Kratom is a drug that originates from a tropical tree in the coffee family, typically grown in Southeast Asia. Researchers say kratom has addictive properties, and some people who use the drug have classic symptoms, such as an inability to quit using the drug or taper their dose.
Kratom production isn’t regulated by state or federal agencies, so it’s difficult to ensure drugs are pure before you use them. Any kratom dose could contain something deeply addictive, such as fentanyl.
But even pure kratom could cause changes you didn’t expect or can’t control. If you’re misusing the drug and struggling to quit, treatment programs can help.
What Is Kratom?
The Mitragyna speciosa tree, native to Southeast Asia, is the source of kratom. Harvested berries can be transformed into pills, powders or teas for oral consumption.
Kratom has multiple active ingredients, including some that work like stimulants and others that work like opioids. It’s difficult to predict how taking kratom might change your body. Some people feel energized, while others feel sleepy or euphoric.
Experts believe kratom is dangerous. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended a federal ban on kratom and kratom-like products. That ban wasn’t implemented, meaning kratom is still legal at the federal level, but some states have passed laws making distribution or use illegal.
In states where kratom is legal, you could find it in gas stations, head shops and drug stores. Some people get past state bans via online purchases, buying kratom labeled for aromatherapy or soap making. This lack of regulation means you never really know what you are getting when you purchase it.
Why Do People Use Kratom?
For hundreds of years, people have used kratom as a cough, cold or diarrhea therapy. Modern users cite different reasons for their drug use.
In a study of more than 8,000 people who use kratom, about 80% said they felt decreased pain, a mood boost and more energy when they used the drug. But about half used kratom to stop or reduce their opioid use.
In online chat forums, people claim that using kratom eases drug withdrawal symptoms like diarrhea and muscle aches. People say the drug is safe, effective and a natural way to help the brain heal.
But researchers haven’t studied kratom for withdrawal purposes. Understanding how much to take and when to use it isn’t easy. While doctors know how medications like Suboxone work, they don’t have a catalog of kratom research to guide them. People using kratom for an opioid use disorder are doing experiments with their own bodies.
Kratom Side Effects
People taking kratom can experience a wide variety of side effects, especially if they’re using contaminated doses.
Researchers say common kratom side effects include the following:
- Dry mouth
- Fast heart rate
- Increasing urination
Some people using kratom have experienced severe side effects, such as seizures and hallucinations.
What Is the Addiction Potential of Kratom?
Kratom contains two compounds (mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine) that work on brain receptors associated with substance use disorders. At the chemical level, kratom works somewhat like other addictive drugs, such as heroin.
Drugs like kratom latch to their receptors and trigger chemical reactions that change the way you feel and look at the world. Euphoria caused by drugs can be physically or psychologically addictive, meaning you use more drugs in a compulsive manner.
Researchers say natural forms of kratom are associated with lower addiction symptoms. But modern drug laboratories extract potent chemicals, making doses stronger and much more powerful. That potency could increase addiction risks.
Signs of Addiction
An addiction or substance use disorder is characterized by compulsive use, escalating doses and an inability to quit. The syndrome is both physical and psychological, and it comes with easy-to-understand symptoms.
Addiction symptoms can include the following:
- Quitting work or recreational activities to spend more time using kratom
- Stealing to pay for more drugs
- Ongoing intoxication signs
- Change in appearance, including weight loss
- Changes in friend groups or social isolation
Some people with kratom addiction are adept at hiding their symptoms, making spotting the problem more difficult. But as the addiction grows stronger, the symptoms become tougher to hide.
Kratom Addiction Treatment
There are no approved therapy options for people with kratom addiction. While doctors understand how to treat substance use disorders related to opioids like heroin, kratom remains a gray area.
Experts recommend Medication for Addiction Treatment for people with kratom misuse issues. Therapies like Suboxone combined with therapy can help people stop misusing drugs and maintain a sober life.
- Kratom. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/kratom. March 2022. Accessed March 2023.
- HHS Recommended That the DEA Make Kratom a Schedule I Drug, Like LSD or Heroin. Stat. https://www.statnews.com/2018/11/09/hhs-recommended-dea-ban-kratom-documents-show/. November 2018. Accessed March 2023.
- Patterns of kratom use and health impact in the US—results from an online survey. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376871617301825. July 2017. Accessed March 2023.
- Kratom. U.S. Department of Justice. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Kratom-2020_0.pdf. April 2020. Accessed March 2023.
- Kratom Addiction Potential and Legal Status. Neuropathology of Drug Addictions and Substance Misuse. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128006344000895. 2016. Accessed March 2023.
- Best Practices in Managing Patients with Kratom Addiction. Providers Clinical Support System. https://pcssnow.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/KRATOM-webinar-PCSS-2020-final-version-9.28.20-1.pdf. October 2020. Accessed March 2023.
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