Kratom is a legal herbal supplement that is widely available throughout the United States. This drug is said to be a mild stimulant in low doses and a sedative that mimics the effects of opioids in higher doses. It is traditionally used to boost energy and soothe stress. It has recently gained notoriety for its effects to manage chronic pain for conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia. Some use it as an alternative to more powerful narcotic drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin. It is viewed as an herbal approach to pain relief. It has recently been met with some ethical pushback.

A story was released that highlights a woman giving birth to a newborn in withdrawal from kratom exposure during pregnancy. The baby showed signs of withdrawal 33 hours after birth. The mother was subjected to a drug test and passed. She admitted to drinking kratom tea daily to sleep and help with her own opioid withdrawal symptoms.

The article mentions that this could be a broader trend of pregnant women seeking alternatives to opioid painkillers during pregnancy. Opioid use has spiked among pregnant women, and the United States is seeing women giving birth to opioid-addicted babies at an alarming rate. For some, they don’t want to follow this trend and still require relief from their pain.

In February 2018, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified the compounds in kratom as opioids. They based this on findings from a computer analysis showing it activates receptors in the brain that also respond to opioids. 

There have been other controversies surrounding kratom, which is sold as a dietary supplement to manage pain and boost energy. It is sold as an alternative for those to take during opioid withdrawal. The problem with this is while you’re stopping the use of one substance, you’re developing a dependence on another. In essence, you’re trading one addiction for another. With such controversy surrounding the opioid addiction, we don’t need a legal alternative to add to this fire. 

What Is Kratom?

Kratom grows from a tree in the tropical rainforests of Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Indonesia. It is used to boost energy and relieve pain. The actual name of kratom is Mitragyn speciosa, and it is used by farmers who chew the leaves of the plant to manage the effects of hard labor. It began growing in popularity because of its medicinal benefits and became available in many different forms including:

  • Teas
  • Juices
  • Tablets
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Powder
  • Mixed with codeine syrups

Kratom is considered an opioid after the DEA’s findings, and it works like any other opioid. It binds itself to opioid receptors in the brain and blocks pain. This produces the euphoric effects that result from the use of morphine. It differs from other opioids, though, because when consumed in lower doses, it has stimulant properties. This will increase energy and alertness in a way similar to caffeine. These can last anywhere from two to five hours depending on the person.

A lack of research on kratom means there is not much evidence that describes how it works. There are questions as to how it works as a stimulant as well as an opioid. Testing conducted in 2013 showed that kratom’s effects on mice were 13 times stronger than morphine. This study illustrates the immense strength the drug can produce, and the wide availability on the legal supplemental market is frightening. 

What Are the Signs of Kratom Addiction?

Kratom affects the body similarly to opioids and will react in the same way. Prolonged use of the drug will alter the brain’s chemistry by developing a tolerance. Tolerance is when the dose you initially took is not having an effect, and you need to take more to achieve those results. This can lead to a dependence on kratom which is the step before addiction. Kratom is believed to be safe because it’s legal status and how unregulated it is, but that is not true. Physical signs linked to kratom addiction can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anorexia
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Aches
  • Irritability

Behavioral signs that you should become familiar with include:

  • Shifts in personality
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of motivation
  • Socially withdrawing
  • Inability to stop using kratom despite multiple attempts
  • Hiding abuse from family and friends
  • Increase in risky behavior

If you or someone you love is dealing with any of the aforementioned signs of kratom addiction, it may be time to consider options. These can be a clear-cut sign of a growing dependence. It’s important that you talk to an addiction specialist about treatment options to prevent any further damage and reduce any risks long-term.

What Is Involved in Kratom Addiction Treatment?

Addiction requires the most dedicated care to ensuring safety throughout the process of care. Addiction treatment falls on a continuum of care, a system in which clients enter at the level that is appropriate for their needs. They can then step up to more intense treatment or down to less intense treatment as needed. In most cases, treatment will begin at the most intensive stage, which is medical detoxification.

The purpose of medical detox is to manage the risks associated with withdrawal. This stage of care will better set you up for long-term success. Quitting cold turkey is not a sustainable decision if you’re attempting to stay sober for the long run.

There is not much known about kratom, which makes treatment difficult to anticipate. For this reason, staying in treatment is the best option to have access to professionals that can think quickly. Because the drug is similar to an opioid, it will be treated as such, and medication may be administered to ease withdrawal symptoms. This will be a weeklong process to stabilize the client and make sure they’re stable before progressing to the next level of treatment.

Several factors are taken into consideration before a placement is made, which means the next phase of treatment could take place at an on-site residential treatment center or an outpatient center. These factors can include underlying conditions such as co-occurring disorders and the severity of the addiction. It does not matter where you are placed; treatment offers you the highest chances of long-term success. During this recovery time, you will have access to several therapy types that help you cope with triggers and learn new skills.

These Therapies Include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Addiction education
  • Family counseling
  • 12-step support programs

How Dangerous Is Kratom?

Kratom is still new, which means its effects have not been studied at an in-depth level. That creates dangers immediately and poses threats to society. Due to it being unregulated, it has gone untracked for quite some time. As the trend continues to grow in popularity, more will become known about kratom. When a substance is unregulated, you never know what product you’re receiving. It could be branded as kratom, but it also could be something more dangerous.

Long-term kratom use can cause drug toxicity in multiple organ systems. These factors can lead to several health issues including:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Respiratory depression
  • Loss of libido
  • Skin hyperpigmentation
  • Seizures

Kratom Abuse Statistics

  • 80% of those who attempted to stop kratom use could not do so on their own.
  • It’s estimated that more than 70% of the male population in Southern Thailand use kratom.
  • At least 44 deaths were related to the kratom use in 2017.
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