Kratom is an old drug that’s now being put to new use. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that Kratom has been used as a drug in Thailand and Southeast Asia for decades.
Kratom trees were prevalent in this area, until they were banned in 1943, so it was relatively easy for people who live there to pull the leaves down and chew them. Many of those trees remain, producing leaves users can simply strip and eat. Modern American users don’t have access to kratom trees, in most cases, so they’re forced to buy the substance from other locales. Typically, it arrives in a form that can be brewed into a cup of tea.
Kratom tea is packed with all sorts of active ingredients, but the prime ingredient, per the DEA, is mitragynine. This substance works on opioid receptors in the human body, which means it latches on to the same brain and body parts that are targeted by drugs like heroin and OxyContin.
Users typically report a rush of energy, akin to the sensations a cup of coffee can deliver. That makes sense, as kratom is structurally similar to coffee. But mere minutes after the burst of energy wears off, a sensation of relaxation and pleasure takes over. That boost of sensation is caused by chemical changes inside the cells of the brain, triggered when kratom particle attach to opioid receptors. When users feel euphoric like this, they remember the sensation, and sometimes, it’s that sensation that keeps them coming back for more kratom.
Euphoria triggered by drugs is unlike anything a person experiences in nature, and it’s designed to spark the attention of the reward centers of the brain. When it takes hold, the brain’s recording gear hops into overdrive, and the brain cells develop signals that can push a person to seek out that activity again. It’s that need for repeated experiences that triggers an addiction.
People with a kratom addiction aren’t lazy and they don’t have a lack of self-control. They have a medical condition that strips them of the ability to regulate their kratom use. The more they use the drug, the more consequences they might face.
While drug manufacturers make it relatively easy for people to get kratom for personal use, they’re often separated from their users by great distances. People who buy kratom from online dealers may never see the person from whom they’re buying kratom, for example, and they may have questions about the substance that they just can’t get answered.
A reporter found this out firsthand when he took kratom as part of a journalistic exercise. He reports that the drugs he got didn’t come with easy-to-understand dosing information, so he wasn’t sure how much to take and he wasn’t sure how much would constitute a dangerous dose.
Similarly, a researcher reports that the amount of active ingredient in kratom substances can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. That means people who switch providers may get stronger drugs than they expect, and if they use the same dose they used with the weaker drug, they could experience severe harm associated with taking too much kratom.
All of this dosing data matters, because kratom’s consequences grow more and more severe when people take very large doses of the drug. For example, in one case study published in the journal Addiction, a man was taking kratom four times per day, and spending about $15,000 each year on his drug habit. As his doses increased, his risks increased. He came to the attention of officials when he developed seizures.
The Food and Drug Administration also says that kratom can be dangerous. These are just a few of the symptoms that organization has tied to the consumption of kratom:
- Skin color changes
- Slow breathing
A significant amount of research has been performed on a number of different drugs of abuse. That data helps professionals know what sorts of medications can help people with addictions to those substances. When people have addictions to heroin, for example, researchers know that methadone can help to soothe distress and make the path to recovery less rocky.
While researchers suggest that kratom is addictive, based on the behavior of the people who take a great deal of it over a long time period, they’re not exactly sure of the mechanism of action. In other words, they haven’t developed an understanding of how the brain changes in response to kratom, so they haven’t developed specific and targeted drugs to help people who develop an addiction.
That doesn’t mean that nothing can be done to help people in need. In a targeted treatment program, people with an addiction to kratom can get better, and they might use therapy to do it.
In kratom addiction therapy sessions, people have the opportunity to examine the thoughts and feelings that come right before a drug-use episode. Once those signs are identified, people can learn how to handle those sensations effectively, without relying on the use of kratom. Treatment programs may also use alternative therapies, like massage, or group techniques, like support groups, to help people to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of addiction and what others have done in order to get better.
Even with help, recovery can be a lifelong endeavor. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says, for example, that drug addiction relapse rates are in the 40-60 percent range. That’s why treatment programs also provide robust aftercare, so people can touch up their skills as needed, and stay in recovery long-term.
If you’re ready to tackle your addiction head on, we’re here to help, and if you have a mental health concern, we can help you address both conditions simultaneously.
Not all treatment facilities out there are equipped to help people overcome an addiction and a mental health issue. We can help you to find the facilities that can do both, so you can achieve the robust recovery you’ve been hoping for. Just call, and we’ll help you.
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David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.