Understanding Kratom Addiction: Why is it So Addictive?

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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 recently been marketed in mainstream media outlets as an opioid substitute, as it produces mild pain-relieving effects similar to opioids. Avenues Recovery provides a detailed overview of what you need to know about kratom addiction before it may be too late.

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 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., kratom is most often found in powders, capsules, extracts, or even drinks.

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 capsules 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 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. 

What does kratom look like? Kratom comes in many strains that are sorted by the strain, originating country (Thailand, Indonesia, etc.), and 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 of kratom will still look green.  


How is Kratom Addictive?

There are two main compounds in kratom’s leaves that are responsible for most of its effects – mitragynine and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine. 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 for an energy boost, to act more sociable (or relieve anxiety), pain relief, and to increase alertness.

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. Red kratom strains seem to have more sedative and pain-relieving or analgesic effects. 

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What is Kratom Abuse?

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 heroin 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. This can eventually lead them to become addicted to kratom.

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. 

In the U.S., kratom 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 over the last few years. 

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

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Kratom Abuse Signs and Effects

Kratom can produce dangerous or uncomfortable effects if it is abused.

Some kratom abuse symptoms include: 

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

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Kratom Withdrawal

Addiction withdrawal occurs when one builds a tolerance to a specific drug.

Kratom withdrawal symptoms - according to the DEA - include: 

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

Signs of kratom addiction are obvious when one is experiencing any of these withdrawal symptoms.

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Kratom Overdose Symptoms

While kratom use isn’t as deadly or as addictive as opioid painkillers 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 is more widely used, its effects will be studied more, and its overdose symptoms and potential will be better understood. So while kratom does not presently appear as dangerous as opioid abuse or addiction, there are still many unknowns that should instill caution at the very least.

Death Rates for Kratom Addiction

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

The National Poison Data System detailed kratom deaths in the years 2011 through 2017, in a paper written in 2019. 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 identified 44 kratom deaths in 2017. 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.

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Treatment for Kratom Dependence

As far as kratom overdose treatment is concerned, time is essential 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. Although there is no specific treatment for kratom addiction yet, supervised drug detox treatment is recommended in order for one to get off of their kratom addiction. 

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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More FAQS About Kratom Addiction

Is Kratom Legal in the US?

Although kratom is legal in most states, kratom is 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.

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 
How Addictive is Kratom?

When learning about kratom, it is important to understand how long it takes to get addicted to kratom. The amount of time to become addicted to kratom varies from person to person and will generally take between one week to one month. 

Kratom Addiction Treatment at Avenues Recovery

While recovery from addiction can be extremely challenging, you do not need to go through it alone. If you or a loved one want to know more about kratom addiction or any drug or alcohol addiction, contact Avenues Recovery today. We offer a variety of treatment programs and resources to help you free yourself from addiction. Our professionals are ready to help you. Take the next step towards a life of sobriety.

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