Kratom is an herbal supplement widely touted as a cure for uncomfortable opiate withdrawal symptoms. While some people anecdotally report feeling better while using kratom during withdrawal, it’s not a safe choice.
Kratom products aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so it’s hard to know what’s inside each dose you take. And some people experience severe side effects, including seizures, when using kratom products.
What Is Kratom?
The kratom tree is native to Southeast Asia, and it’s covered with leaves that contain mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, psychoactive substances. People harvest these leaves and crush, smoke, or brew them.
For decades, people in Asia have used kratom. But kratom misuse in western countries is relatively new, so researchers aren’t exactly clear about how the drug could harm health over the short or long term.
Can Kratom Treat Opiate Withdrawal?
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, medical professionals do not currently use kratom routinely to treat withdrawal in the United States.
Researchers say kratom has several properties that could help people struggling with opioid withdrawal. The drug could replace others like these:
- Mood enhancers
- Pain relievers
- Anti-anxiety therapies
If one substance could replace all of these prescriptions, it could be beneficial for patients, researchers say.
But kratom also comes with many side effects, and researchers aren’t clear about dosing and purity. Until more tests are conducted, experts like those at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration say it’s not safe for anyone to use.
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.
Kratom has at least some potential for harm. Research into potential dosing recommendations and the drug’s dangers is generally lacking.
Is Kratom Safe?
Kratom is not without risk, especially if it’s impure or mixed with other substances. Several deaths have been linked to kratom use, including more than 90 recorded between July 2016 and December 2017.
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 regulated, it’s impossible to know its potency. In multiple instances, kratom sold by retailers tested positive for heavy metals and harmful bacteria.
It’s safest to avoid using kratom until more research is conducted and quality control is improved.
Can You Overdose on Kratom?
Although it’s relatively rare, researchers say you can overdose with a large dose of kratom. The impact is similar to one you might feel while misusing stimulants, not opioids. But the sickness is very real.
People who take too much kratom report sensations like these:
- Fast heartbeat
Substances sold as kratom could contain other drugs that could harm you. Those other substances could also cause overdose issues.
Kratom Side Effects
Kratom is associated with opioid- and stimulant-like effects, with most 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
Additionally, a person taking kratom may experience the following side effects:
More serious side effects that may require medical attention include the following:
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Rapid heart rate
- Slowed breathing
- Tremors and potential seizures
- Liver problems
Several more evidence-based alternatives to kratom already exist to treat opiate withdrawal.
For mild opiate withdrawal, treatment generally involves supportive care, such as sleep, hydration and certain medications, to treat uncomfortable side effects like nausea or vomiting, anxiety and shakiness.
Moderate to severe opiate withdrawal may require the use of medications like Suboxone. Suboxone is a top choice in 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, you can identify harmful thought patterns and behaviors contributing to opioid misuse. You can also develop strategies to avoid future opioid misuse.
6 Common Kratom Myths
Many opinions and thoughts about kratom exist, and it’s sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction. Know that your doctor can answer most questions about what you should and should not put inside your body. But this is what you should know about common kratom myths.
Myth: Kratom Is Safe Because It’s Herbal
Kratom is an herbal drug extracted from plants, so it’s technically an herbal supplement. Some stores stock it alongside things like tea and vitamins, but it’s not safer because it is extracted from herbs. It comes with multiple safety risks.
Myth: Kratom Won’t Make People Sick
Kratom can certainly make people sick. Side effects like nausea, constipation, dizziness, rapid heart rate, and seizures can take hold in people who use kratom.
Myth: Kratom Is a Good Opiate Replacement
While some people claim kratom is helpful in addressing opioid withdrawal symptoms, high doses tend to react in the body more like stimulants than opioids.
Myth: Kratom Is Legal Everywhere
The federal government doesn’t list kratom as an illegal substance, but some states disagree.
Myth: Kratom Is Safer Than Other OUD Therapies
Other OUD therapies like Suboxone are tightly regulated by the federal government. We understand how much to take, when to take it, and what to expect. Kratom isn’t regulated at this level, so it’s impossible to know if your doses are too much, impure, or otherwise safe.
Kratom Causes No Side Effects
Kratom causes many side effects, including constipation, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, confusion, slowed breathing, and seizures.
By Peter Manza, PhD
Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More
- Kratom. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/kratom. January 2023. Accessed February 2023.
- Kratom Drug Fact Sheet. U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Kratom-2020_0.pdf. April 2020. Accessed February 2023.
- McCurdy Studies Whether Kratom Can Reduce Opioid Withdrawal, Ease Pain. National Institutes of Health. https://nihrecord.nih.gov/2022/06/24/mccurdy-studies-whether-kratom-can-reduce-opioid-withdrawal-ease-pain. June 2022. Accessed February 2023.
- Kratom-Related Deaths. JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2734336. May 2019. Accessed February 2023.
- 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 February 2023.
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