It is very common when stopping the use of a substance to feel side effects and then seek another treatment to relieve those symptoms. This can be a dangerous road to go down without seeking medical advice.
For many people looking to stop opioid use but scared of its widely reported painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, all possible solutions might be on the table. Kratom has been around for centuries in southeast Asia but is relatively new to the western world. It has been touted as a solution for those with addictions to heroin or prescription medications to ease the weaning process.
The ABCs Of Kratom’s Origin And Use
Of the coffee family, it is a tropical evergreen tree in the southeast Asian region indigenous to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea. It has been used in traditional medicine since the 19th century. The plant’s leaves are either chewed, smoked, brewed as a tea, or eaten in food and it was first used centuries ago as a substitute for morphine and opium in Thailand and Malaya, respectively.
Main Uses: Enhance Focus, Manage Chronic Pain, Or Wean Off Opioids
Since its use originated in southeast Asia then moved west to the United States, user demographics invariably differed.
Generally used in southeast Asia by day laborers to aid with fatigue, treat coughs, or heal wounds—or misused by youth combined with cough medicine—it has undergone a metamorphosis stateside.
The U.S. consumer tends to use kratom to manage uncomfortable effects that come from opioid withdrawal or for chronic pain. They also tend to be middle-aged with average income, some college education, and have private healthcare.
Teens and college students are also jumping on the kratom bandwagon with kratom bars that tout themselves as tea shops opening up near campuses. These users—like the Asian day laborers before them—are generally looking for something to help combat fatigue.
Natural Does Not Mean Safe
Young adults are also prone to believe it is a natural, healthy, safe supplement and are unaware of the dangers when mixing with prescriptions or that the kratom may be synthetically enhanced.
There are several reasons to suggest why a person would explore kratom for opioid withdrawal, with one published study noting the following:
- A belief that the medical route is reserved for those who use illegal drugs
- Holistic solutions are more prevalent
- Wariness of systems which frequently underprescribe analgesics, require treatment contracts, demand ongoing drug testing, or stigmatize those who seek care
While some groups are promoting the use of kratom as a health supplement and not an opioid, those in the medical profession tend to disagree.
In a 2018 healthnewsreview.org article titled “News stories about kratom, an ‘herbal opioid alternative,’ wrongly prioritize propaganda over science,” Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, a professor of pharmacology and physiology at Georgetown University and director of Pharmed Out, a project that raises awareness of pharmaceutical company marketing practices, said “users are deluding themselves into thinking they are getting off opioids,” adding for emphasis that kratom “probably is effective for helping opioid cravings because it’s an opioid.”
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Kratom Side Effects Range From Mild To Fatal
Two compounds in kratom leaves, mitragynine, and 7-hydroxy mitragynine, interact with opioid receptors in the brain, producing sedation, pleasure, and decreased pain when taken in high doses. Lower doses cause alertness instead of sedation. Depending on how much is consumed, the side effects can swing toward those felt by opium.
Once ingested, effects are seen within 10 minutes and can last up to two hours depending on quantity. Users typically consume kratom three times daily.
Since it is a natural substance, its active ingredient varies as do its side effects. It is important to remember the word “natural” should not be interpreted as automatically safe. Poison ivy and poisonous mushrooms come to mind as examples.
Common kratom side effects include:
- dry mouth
- increased urination
- loss of appetite
More severe side effects than these listed may also occur.
Kratom can be dangerous if a person has certain physical conditions such as pregnancy and breastfeeding due to the possibility of babies experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
For a person with alcohol dependence or mental disorders, there is an increase in the risk of suicide, as it may worsen an existing condition.
Herb/drug interactions can also occur, especially with other drugs that affect the central nervous system.
If taken in high doses or used with other substances, deaths have occurred. In 2017, the Federal Drug Administration reported 44 fatalities that were kratom related.
Is Kratom Addictive?
Without clinical trials and medical research, it is difficult to determine whether kratom is addictive.
Withdrawal symptoms have been reported when discontinued and online forums have turned into a community of discussion where users have asked for tips on how to stop using kratom safely.
Kratom Withdrawal Symptoms Are Physical And Behavioral
When discontinued, the following physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms have been reported:
- Hot flashes
- Watery eyes and runny nose
- Diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
- Sweating and tremors
- Muscle aches and cramping
- Food cravings
- Anxiety, depression, hostility, and other emotional changes
Not everyone reports experiencing withdrawal symptoms or addiction to kratom. If they do experience withdrawal, it tends to be between 12 to 24 hours since last taken. Those with higher levels of use may notice side effects anywhere from three to 10 days.
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Kratom Unknowns Abound In Medical Field Regarding Safety, Effectiveness, Addiction
There is a community that supports being able to use kratom to aid in chronic pain, such as that of cancer patients. There is a consideration that there may be a level of who may find kratom a relatively safe alternative, without underlying mental disorders that could trigger hallucinations and seizures. This remains unstudied but not off the table.
The United States Food and Drug Administration does not approve it for use, and in fact, warns against it. Kratom has been placed on an import alert since 2012, along with all supplements containing it. It calls these unapproved products with unfounded beneficial claims as consumer scams with dangerous side effects.
People have still been able to obtain kratom through the internet or by shipments that have illegally made their way into U.S. harbors. Those quantities that have slipped through these cracks are sold at smoke shops or so-called health stores, and the products may have been contaminated with other substances that the user is unaware of when using.
In an online U.S. survey of 60,000 adults completed in 2019, (the first known at a national level), use in the past year was reported at 0.08% and 1.3% over a lifetime. Those who used kratom were also more likely to use stronger substances as well.
Safe, Effective Opioid Use Treatment Remains The Goal
As with any medication, it is suggested to consult with your healthcare provider to be fully aware of all considerations when discontinuing the use of a substance. For those with substance use disorder, this can be doubly helpful to reduce relapse possibilities and pursue other therapies.
Cognitive Behavioral Treatment For Discontinuing Kratom
According to the National Institute of Drug Use, there are no known therapies for kratom treatment. It suggests cognitive behavioral therapy as a potential solution. This goal-oriented psychotherapy approach aims to help people be more aware of their thought processes and redirect themselves away from negative patterns to more productive ones.
Generally treating individual physical symptoms can alleviate discomfort.
Medication-Assisted Therapy For Substance Use Disorder
As stated earlier, kratom is sometimes considered for those struggling to overcome opioid addiction because of challenges they face with getting appropriate healthcare, whether self-imposed or otherwise.
With new approaches to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) continually studied, the goal remains to provide it safely and effectively when deemed medically appropriate to the two million people addicted across the country.
There is also a desire to reduce the stigma associated with MAT. Some in the healthcare community gravitate to abstinence-based treatment and may discriminate or show prejudice toward MAT as a suitable treatment. The criminal justice system may also disallow MAT treatment at times, which leads a treatment facility to be unable to use it as a treatment course.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms are incredibly difficult in terms of length and levels of discomfort, often prompting a person to resort to using again and thereby continuing the cycle that can too commonly end with a fatal overdose.
Whatever side you may stand on regarding MAT, patients receiving it cut their risk of death from overdose in half, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
How Long Do Bad Side Effects Of Kratom Last?
There have been no clinical trials to measure kratom’s many potential effects. Kratom, because the dosage level and effectiveness vary due to its unmeasured concentrations, will stay in someone’s system for anywhere from several hours upward to 10 days if used in high levels.
The side effects, if most are of the mild flu-like variety, may resolve earlier. Kratom effects may also present more severely if it is laced with a synthetic additive and can cause harmful seizures and more problems if taken in toxic volumes or mixed with psychotic medications.
Kratom users typically consume the liquid or powder version three times daily
What Are The Negative Side Effects Of Kratom?
The negative effects of kratom range from mildly annoying to more severe. Dry mouth, dizziness, drowsiness, and muscle pain can proceed onward toward weight loss from nausea and vomiting, changes in urine, depression, slowed breathing, delusions, seizures, coma, and even death.
Data is scarce on how it interacts with psychoactive medications and also with consideration that it may be laced with other chemicals. This is a dangerous combination that has shown toxicity and fatalities.