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Article Summary

A Guide To Kratom Addiction

Although Kratom is relatively new to Europe and the U.S., it has been used for long as an anti-diarrheal, painkiller, and recreational medication in Southeast Asia. The drug comes from the leaves of the tree by the same name.

In Asia, Kratom is typically bought in its leaf form. However, it is usually only available as a capsule of the powdered or chopped up leaf in the United States where people smoke or use it for tea. Others just ingest it.

Today, the drug is heavily promoted as a safe, undetectable, and legal substance that you can use to come off a stronger drug. Although it isn't illegal, the breakdown of its products may be detected using some drug tests.

Due to this legal status, Kratom is quite popular particularly among those who are too young to buy alcohol or are concerned about getting arrested for possession of other drugs.

Today, it is included in the newly-defined class called NPS (New Psychoactive Substances). According to a 2013 World Drug Report, Kratom was added to this list by the UNODC (the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) alongside khat, Salvia Divinorum, mephedrone, and ketamine, among others.

Read on to learn more about Kratom:

Understanding Kratom

Also referred to as Mitragyna Speciosa is a large tree of the Rubiacea family. Native to South East Asia, the leaves of this tree are said to affect the brain in the same way as opiate drugs. However, the clinical data on how alkaloids such as these affect the brain remains inconclusive.

Despite this lack of clinical data, people still abuse this forest drug. Among users are those striving to kick their addiction to such pharmaceutical opiates as Opana and OxyContin.

That said, the leaves of the Kratom tropical tree have been used in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years as a pain relief medication. These leaves are usually eaten raw, although some people crush the leaves for turning into liquids, tablets, and capsules, or brewing into tea.

In low doses, the drug tends to act as a stimulant. However, it is a sedative when taken in high doses. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) reports that Kratom might lead to psychological addiction and psychotic symptoms.

Further, the CDC adds that close to 42% cases of the Kratom use reported from 2010 to 2015 carried non-life-threatening symptoms requiring treatment. However, around 7% of these exposures were classified as life-threatening and major. The DEA also reports 15 known cases of deaths related to the drug from 2014 to 2016.

As such, the DEA has added Kratom to its list of chemicals and drugs of concern where it has been for several years. The same report notes that the use of this substance has been on the upward movement.

Although the drug is legal in the country, it is illegal in Malaysia, Australia, Thailand, and several countries in the European Union. Here, it is typically marketed in the form of alternative medicine and sold in the same stores where you'd find alternative medications and supplements.

On the street, Kratom is referred to by the following names:

  • Herbal speedball
  • Biak-biak
  • Ketum
  • Kahuam
  • Ithang
  • Thom
  • Thang
  • Biak

Kratom Uses

Some people abuse Kratom as a legal way to get high. As such, it appeals to those looking for a quick high from a substance that they deem to be safer than most illicit drugs - users who include teens and young adults. Some bars also sell the drug mixed into drinks or in powdered form.

However, since this substance is relatively new to the United States recreational drug scene, its full effects and working mechanism is as yet unknown. The general consensus is that Kratom carries psychoactive effects and may lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

In the past, the drug was used as a sedative and stimulant - instances of use that are still popular today. Others use it to treat digestive ailments and chronic pain, as well as a medication for dealing with the symptoms experienced by opium addicts trying to quit.

Still, the data from the few clinical trials on Kratom is not conclusive enough to fully understand this drug's effects. As such, it is yet to be approved for medicinal value. However, users who take low doses report feeling more alert, energetic, and social while those on a high dose report that it dulls sensations and emotions, produces euphoric effects, and acts as a sedative.

Among the active ingredients in this substance are the alkaloids 7-hydroxymitragynine and mitragynine. Medical evidence points to the muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, and pain relief (analgesic) effects of these alkaloids. For this reasons, the drug may be used in easing the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Kratom Effects

Although Kratom only appeared locally in 2012, it is now easily available online. It is also sold at gas stations, convenience stores, head shops, and smoke shops. Those who use it may experience the following undesirable effect:

  • Aggressive behavior
  • Combative behavior
  • Constipation
  • Delusions
  • Edginess
  • Hallucinations
  • Itching
  • Lethargy
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Respiratory depression
  • Severe and prolonged nausea
  • Severe and prolonged vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

Since it is addictive, another effect might be compulsive use in spite of the harm that it wrecks on the user's life and mental state.

Kratom Side Effects

The EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction) reports that small doses of this drug may produce stimulant effects. These effects show up about 10 minutes after you ingest Kratom and may last for close to 1 and 1/2 hours, and may include the following:

  • Alertness
  • Sociability
  • Giddiness
  • Reduced motor coordination

On the other hand, a large dose may cause sedative effects with feelings of euphoria and calmness lasting for close to 6 hours.

Other side effects of using this drug in the long term include:

  • Aggression
  • Agitation
  • Anorexia
  • Constipation
  • Delusions
  • Discoloration on the cheeks
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of libido
  • Loss/lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Respiratory depression
  • Severe weight loss
  • Skin hyper pigmentation, or darkening
  • Sleeplessness
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

Kratom Addictive Qualities

Opioid drugs are generally considered to be highly addictive. According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), close to 2.5 million Americans are addicted to such opioids as heroin and painkillers. This is based on data from the 2012 national survey on drug abuse).

It might be that the narcotic effects of Kratom cause its addictive potential. Where it is commonly abused (such as in Thailand), the EMCDDA and several states have outlawed the use of this drug.

Today, Kratom research is not adequate or conclusive enough. As a direct result, the drug is yet to be approved or recommended for official or medical use. This means that the harmful interactions and effects of this drug are not known.

However, it is clear that this drug has the potential to strongly affect the body. This is because it contains close to as many alkaloids as hallucinogenic mushrooms and opium.

These alkaloids cause a variety of potent effects when used by people. Although some of these effects may be positive, others are a clear cause for concern. This is one of the reasons why this drug needs to be studied.

However, a recent study confirmed that the major psychoactive ingredient in Kratom is mitragynine. Dependence on this alkaloid may cause a variety of addiction-like side effects, including hallucinations, insomnia, tremors, nausea, and sweating.

Kratom Overdose

It would take quite a high dose to overdose on Kratom. When this happens, the effects/symptoms are different from what you would experience while overdosing on another opioid.

Some of these symptoms, however, include:

  • Aggression
  • Combative or aggressive behavior
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Lethargy
  • Paranoia
  • Respiratory depression
  • Severe nausea
  • Shakiness
  • Shallow or heavy breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors

These symptoms appear a few minutes after taking Kratom and are likely to last for 5 or more hours. However, if the dose was higher, these symptoms tend to last longer.

Kratom Withdrawal

Emergency room staff in the US started seeing patients suffering from Kratom abuse around 2012. Whereas some of these patients end up in hospital while suffering an overdose, others display the classical symptoms of withdrawing from drug abuse.

Most of these withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of opioid and opiate abuse and may range from the mild to the severe depending on the level of usage and the user. Nonetheless, they include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Cold-like symptoms
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Teary eyes
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Episodes of panic
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Hostility
  • Insomnia
  • Involuntary movement
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle jerking and tremors
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Pain
  • Panic
  • Psychotic behavior
  • Restlessness
  • Runny nose
  • Severe depression
  • Sleeplessness
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

Kratom Dangers

The DEA further reports that some Kratom users experience psychotic episodes during which they become confused and delusional, and start hallucinating. Since the drug may stay in your system for over 5 hours, you may get into trouble during this team.

Some of the examples of trouble Kratom use may cause include harming yourself or loved ones, or anyone else in your immediate vicinity. While high, it may also be impossible to reason with you. In many instances, Kratom distorts consciousness and causes users to turn illogical. In such cases, you may injure yourself or others, or even get arrested.

On the other hand, those with underlying mental health issues are especially at risk if they use this drug. In such a state, your brain chemistry signals would typically be already altered and heightened. This means that using this drug may cause desperate lows and extreme highs.

When you add the aggression and hallucinations you already experience as a result of your underlying medical condition to the effects of Kratom use, you may end up in a devastating situation.

Signs And Symptoms Of Kratom Abuse

Luckily, most of the symptoms of Kratom use, tolerance, dependence, abuse, and addiction are quite easy to spot. In general, they may include any, most, or all of the following:

1. Physical Symptoms
  • Constricted pupils
  • Dreaminess
  • Edginess
  • Greater ability to deal with and tolerate tedious tasks
  • Higher energy levels
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased sociability
  • Insensitivity to emotional or physical pain
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Sudden sleepiness
  • Sweating
  • Talkativeness
  • Vomiting
2. Psychological Symptoms
  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Euphoria
  • Excitability
  • Hallucinations
  • Hostility
  • Irritability
  • Potential suicidal thoughts
  • Psychosis
3. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Apparent weight loss
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Changes in physical appearance, including decreased interest in cleanliness and personal hygiene
  • Conflicts in interpersonal relationships
  • Continued Kratom use despite the problems it causes
  • Declining performance at work, school, and home
  • Decreased productivity at home, work, or school
  • Drug tolerance and dependence
  • Encouraging others to do things that might be out of character
  • Financial strain from spending more money on the drug, working less, or job loss
  • Increased risk taking
  • Increased secrecy
  • Irregular sleeping patterns, such as sleeping more frequently or at odd times
  • Irresponsibility
  • Lack of control over how much Kratom you take, or the duration of drug abuse
  • Lack of interest in recreational, social, and other activities you used to enjoy
  • Legal troubles due to increased dangerous and risky behavior that may lead to run-ins with the law
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Mood swings
  • Shift in personality
  • Social withdrawal
  • Taking higher risks
  • Unfilled obligations

Treatment For Kratom Addiction

Treatment for addiction and drug abuse usually goes from physical stabilization, therapy, and recovery. To quit Kratom, therefore, you may have to undergo detox to get rid o the drug from your body. During detox, doctors will provide drugs and medical monitoring to ensure this happens effectively.

After that, you may undergo counseling and therapy either in an outpatient or an inpatient setting. Residential treatment is preferable because you will be closer to therapists and medics who will check and track your progress.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is ranked among the most successful therapies for people addicted to Kratom. Through this form of therapy, you may soon discover the potential triggers and root causes of your addiction.

Either way, you need to undergo treatment if you are to successfully stop using Kratom and beat its various withdrawal symptoms and potential for addiction. Over time, your treatment will evolve until you are fully recovered and able to resist the drug or any opportunity for a relapse.

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