Kratom is the common name for mitragynaspeciosa, a tree native to Southeast Asia that is related to the coffee plant. Kratom leaves contain compounds that have properties similar to both stimulants, like caffeine, and opioids, like morphine. The leaves are consumed by chewing on them, drying and smoking them, brewing or steeping them into tea, or cooking them in foods. Kratom has been used for hundreds of years as a pain reliever, to improve mood and as a stimulant. In the 21st century, the usage of kratom has sharply increased, and it has been touted by its advocates as an alternative to other stimulant and opioid use, as well as a potential treatment for opioid use disorder. It is widely available online, at gas stations and at smoke shops, often being sold as an unmarked herbal supplement.
You may have heard of kratom before, as it is the subject of considerable legal, scientific and political controversy. Its sales and/or usage is banned or highly restricted in several North American and European countries, as well as in many Southeast Asian countries where the kratom tree natively grows. No high-quality scientific studies have been done to assess the safety or effectiveness of kratom usage; even the body of basic and clinical research on its effects is relatively small and mostly confined to cellular and animal studies. In 2014, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the import and sale of kratom. In 2016, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) moved to make kratom a Schedule I drug, the same designation as heroin and cocaine, stating that it had no medical value and posed significant risk to public health. The DEA postponed this decision after public outcry and Congressional lobbying to keep kratom legal.
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You may have noticed a parallel, too: the recent increase in kratom usage closely mirrors the recent increase in non-prescribed opioid usage, as many people use the substance to manage chronic pain on their own or use it to avoid opioid withdrawal symptoms from other substances. Recreational usage of kratom is also increasing, and its commercial product often contains other readily available substances like caffeine or codeine.
How Kratom Works Within Your Body
The leaves of kratom contain the compound mitragynine, along with several closely related compounds. At low doses, mitragynine compounds appear to act like stimulants, giving you increased energy and alertness, improved mood, better endurance and increased concentration. At higher doses, mitragynine compounds function similarly to opioids and display similar properties at the body’s mu-opioid receptors—you experience pain relief, relief from opioid withdrawal symptoms, euphoria and, with very high doses, sedation.
The side effects that Kratom produces are those typical of both stimulants and opioids. Its users report experiencing anxiety, a rapid heart rate and pupil dilation at low doses. At high doses, they report experiencing nausea, irritability, constipation and increased urination. As with other substances that act on the body’s opioid system, kratom can cause decreased breathing (the most common reason for fatal overdose), though some research has found that it does not. In any case, kratom has been implicated in at least 50 deaths from overdose, most commonly in association with other opioid drugs or medications. Frequent or excessive use of kratom can lead to symptoms of opioid withdrawal if the substance is abruptly stopped or reduced.
Identifying Problematic Kratom Usage
Have you used Kratom before? How would you describe your relationship with it? How has it helped you? How has it harmed you?
Like with most substances, there are reliable indicators of problematic use of kratom. Unsuccessful attempts to cut down the use of kratom, or continuing to use kratom despite experiencing negative consequences from its use, are some of these indicators. Lying about your usage, hiding it or taking increasingly risky measures to obtain it may also be telling sign, as is the development of social or legal problems around your use of it. Consumers of kratom can develop tolerance to the substance, and you may notice over time that the same amount does not create the same level of effect, or that it takes more of it to create the same effect. This indicates that your body has become physically reliant on kratom for normal functioning, and that can also be a sign of a problematic use.
Treatment for Problematic Kratom Usage
If you or your loved ones believe that your usage of kratom has become a problem, Transformations Treatment Center can support you.
First, it will be important to establish whether or not your body has become physically dependent on kratom. For this reason, treatment begins with medical detoxification. You’ll be monitoed for signs of opioid withdrawal, and medical staff will provide interventions accordingly.
Psychotherapy will be an important part of your recovery process. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the therapy of choice when substances like kratom have triggered addictive behavior. CBT can help you monitor and change unhealthy behavior patterns by closely examining the relationships between your thoughts, feelings and actions. Other psychotherapy approaches may include mindfulness training exercises (learning how to stay tuned in to one’s thoughts and actions in the moment, as they are happening), or motivational interviewing (asking nonconfrontational questions to encourage you to think about your usage and its patterns).
Finally, participation in a 12-step-based program can help you develop a support network, self-awareness and accountability to others. These are critically important steps to being able to live a substance-free and healthy lifestyle, and that is our goal for you.
Transformations Treatment Center will meet you where you are in your process of identifying problem usage of kratom or similar substances, and provide nonjudgmental and holistic care based on the best available scientific evidence. Our professionally trained staff will design a treatment program for you that addresses your specific needs. Contact us today and tell us your story.