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Does Kratom for Opiate Withdrawals Work? Side Effects & Alternatives

August 11, 2022

Table of Contents

Research has shown kratom may have potential to treat opiate withdrawal. However, kratom is a controversial substance, which is understudied and not well regulated.

While kratom is not approved or generally used for opiate withdrawal at this time, it may be used for this purpose in the future if research uncovers more of the specifics of how the drug works and how it is best applied.

Can Kratom Treat Opiate Withdrawal?

There’s been an ongoing trend of people self-administering kratom to combat opiate withdrawal, although early research into this practice is unclear on its efficacy.[1] Anecdotally, it seems to help at least some people.

More recent research, as discussed in the National Institutes of Health’s NIH Record, has shown that kratom has promise as a potential opiate withdrawal treatment. Kratom has opioid activity with simultaneously more mild withdrawal symptoms as compared to other full opioids.[2]

The immediate answer as to whether kratom is a medically viable treatment for opiate withdrawal is still unknown. There is both anecdotal and research-based evidence that it can be used for this purpose. However, Kratom is not currently used routinely by medical professionals to treat OUD in the United States. 

Controversies Around Kratom

Kratom has proved controversial, largely because it has no approved use by the FDA and many people argue current drug policy has often unjustifiably ignored regulating the substance.[3]

Kratom has at least some potential for harm. Research into potential dosing recommendations and the drug’s dangers is generally lacking.[3]

Is Kratom Safe?

Kratom is not without risk, especially if taken with other substances or if contaminated. A small number of deaths have been linked to kratom use, with two deaths linked to kratom exposure on its own.

These things about kratom are still not known:

  • How it acts when combined with other drugs
  • Its effects when taken by a person who is pregnant or nursing
  • Risks of taking Kratom for long periods
  • Kratom’s effects when taken in high doses

Because kratom is not well regulated, the potency of the drug can be hard to know, In addition, In multiple instances, kratom sold by retailers has been found to be contaminated with heavy metals and harmful bacteria.

At present, it’s recommended that people avoid using kratom until more research is conducted and quality control is improved.

Kratom may have potential medical uses that may become more apparent in the future, but currently use of illicit Kratom to combat symptoms of opioid withdrawal is NOT recommended by the medical community. 

Kratom Side Effects

Kratom is associated with opioid- and stimulant-like effects, with the majority of users taking the drug for this purpose. A user may experience  the following:

  • Increased levels of energy
  • Higher levels of alertness
  • Pain relief
  • Potential feelings of calm
  • Sedation

Additionally, a person taking kratom may experience the following side effects:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting

More serious side effects that may require medical attention include the following:

  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Slowed breathing
  • Tremors and potentially seizures
  • Liver problems

What Alternatives Exist?

A number of more evidence-based alternatives to kratom already exist as a way to treat opiate withdrawal.[4]

For mild opiate withdrawal, treatment generally involves supportive care  such as sleep, hydration, and certain medications to treat uncomfortable side effects such as nausea/vomiting, anxiety, and tremulousness.[4]

Moderate to severe opiate withdrawal may require use of medications like Suboxone. Suboxone is the medication of choice for Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT), helping people to stop opioid misuse and achieve stability in recovery.

Withdrawal management techniques work best when combined with comprehensive care. In therapy, a patient can identify harmful thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to opioid misuse. They can also develop strategies to help them avoid opioid misuse in the future.

Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. Self-Treatment of Opioid Withdrawal Using Kratom (Mitragynia Speciosa Korth). Addiction. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3670991/. June 2008. Accessed July 2022. 
  2. McCurdy Studies Whether Kratom Can Reduce Opioid Withdrawal, Ease Pain. NIH Record. https://nihrecord.nih.gov/2022/06/24/mccurdy-studies-whether-kratom-can-reduce-opioid-withdrawal-ease-pain. June 2022. Accessed July 2022. 
  3. Kratom. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/kratom#affect-body. Accessed July 2022. 
  4. Withdrawal Management. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/. 2009. Accessed July 2022.

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