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How Addictive Is Kratom Really? (The Science in 2019)

Kratom is a member of the Rubiaceae family of tropical evergreen trees, a sibling to both coffee and gardenia. It’s native to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.

In the U.S., many people have used this herbal supplement as an alternative method for pain relief, diarrhea, as well as a treatment for opiate addiction and withdrawal. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved it for use, and it can be easily abused, causing other issues.

Kratom can be consumed by chewing leaves, drying and smoking the plant, or putting it into capsules or tablets. The leaves can also be boiled into a tea for drinking.

This herbal drug can cause effects similar to the use of opioids and stimulants. In low doses, it can produce feelings of energy, sociability, alertness, and decreased pain. However, higher doses can cause more serious effects on the body. Effects of kratom use include:

  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Constipation
  • Appetite loss
  • Itching
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased urination

Given some of the effects that kratom can have, some people wonder about the risk of addiction. How addictive is kratom really?  Let’s find out.

Biological Aspects and How Addiction Occurs

Abuse of kratom is on the rise in the U.S., and there have been reports of a tenfold increase in calls to poison control centers for kratom-related issues. Additionally, the FDA proposed banning the import of the drug in 2014, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has listed it as a “drug of concern.” The FDA reports that it has “deadly risks.”

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How do you become addicted to this herbal drug? Kratom contains two compounds, mitragynine and 7-a-hydroxymitragynine, which interact with opioid receptors of the brain. This produces the sensation of sedation, pleasure, and decreased pain. Just like opioids and stimulants, it alters natural brain chemistry when taken, causing a “backlog” of neurotransmitters in the brain. Regular use and overuse can cause the brain to shut down and improperly produce hormones. Therefore, the user is now dependent on kratom to function properly.

As with any drug, there’s sometimes even a genetic predisposal to addiction of any substance. People with a family history of drug or alcohol addiction may become addicted to kratom as well.

Other risk factors that can lead to dependence or addiction include:

  • Easy access
  • Peer pressure
  • Lacking appropriate social support
  • Lacking healthy strategies for coping with stress or pain
  • Personal or family history of mental illness

While dependence and addiction are not the same thing, sometimes one can eventually lead to the other. Addiction occurs when you drastically change your lifestyle and behavior to keep taking the drug.

Signs that you may be addicted to kratom:

  • Continued kratom use even after adverse physical or lifestyle consequences occur
  • School or work performance is negatively impacted
  • Unsuccessful in stopping use
  • Lost interest in usual activities or hobbies
  • Lack of control over how much you take
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns

In the event of dependence or addiction, discontinued use of kratom can lead to various withdrawal symptoms. These include:

  • Hostility
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Jerky movements
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Aggression
  • Emotional changes

Rates of addiction in people who have used or tried kratom:

  • More than 70 percent of men in Southern Thailand uses kratom.
  • 50 percent of long-term (six months or more) users experienced severe withdrawal symptoms
  • 45 percent experienced mild symptoms, and about 5 percent were unaffected
  • 80 percent of kratom users have attempted to stop taking the drug without success
  • About 42 percent of kratom abuse-related cases were reported between 2010 and 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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How Does Kratom Compare to Other Drugs?

Kratom is still a relatively new drug in the U.S., and research is still being done on it. While some people feel that it’s safe, since it can have the same effects as stimulants and opioids, it’s thought to be just as dangerous and addictive.

But how does it compare to other drugs? For one, it’s extremely easy to obtain, possibly easier than most other drugs. You don’t need a prescription for it, and it’s still legal in parts of the U.S. In fact, kratom “bars” are starting to pop up all over the country, serving beverages brewed from kratom leaves. Additionally, it’s still considered as a “dietary supplement,” even though the FDA has reported that it can cause respiratory problems, hallucinations, vomiting, and severe withdrawal symptoms.

It also works faster than most other drugs and lasts longer. You can expect to feel its effects within 5-10 minutes, and the effects last about two to five hours.

Herbal Supplements in Capsules

Stopping Kratom Use

Like many addictive drugs, stopping the use of kratom can be extremely difficult for some people. Many have tried and failed. Some people can stop using kratom without too much difficulty, but these are few and far in between.

If you desire to stop using kratom, the best thing to do to achieve this is to go through a medical detox process, which can be done at a residential treatment center. Probably the best thing about kratom, unlike other opioids and stimulants, is there seems to be less kratom-related deaths among people who have taken it. However, as the use and abuse of kratom rises, those numbers may eventually change.

Conclusion

Kratom is a highly addictive leaf found overseas that made its appearance in the U.S. in recent years. Most use it as an alternative to prescription opioids or stimulants. However, it can be just as addictive as those other drugs. In some cases, it’s believed to be even more addictive as the user needs to take less to get the desired result.

Though there aren’t many reports of deaths related to kratom addiction when compared to other drugs, such as heroin. The numbers in 2018, according to the FDA, come in at about 44 kratom-associated deaths. However, the list of severe effects while using the drug, as well as the withdrawal symptoms, is extensive.

While it may be still be considered legal in the U.S., it’s probably best to stay away from kratom, especially if you have a personal or family history of substance abuse.

Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drug Facts on Kratom. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/kratom

DEA. Kratom. from https://www.mcieast.marines.mil/Portals/33/Documents/Safety/Abuse/Kratom.pdf

FDA. FDA And Kratom. from https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm584952.htm

Web MD. Kratom & Opioid Withdrawal. from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20171026/kratom_opioid_withdrawal

Huffington Post. DA Releases Kratom Death Data, Undermines Its Own Claims About Drug’s Deadly Harms. from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kratom-deaths-fda_us_5a7a3549e4b07af4e81eda8b

National Institute on Health. Following “the Roots” of Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa): The Evolution of an Enhancer from a Traditional Use to Increase Work and Productivity in Southeast Asia to a Recreational Psychoactive Drug in Western Countries. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657101/

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