Understanding Kratom Addiction


Part of the Complete Guide to Understanding Addiction


I. What is Kratom? 

Kratom is a tropical tree or plant (Mitragyna speciosa) that is native to Southeast Asia. Its leaves have been consumed for decades in countries like Thailand (where it is now illegal) due to compounds in the leaves that have psychotropic (mind-altering) effects. 

Traditionally, the leaves were chewed on, made into tea, smoked, or consumed in cooked meals. In Western countries like the U.S., it is most often found in powders, capsules, extracts, or even drinks. 

It is legal in most states but illegal in six states including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. It is extremely easy to order online and users can even find it in some select smoke shops and smoking paraphernalia stores in states where it is legal. 

Kratom has historically been labeled as “not for human consumption” in the U.S., but as guidelines for selling kratom have changed, so has the messaging around it. It has also recently been marketed in mainstream media outlets, including recent TV ads, as an opioid substitute, as it also has mild pain-relieving effects. 

Kratom is particularly popular in Thailand where it is sometimes mixed with iced-down caffeinated soda or codeine-containing cough syrup into a drink called “4×100” for its alcohol-like effects. 

When addressing what is kratom, it’s important to note that much of its effects and dangers are still being studied and documented. It will no doubt take many years to fully understand this new recreational drug and its potential for dependence, addiction, and concern, 

II. How does kratom look, taste, and smell? 

The taste of kratom has been described as bitter and horrible, prompting many kratom users to consume it via capsule instead of powders. When consumed in powder form, users tend to mix it in water and drink it very quickly or brew it as a tea. 

When consumed in water, the horrible taste remains, hence the reason to consume it quickly. Whereas, when consumed in a tea, users can mix in other tea herbs to mask the awful taste. And, of course, if consumed in capsule form, there is no taste at all. 

The smell of kratom in powder form is quite mild but distinctively leaf-like. It can be compared to fresh lawn clippings or grass. The smell certainly is not indicative of the poor taste that follows but not enjoyable either. 

Kratom comes in many strains that are sorted by the strain, originating country (Thailand, Indonesia, etc.), and the color – green, red, and white. While each color, country, and strain is recognized for its differing effects, the color changes little, meaning even a red or white strain kratom will still look green.  

III. How does kratom work?

Two compounds in kratom’s leaves are responsible for most of its effects – mitragynine and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine. Though, altogether there are more than 20 active compounds in kratom. These compounds have been found to interact with opioid receptors in the brain causing numerous pharmacological effects such as: 

  • Euphoria 
  • Pain relief 
  • Sedation 
  • Stimulation 

People consume kratom for many different reasons including to get an energy boost, produce more sociability (or relieve anxiety), pain relief, and to increase alertness.  

As you can see, the effects vary wildly based on the strain taken and the amount. Maeng da is a strain mostly associated with stimulant effects, as is green kratom in general. Whereas red kratom strains seem to have more sedative and pain-relieving or analgesic effects. 

IV. What are symptoms of kratom addiction?

It’s important to note that the beneficial effects of kratom have not been documented or substantiated in any clinical trials or studies and remain unproven. Kratom can also produce dangerous or uncomfortable effects if it is abused, which include: 

  • Nausea 
  • Itching 
  • Sweating 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Constipation 
  • Increased urination 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Seizures 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Psychosis 

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has place kratom on its list of “Drugs and Chemicals of Concern” based on the negative side effects noted above and its potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. 

V. What is kratom called on the street ?

Kratom in Western countries like the U.S. is simply known as “kratom” though the pronunciation can differ slightly. In Southeast Asian countries Kratom sometimes goes by the following names: 

  • Biak 
  • Ketum 
  • Kakuam 
  • Ithang 
  • Thom 

VI. How is kratom abused? 

Like any mind-altering substance, kratom has great potential for abuse. Some people consider kratom a good legal-high alternative to more illicit drugs like opioids because it’s safer and easier to get. And while some may consume kratom responsibly and in reasonable doses, others will consume higher and higher dosages in an effort to chase the high

Because kratom behaves like other narcotics, kratom addiction and dependence are a concern. It also escapes detection on most drug tests, allowing users to safely avoid their employers finding out about its use. 

The ban of kratom in Thailand is related to its abuse in that country. In the U.S., however, it is still a new recreational drug that is not fully understood, though its psychoactive properties are well documented and have increased concern for kratom addiction in the last few years. 

VII. Kratom overdose symptoms 

While kratom use isn’t as deadly or as addictive as opioid pain killers or other pharmaceuticals that are used and abused recreationally, it does appear to be more dangerous than initially thought. 

Though kratom overdose is certainly a concern, the symptoms of kratom overdose may be less pronounced than opioids and more difficult to detect.  And because it acts as both stimulant and depressant, based on dosage and strain, kratom overdose symptoms can range wildly. 

Kratom overdose symptoms can include one or more of the following: 

  • Chills 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Confusion or delusion 
  • Slowed or difficult breathing 
  • Seizures 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Coma 
  • Constipation 
  • Lack of urination 
  • Dry mouth 

As kratom becomes more popular and more widely used, its effects will be studied more, and its overdose symptoms and potential will be more understood. So, while kratom does not presently appear as dangerous as opioid abuse or addiction, there are still many unknowns that should inspire caution at the very least. 

VIII. Kratom abuse, overdose, and fatality rates 

Most reported kratom deaths have occurred when kratom has been mixed with other dangerous substances, like fentanyl, benzodiazepines, cocaine, or alcohol. 

The National Poison Data System, in a paper written in 2019, detailed kratom deaths in the years 2011 through 2017. They found that 11 deaths were associated with taking kratom, and of those, nine were cases where the user took another substance. 

However, the FDA in 2017, identified 44 kratom deaths. Though most of those also either involved the use of other dangerous compounds or came as a result of adulterated kratom products that were laced with another substance.  

IX. Kratom addiction treatment options 

As far as kratom overdose treatment is concerned, time is of the essence, as symptoms can worsen and become more deadly. Anyone who has taken kratom and recognizes any of the overdose symptoms listed above should call 911 immediately. 

When any drug is introduced into one’s system, brain chemistry has the potential to be altered. And because the effects of kratom include triggering opiate receptors in the brain, many of its treatment options and withdrawal symptoms are similar to opioid withdrawal and treatment. 

According to the DEA, kratom withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Runny nose 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Joint or bone pain 
  • Jerky movements of arms and legs 
  • Hostility 
  • Aggression 
  • Mood swings 

When kratom use is abruptly stopped, the brain chemistry reacts as do the neurotransmitters that have been signaling pleasure from its use. It is recommended that tapering or slowly lowering kratom dosages and use over time, as with opioids, is the prudent choice. 

Tapering off kratom use will also alleviate many or all of the withdrawal symptoms listed above. 

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Brooke Abner,

Motivational Coach