- What is Kratom?
- How Do People Use Kratom?
- Short and Long Term Effects of Using Kratom
- How Kratom Addiction Develops
- Symptoms of Kratom Withdrawal
- Is it Possible to Overdose on Kratom?
- Kratom-Related Fatality Rates
- Treatment for Kratom Dependence and Withdrawal
- Kratom Addiction Recovery in Maryland at Avenues Recovery
Across the United States, about 5 million people use kratom. If you’ve never heard of it, that could be because it’s a relatively new recreational drug.
Kratom is widely seen as a natural alternative to synthetic opioids. It has been used for generations in Southeast Asia but became widespread in the U.S. only in the past two decades, so its effects are still being studied.
However, research findings so far aren’t promising. Kratom has led to a number of developmental and neurological issues that have made lawmakers in Maryland consider restricting kratom. The bill would put kratom — currently unregulated — on the same list of dangerous controlled substances as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote.
This article will discuss all things kratom, including its short and long term effects, how addiction develops, withdrawal symptoms, and more. You’ll learn how it can be dangerous, as well as the fatalities it has already been a part of. But we’ll also show you that recovery is possible with the right treatment.
Kratom is a species of evergreen tree (Mitragyna speciosa) native to Southeast Asia (Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma) with leaves that can cause psychotropic effects when used. Its two main psychoactive compounds are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.
Kratom has stimulant effects when taken in small doses but sedative effects when taken in high amounts. It’s illegal in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin, but people in all other states can get it at smoke shops, supplement stores, and online.
Kratom is often marketed as a natural pain-killing substance that can be used as either an opioid alternative or treatment for opioid withdrawal. However, the FDA warns people not to use kratom because it carries significant health risks that outweigh any potential benefits.
Kratom leaves can be brewed into a tea or chewed. Others choose to swallow it in pill form, cook it into their food, or smoke it.
It doesn’t taste great — users report it carries an almost unbearable bitter flavor — so many opt to take the pill form or brew it into a tea mixed with better flavors. It smells mildly of cut grass. Kratom also comes in several different strains — red, green, and white — that have slightly different effects, but the leaves regardless of strain are usually dark green and glossy.
Kratom is a pretty new recreational drug, so its full effects are still being studied. What we know so far is that, in low doses, kratom has a stimulant effect — it makes users feel energetic. At higher doses, it relieves pain and causes euphoria. At very high doses, kratom acts as a sedative, having the opposite effect of taking it in low amounts. For this reason, many people see kratom as a “safer,” all-natural opioid substitute.
However, since the amount of active ingredient in every batch of kratom can vary greatly, the drug’s effects are unstable and unpredictable. No matter the strain, people report the following side effects when using kratom:
- dry mouth
- increased urination
- psychosis (hallucinations/delusions)
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
When taken long-term, kratom can cause liver damage and thyroid problems, too.
People usually feel the effects of kratom 5-10 minutes after taking it, and the effects last 2-5 hours, strengthening as the dosage increases. It is believed to interact with the opioid receptors in the brain, making kratom a highly addictive substance.
Because it’s legal in most states, kratom is often seen as the more accessible alternative to illicit opioids. Like opioids, kratom can produce an addictive euphoria that people find difficult to resist even after just one use.
Before becoming addicted, however, people will first develop a tolerance to the substance — taking more in order to chase the same initial high. Then comes dependence, where people depend on the drug just to feel normal again. At this point, stopping means experiencing exquisite withdrawal symptoms, which is what makes it so difficult to quit. Although many people can take kratom casually without ever becoming addicted, the substance carries a high enough potential for abuse to cause alarm.
When habitual or addicted users stop taking kratom, they can experience any or all of the following withdrawal symptoms:
- muscle aches
- mood swings
- jerky movements
- runny nose
- fever/hot flashes
When used by pregnant mothers, kratom can also cause newborns to exhibit withdrawal symptoms that require immediate treatment. Given that the drug causes physiological, mental, and psychological symptoms, kratom is far from a safe substance even if people don’t experience withdrawal symptoms.
It isn’t fully known what amount of kratom is considered an overdose, but overdosing is definitely possible. An overdose is when someone takes a toxic amount of a substance and suffers potentially life-threatening symptoms. Although kratom isn’t as dangerous as synthetic opioids, it isn’t completely safe just because it’s natural.
It can be hard to tell when someone has overdosed on kratom because the overdose symptoms look a lot like the regular side effects. Overdose symptoms include:
- difficulty breathing
- high blood pressure/heart rate
Even though there is no known medication to reverse a kratom overdose, its symptoms can be treated. For example, an ER doctor can administer alpha or beta blockers to manage blood pressure. Medical professionals can also help someone stop seizing or bring them out of a coma. There are also anti-psychosis medications that doctors may prescribe to manage psychological symptoms.
As with most cases of overdose, every second counts. Don’t try to treat it on your own. Call 911 immediately if you suspect you or someone you know has overdosed.
Given how severe a kratom overdose can be, the drug has caused a modest but significant number of deaths over the years, usually when mixed with other substances.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 91 people died from kratom overdoses in 2016-2017. Of those 91 cases, only seven involved just kratom. The remaining victims succumbed from taking a mixture of kratom plus diphenhydramine (an antihistamine), alcohol, caffeine, benzodiazepines, fentanyl, and/or cocaine.
Kratom is sometimes packaged into dietary supplements that are laced with other substances, resulting in a toxic mixture. People should discuss with their health care providers the safety of mixing kratom with other compounds or, better yet, avoid taking these questionable supplements altogether.
The best course of action for someone going through any stage of kratom addiction or withdrawal is to seek immediate medical help. Because there’s still much we don’t understand about kratom, the short and long term health risks of dependence and withdrawal can be more dangerous than currently known.
The ideal treatment facility has experience treating all kinds of substance abuse, including kratom. Its medical and non-medical staff have a background in helping people at every stage of recovery: detox, rehabilitation, therapy, and beyond. The lasting effects of kratom have yet to be fully discovered, so it’s best to be surrounded by experienced professionals who are equipped to be ready for anything.
Currently, kratom is legal in Maryland, but lawmakers have recently floated the idea of restricting it in the state. Proponents of the bill cite the drug’s unpredictable health outcomes and the severe effects — including death — that have resulted from abuse.
Regardless of the future of the drug’s legality in the state, there needs to be high quality and accessible addiction recovery centers to help deal with Maryland’s present kratom addiction cases.
At Avenues Recovery, seasoned medical professionals who specialize in addiction recovery are standing by to help. No matter what stage of the process you’re on — detox, rehabilitation, therapy — your holistic health is our priority.
We offer residential treatment, Partial Hospitalization (PHP), Intensive Outpatient (IOP), and Outpatient (OP) treatment programs that are all customizable to your unique needs. These options can include family and couple therapy sessions, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), immersive 12-step programming, outdoor activities, and more.
Our modern facilities have a casual atmosphere, beautiful grounds, and advanced amenities so that you can recover comfortably. At the center of every treatment plan are our core values: life skills, wellness, nutrition, social acceptance, financial responsibility, and family.
You don’t have to go through the recovery process alone. We’re here to help you to achieve a better, brighter tomorrow.