Is Kratom Addictive?
In the early stages of kratom research, scientists thought kratom might be a safe, non-addictive alternative to opioids or other prescription painkillers. However, more recent studies have revealed that these benefits aren’t as clear as they first seemed. In addition, the safety concerns may outweigh the perceived benefits users claim to experience—including the potential for kratom to lead to addiction.
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How Using Kratom May Lead to Addiction
Kratom (mitragyna speciosa) is an herbal extract from evergreen trees growing in Southeast Asia. Kratom leaves are harvested and turned into teas, capsules, extracts, and more.
Many kratom users take it as a dietary supplement to fulfill a specific purpose, from managing substance abuse to decreasing anxiety. As a result, they are likely to develop a dependence on the drug.
While kratom does not bind to the brain’s opiate receptors in the same way as traditional opioids, kratom still affects the brain in a way that can lead to physical dependence.
In addition, scientists are still researching exactly how kratom interacts with the various receptors in the brain.
Whether kratom’s supposed benefits and possible medical uses outweigh its risks remains undetermined—and the topic is hotly debated on both sides.
How Does Kratom Affect the Brain?
The active ingredient in kratom, mitragynine (which the body metabolizes into 7-α-hydroxymitragynine), works by interacting with the brain’s opioid receptors.
When taken in low doses, kratom users report stimulant effects like increased energy and an uplifted mood.
In higher doses, users experience sedative effects that more closely mirror the side effects of taking opiates, including feelings of euphoria, relaxation, pain relief, and drowsiness.
However, kratom may also cause unpleasant side effects, including frequent urination, vomiting, tremors, and insomnia.
Why People Use Kratom
Kratom is not officially approved for medical use. However, users cite a variety of anecdotal benefits to taking kratom.
Common reasons for taking kratom include:
- Increasing energy
- Chronic pain relief
- Overcoming substance abuse (especially opioid addiction)
- Mitigating opioid withdrawal symptoms (including cravings)
- Managing mental health conditions like anxiety or depression
Despite its growing prevalence, many people remain concerned about kratom’s potential for abuse and addiction and its possible long-term effects on chronic users.
“From my perspective, as an addiction medicine specialist, Kratom appears to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It plays a part in the opioid epidemic rather than being part of the solution.” —Dr. Kent Hoffman | soberdoc.com
Signs of Kratom Addiction
Common signs of kratom dependence and addiction include:
- Constant use of kratom daily or several times per day
- Strong urges or cravings to use kratom and being unable to focus on anything else
- Requiring larger doses of kratom to achieve the same effect
- Keeping a constant supply of the substance and becoming nervous when that supply runs low
- Spending money on kratom, even when you don’t have the money for kratom
- Engaging in risky or dangerous behaviors to get kratom, like violence or theft
- Doing dangerous things while under the influence of kratom, like driving or having unprotected sex
- Using kratom despite problems or risks
- Fixating on obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of kratom
- Trying and failing to quit using kratom
- Feeling withdrawal symptoms once kratom use has stopped
For kratom users who take large doses each day, these symptoms can range from mild to moderate and last for anywhere from days to months.
The kratom withdrawal timeline depends on several factors, like regular use, dose, method of use, age, weight, and if other substances were used.
In extreme cases, some users require detox from kratom in treatment centers. Your healthcare provider may prescribe buprenorphine or naloxone to assist with the kratom withdrawal symptoms.
Common kratom withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Severe cramps
- Runny nose and watery eyes
- Jerky movements
- Blurred vision and dilated pupils
- Hot flashes and sweating
- Decreased appetite
- Changes in blood pressure and heart rate
- Irritability and agitation
- Abrupt changes in mood
Potential Risks of Kratom Use
Using kratom may pose certain risks to users, including:
- Dependence/withdrawal: Many individuals report developing a dependence or addiction to kratom and cite short- and long-term withdrawal symptoms occurring after quitting.
- Unsafe additives: Kratom is not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so we have little oversight about the growth, processing, packaging, and labeling of kratom. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that kratom products sometimes contain dangerous contaminants like heavy metals and harmful bacteria.
- Mental health risks: Very high doses of kratom can cause psychosis, including symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and confusion.
- Long-term side-effects: While research into long-term kratom use is ongoing, we know it can result in long-term effects like weight loss (in extreme cases, anorexia), hair loss, and chronic insomnia.
Can You Overdose on Kratom?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that kratom overdose was involved in 91 deaths in 2016 and 2017. However, 84 of these cases included the use of other substances.
Mixing kratom with other depressant drugs puts users at a higher risk of overdose and death.
However, additional research is desperately needed.
Find Treatment Options for Kratom Addiction
If you or a loved one are concerned that your kratom use may have become problematic, you can get help through a treatment program or an addiction specialist.
Contact the SAMHSA treatment locator by phone at 1-800-662-4357 or online at findtreatment.gov to find in-patient and outpatient treatment programs near you.
FAQs on Kratom Addiction
What is kratom used for?
Many people use kratom as an alternative to opioids or to treat opioid withdrawal. Others claim it has health benefits and can treat chronic pain, nausea, depression, anxiety, cough, and cramping.
However, research has shown little data to support these benefits. Early research looked promising for applications in treating opioid use disorder, but more recent research shows the risks of kratom likely outweigh any negligible benefits.
Is kratom addictive?
Yes. While each person may have a different experience with the substance, heavy kratom users are at high risk for developing dependence and/or addiction to kratom.
The risk of addiction occurs because of kratom’s opioid-like effects and interactions with opioid receptors in the brain.
Can you overdose on kratom?
It’s unclear how likely an overdose is with kratom alone.
However, because kratom acts as a depressant, mixing the substance with other drugs like opioids, alcohol, or benzodiazepines elevates the risk of overdose and death.
What is the difference between kratom addiction and addiction to other substances?
Kratom addiction occurs due to the substance’s opioid-like effects and interactions with the same opioid receptors that opioids bind to.
Kratom addiction is most similar to opioid addiction and therefore shares many of the same withdrawal symptoms.
What are some side effects of taking Kratom?
Side effects of kratom abuse can range from minor to more severe, depending on the dose and frequency. The most common side effects of kratom include nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, vomiting, loss of appetite, and muscle pain.
In severe cases or at very high doses, users may experience psychotic symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, and confusion.
Is kratom a controlled substance?
While kratom is not classified as a controlled substance, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists it as a “drug of concern.”