euphoric effects that typically occur with drugs like morphine. These effects can only be obtained through high doses. Where it differs from other opioids, however, is that in low doses, it acts as a stimulant. There will be an increase in energy and alertness similar to what you’d experience with caffeine. These can last anywhere from two to five hours depending on the person.
Kratom has been studied very little in pharmacology, so not much is known about how it works. There are unanswered questions about how it works as a stimulant and an opioid.
While no official studies have been released, testing done in 2013 showed that the effects were up to 13 times stronger than morphine when used in mice. These are staggering statistics when illustrating how powerful effects can come from drugs that are otherwise legal.
Kratom has been sought out by some who believe its properties could be useful in maintaining drug rehab. Kratom, or so they say, has the same potential as methadone or Suboxone to help alleviate the worst side effects from drug withdrawal. There are no studies adequately proving these theories, however. The adverse side effects have been documented more thoroughly than its healing properties.
Kratom is no different when it concerns how the body reacts to opioids. Prolonged use of the drug will alter the brain’s chemistry when the brain comes to expect regular doses of kratom. This, in turn, will lead to developing a dependence on kratom, which could lead to addiction. Individuals think kratom is safer because it is easy to obtain and unregulated, but that is simply not true. Physical signs tied to kratom addiction include:
There are other behavioral symptoms to look out for as well. These include but are not limited to:
If you or a loved one has been personally dealing with the effects listed above that pertain to kratom, it is a clear-cut sign of a growing dependence. It is imperative that you seek out treatment to prevent any further damage caused by kratom and minimize any long-term risks.
Dependency and addiction require treatment of the highest level to root out the cause of the problem and deal with it in a healthy and dignified manner. As the length and severity of the addiction linger on, the process of detox becomes more challenging to deal with on your own.
The purpose of medical detoxification is to alleviate the worst symptoms that can be attributed to kratom use, and help mitigate the risk of relapse. Medical detox is a plan designed to be long-term, which is why stopping any substance “cold turkey” is not a long-term solution nor a recommended one.
Not much is known about the kratom detox process, so that means it’s even riskier to attempt to withdraw from the substance on your own. You must seek out professional assistance that can determine the best route of treatment, based on what you’re experiencing, and if there are drugs that can be administered as a means to alleviate withdrawal symptoms safely. The information that is known is that it acts similar to an opioid, and the withdrawal symptoms linked to kratom are of similar nature. Some of what can be expected can include:
What we know about kratom and its relationship to opioids like morphine, kratom withdrawal can happen as early as 12 hours after the last use. Symptoms can peak about two to three days into the withdrawal period and last on average a week.
Upon the completion of detox, you will be placed in the next continuum of care. This could mean an on-site residential treatment center, depending on the severity of the addiction, or you could be placed in an outpatient center.
This will all be determined by factors such as length of use, what substance(s) have been used, any co-occurring disorders, and other variables.
No matter where you are placed, entering a treatment program vastly decreases your chance of relapse. These treatments will give you the tools necessary to cope with triggers, temptations, and learn new skills through an array of therapies such as:
Kratom use is still relatively new, meaning that we know little about it, and because of that, it’s hard to determine the threat it poses to society. Kratom is mostly unregulated and has gone untracked for quite some time. Where the danger lies in this situation is that there is no way to know what you’re getting or who it’s from. You could be receiving a knock-off version that ends up being lethal to your body.
Kratom, which can be found online, is also marketed as an herbal supplement, but there is no way to ensure its origin or if it’s actually kratom. With so many uncertainties, it is a lot easier for someone to accidentally overdose on the drug, especially because it also is not known what amount is lethal.”
There has been some limited information made available from the FDA about long-term use of the drug causing toxicity in multiple organ systems. These factors can lead to a plethora of health issues that include:
There has been other research on kratom and prolonged usage showing the possibility of liver damage and possible kidney failure while the body struggles to process toxins associated with kratom. Using this drug in conjunction with alcohol can have serious health effects that could lead to death.
Kratom. (n.d.). from https://livertox.nih.gov/Kratom.htm
Import Alert 54-15. (n.d.). from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cms_ia/importalert_1137.html
Warner, M. L., Kaufman, N. C., & Grundmann, O. (2015, October 28). The pharmacology and toxicology of kratom: From traditional herb to drug of abuse. from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00414-015-1279-y
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). (2017, August 24). from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6529a4.htm