Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa Korth.) Is an herbal opioid-like drug that comes from the coffee plant family native to Southeast Asia. People consume kratom by oral ingestion in the form of a tablet, capsule, or extract. It has several uses including helping workers sustain energy throughout the day and providing opioid-like pain-relieving and sedating effects. People can become dependent on and addicted to kratom.

This article will explain the effects of kratom use, including whether it can be used for opioid withdrawal management and the difference between kratom dependency and kratom addiction. You’ll also learn the signs to watch for in kratom addiction, when to seek help for yourself or someone else, and what detox and treatment may look like. You’ll also see what long-term outlook looks like and get tips on how to avoid relapse.

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What Does Kratom Do?

Kratom use has been increasing and is actually a scheduled substance in some countries because of its stimulant- and opioid-like effects. Kratom is made up of alkaloid compounds called mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. These compounds can have psychotropic (mind-altering) effects.

Micro-dosing (taking small amounts of a substance to invoke a cellular response without producing whole-body effects) kratom is associated with stimulating effects including:

  • Increased energy
  • Sociability
  • Alertness

Effects of dosing at higher amounts:

  • Sedation
  • Pleasure
  • Decreased pain

Due to the similarities between how kratom and opioids work on the brain messaging center responsible for pain and energy, the effects of kratom have been considered in treating opioid withdrawal. People may consume kratom by drinking it as tea or taking it in capsule form.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) added kratom to the list of Schedule 1 Drugs (the most serious) in 2016, but strong public backlash was a force that overturned the DEA’s ruling.

Kratom Side Effects

Side effects will depend upon a few factors, including dosage, frequency and duration of use, and the form of kratom taken. Concentrated extracts are associated with greater potential for health effects.

Side effects may include:

  • Anorexia
  • Calmness
  • Constipation
  • Discoloration of the cheeks
  • Dry mouth
  • Euphoria
  • Increased social behavior
  • Increased talkativeness
  • Increased urination
  • Insomnia
  • Itching
  • Loss of appetite
  • Liver damage (rare)
  • Nausea
  • Psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusions, confusion)
  • Sensitivity to sunburn
  • Sweating

While more clinical research is needed to understand the effect of kratom on humans, there were 11 deaths reportedly associated with kratom exposure, including two that occurred after exposure to kratom only. Taking kratom with other substances increases a person’s risk of negative effects. Kratom abuse during pregnancy can lead to newborns experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Does Kratom Work for Treating Opiate Withdrawal?

When a person continuously takes opioids, their body develops a dependence that makes quitting an uncomfortable and even distressing process. Kratom has been suggested as a potential avenue for treating the effects of opiate withdrawal.

A 2021 animal study involving morphine-dependent mice found kratom compounds may have some clinical value in opioid withdrawal treatment. Mice treated with kratom compounds experienced significantly fewer symptoms of withdrawal than expected and than the control group. Of course, animal studies are not an exact one-to-one with human outcomes.

Addiction vs Dependence

Drug addiction or substance use disorder and drug dependency are different. Addiction can occur without physical dependency. Both may result in withdrawal symptoms from efforts to reduce use or stop entirely. Dependency is when your body adapts to the substance and reacts to it being taken away. Your body and brain will need to readjust to functioning without the added substance.

Signs of Kratom Addiction

Kratom may cause physical dependence shown by withdrawal symptoms reported in people trying to stop using kratom.

Physical withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Emotional changes including irritability
  • Hostility or aggression
  • Runny nose
  • Jerky movements
  • Chills
  • Feverish sensation
  • Loss of concentration
  • Yawning
  • Tremors

Psychological withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tense

Recognizing Addiction to Kratom in Others

If you suspect someone you know may be using kratom, check for signs of common side effects mentioned above, including:

  • Increased talkativeness
  • Increased social behavior
  • Itching
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sweating
  • Unusual or sudden or extreme shifts in mood, behavior, appearance

Kratom addiction or abuse isn’t necessarily “safer” than opioid addiction because both can be fatal. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning and concern over increases in unapproved kratom products and some marketers falsely claiming kratom is safe. The FDA doesn’t support the use of kratom for opioid withdrawal treatment.

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported unintentional deaths associated with kratom use. From data on 27,338 overdose deaths from July 2016 to December 2017, 152 involved kratom on the toxicology report, and 91 listed the cause of death as kratom use. In seven cases, kratom was the only substance found on the toxicology report, but the researchers note that doesn’t rule out every substance possible.

How to Treat Addiction to Kratom

Admitting there’s a problem is a first step to understanding the importance of seeking treatment with a qualified healthcare provider in-person or virtually (online). The next step is reaching out for help or encouraging someone else to do so.

What to Do If You or Someone Else Is Addicted to Kratom

Kratom addiction happens for a reason. If you suspect you or a person you know has an addiction to kratom, it may be helpful to consider what stage of addiction or recovery you are dealing with. One model breaks down the stages along these lines: pre-thinking about quitting, thinking about quitting, coming up with a plan to quit, quitting, maintaining sobriety.

What to Expect From Kratom Detox

There may be a period of detox after ending use. Detoxification depends on factors like duration and frequency of kratom use, with the FDA saying those who use several times per day experienced greater withdrawal symptoms. Reports of supervised detox from kratom are insufficient to draw conclusions.

One case report on a 44-year-old man with alcohol use disorder and anxiety experienced short-acting withdrawal symptoms including:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Tremor
  • Sweating
  • Kratom cravings

Treatment for Addiction to Kratom

There are no FDA-approved treatments to treat kratom addiction. A 2022 review reported Suboxone (buprenorphine-naloxone) as a promising detox treatment in people who were dependent on kratom. The review found alternative treatments for in-patient detoxification, which include Catapres (intravenous clonidine) and a combination of Panlor (oral dihydrocodeine) and Lucemyra (lofexidine).

Coping With Kratom Addiction

The relapse rate for substance use disorders is between 40-60%. Relapse can be defined as returning to a pattern of substance use. It may happen a handful of times before a person is able to stay sober from the substance or substances.

The long-term outlook for people who use kratom is impacted by treatment follow through and recovery process and support.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation offers the following tips for avoiding relapse long term.

  • Avoid certain people, places, and things that used to lead you to use alcohol or other drugs.
  • Call upon clinical and non-clinical support as needed to help avoid negative behaviors and situations.
  • Do meaningful activities that encourage you to build a sense of positive self-image and pride by doing things you like and have a positive impact.
  • Practice self-care and lead a balanced lifestyle to protect against substance use.

Long-term recovery requires changing thought patterns. People with substance use disorders will benefit long term from learning from their mistakes, building a more positive self-image, and setting future goals, including goals unrelated to their alcohol and other drug use (eg, graduate school, get a job, get out of debt).

Summary

Kratom is a mind-altering substance used for its opioid-like effects. While not FDA-approved for any use, there has been reported use of kratom for treating opioid withdrawal symptoms. Kratom dependence and addiction can occur with side effects and withdrawal symptoms of their own. Treatment involves a combination of detoxification and medication and a relapse prevention plan and support.

A Word From Verywell

If kratom has become problematic in your life, know there is hope. Treatment is possible and begins by talking to your healthcare provider. If you or someone you know has tried to quit using kratom in the past, know that every attempt is a stepping stone toward being sober from kratom. Keep trying — you are worth the effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What class of drug is kratom in?

    Kratom is not controlled under the Controlled Substances Act. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Kratom for any medical use. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has listed kratom as a Drug and Chemical of Concern.

  • What medications interact with kratom?

    Medications that cause sleepiness or drowsiness, such as central nervous system depressants, should not be combined with kratom. Interaction can cause excessive drowsiness or slowed breathing.

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