How Does Kratom Affect the Body?
Kratom has increased in popularity recently, but it has been used in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years. Many people use kratom for its energizing and mood-boosting effects to enhance productivity and sociability. This herbal substance has similar properties to opioids, such as relaxation and pain relief. When taken in low doses, kratom serves as a stimulant. It acts as a central nervous system depressant in higher doses, inducing calm and sedation.
Kratom Compounds and the Brain
The leaves of the kratom or Mitragyna speciosa tree contain chemical compounds. Two of the most researched kratom compounds are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Mitragynine is found in the leaves of the kratom tree, while 7-hydroxymitragynine is created as the body breaks down mitragynine.
These compounds interact with opioid receptors in the brain to induce euphoric feelings, although to a lesser degree than prescription or illicit opioids. Kratom is a partial opioid agonist, only partially activating opioid receptors, while drugs like heroin are full opioid agonists that fully activate these receptors and produce a more intense high with a greater risk of addiction. For this reason, kratom is being studied as a potential medication to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Uses of Kratom
Although Kratom is not currently approved for medicinal use, it is readily available for purchase over the counter without a prescription. This herbal supplement has been used by consumers for:
- Alleviating pain
- Stimulating energy
- Managing mental health conditions
- Minimizing opioid withdrawal symptoms
- Reducing opioid cravings
Since kratom has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is not regulated and cannot be deemed safe for use. Anyone accessing kratom must exercise caution and familiarize themselves with the side effects and potential risks.
Side Effects of Kratom
Although kratom is an herbal supplement and is legally available over the counter, there are side effects to using it:
Constipation is a common side effect of opioids, and since kratom interacts with the same opioid receptors in the brain, it can have similar effects on the digestive system. The substance depresses the body’s responses, including bowel movements.
The relaxing effects of kratom can suppress the body's functions in larger doses, which can slow your breathing to dangerously low levels.
Although rare, long-term kratom use can lead to liver damage. Signs of acute liver injury include dark urine, itching, fatigue, and nausea. The risk of liver complications increases if using kratom in conjunction with other drugs or substances known to adversely affect liver function.
Research has shown that high doses of kratom or using other substances alongside kratom can put people at greater risk for heart issues, such as cardiac arrest, myocardium, myocarditis, tachycardia, and hypertension.
More research is required to determine the safety and risks of kratom, especially regarding long-term use.
Is It Safe to Use Kratom for Opioid Withdrawal?
Opioid withdrawal occurs when a person dependent on or addicted to opioids stops taking the drug or abruptly cuts back their dosage. Withdrawal symptoms can range in severity depending on the dosage and length of time you've misused opioids. Some common opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Muscle aches and pains
Withdrawal discomfort and cravings are the most common culprits in opioid relapse. Without the proper treatment and support, a person may find it impossible to get through opioid withdrawal, which can last up to two weeks. To address this barrier, providers now offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) that aims to alleviate withdrawal discomfort with FDA-approved medications.
Since kratom interacts with opioid receptors like drugs used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT), many people self-treat with this substance to alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms. However, it is not necessarily safe to use kratom for opioid withdrawal, especially if you are not under the care and guidance of a healthcare provider.
Risks of Using Kratom for Opioid Withdrawal
Kratom has shown some promise in helping people manage withdrawal discomfort and cravings as they work to overcome opioid use disorder. Although there are benefits to using kratom for opioid withdrawal, you should also be aware of the potential risks.
Dependence or Addiction
Since the compounds in kratom partially activate the same opioid receptors in the brain as opioid drugs like heroin, there is the potential to develop a dependence on this herbal substance. Research has shown that most reports of withdrawal symptoms or addiction to kratom range from mild to moderate.
Lack of Product Regulation
Kratom has not been approved by the FDA for medical use, so all kratom products are available over the counter. They fall under the category of herbal supplements, so there are no strict standards for these products. Without regulations, you cannot guarantee the quality, potency, or consistency of the kratom formulations. When using a medication to help you manage opioid use disorder, you and your provider must carefully monitor your dosage. This would be challenging to do with kratom, as one batch can differ from another.
Not Enough Information About Long-Term Effects
More research needs to be done to determine how kratom can affect you over the long term. Compared to other medications used for opioid use disorder, kratom is fairly new and there is much more that needs to be studied regarding the overall safety and efficacy of long-term kratom use.
Possibility of Severe Side Effects
At low doses, you may only experience mild side effects such as nausea or drowsiness. However, each person responds differently to substances, and you can experience serious side effects from kratom use, such as organ damage, respiratory depression, and even a fatal overdose.
Until kratom has been approved by the FDA, it is much safer to access medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder from a trusted provider.
How Addictive Is Kratom?
You can develop an addiction to kratom, particularly if using it in large doses. However, kratom has less potential for addiction than opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone. The herbal compounds partially interact with opioid receptors, resulting in a milder euphoria than other opioids. There is less risk for addiction, and those who become dependent on kratom report only mild to moderate symptoms.