Kratom and the Opioid Epidemic

The United States has been battling the opioid epidemic for years, more recently pushing through legislation that tightens prescription monitoring, improves access to treatment, increases addiction education, and raises awareness about addiction. Even with all of these programs in place, there is still (at least) one drug that may be slipping by: kratom. This psychoactive drug has caught the attention of the public and regulators alike, but there is still a great deal that is yet unknown about it.

What is Kratom?

Kratom is a natural drug derived from the kratom plant, which grows in Southeast Asia. It is nothing new – residents of Thailand have been using it for decades as a pain reliever.  In lower doses it has a stimulant effect, while in larger doses, it acts as a sedative. The leaves of the plant are chewed, steeped as a tea, or ground into a powder.

While not many studies have been conducted on kratom yet, researchers do know that it acts similar to opioids because the plant’s main ingredient – mitragynine – interferes with opioid receptors.  However, it is currently sold as a botanical supplement and not under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation, though it is recognized as a “drug of concern” by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Kratom Vs. Opioids

Unlike drugs such as morphine, heroin, Vicodin, fentanyl, and other pain relievers, not much is known about kratom. Researchers do not know an exact dosage where a person becomes at risk for overdosing.

Drugs such as Vicodin have a very predictable reaction. Kratom is unpredictable. Many people react in one way, while others have an opposite reaction. There is no telling what type of response any given person may have. Some people experience euphoria, sedation, and a body high which they find pleasurable. However, others experience unpleasant effects such as agitation, paranoia, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and increased heart rate.

Many people see that kratom is a natural substance and botanical supplement and assume that means it is safe. This is not necessarily the case. There have been reported cases where people in recovery have relapsed because they started using kratom and it increased their drug cravings, or they became addicted to the substance itself. Like other opioids, it is believed to have addictive potential.

Kratom on the Streets

Prescription drugs are regulated by the FDA, and those with addictive potential are considered controlled substances. Kratom falls into a gray area. It is largely unregulated. Recognizing the dangers that it can present, several states are taking matters into their own hands and banning kratom as they await federal response. So far, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wyoming have all banned kratom. Other states are considering following suit. Interestingly enough, it is actually banned in Thailand, one of the main countries from which it originates.

As legislators fight back against the opioid epidemic, kratom is seemingly slipping through the cracks. Although it is recognized for its opioid-like effects, it is available at smoke shops and online for the public to purchase. This makes it easier for adolescents and teenagers to get their hands on it. Studies have shown that involvement with drugs or alcohol at an early age can put youth at greater risk for substance use disorders and addiction later on.

Fighting for More Research

While some argue for the beneficial aspects of kratom as an alternative to prescription pain relievers, the truth is, very little is known about the drug yet. There have been some small-scale studies conducted, but nothing extensive. Researchers aren’t entirely sure of the effects it has on the body in the short and long term, or why some people have a more positive reaction while for others it is negative. The fact that its effects appear to be very similar to opioid drugs is cause for alarm for many people and reason to push for more research.

Northbound supports the move to fund more research on kratom. The more that is understood about this natural drug, the better educated health professionals and the general public can be. Given its potentially addictive nature, research could help addiction treatment facilities to identify approaches to treatment that may be more beneficial for those struggling with kratom addiction. With the current focus on battling the opioid epidemic, kratom should be included and recognized as an area of concern as well.

Public awareness and education can help to prevent youth and young adults from experimenting with drugs and alcohol, even those they may think are “safe,” such as botanical supplements like kratom. These drugs can have their risks as well and may lead to more serious drug use or addiction.

Increased research and understanding about kratom can allow addiction treatment centers like Northbound to better target individual client’s needs. We can create a more customized approach to treatment to help further reduce risk for relapse. Clients do not always realize that supplements such as kratom may put them at risk for relapse due to the effects of the drug – and right now researchers do not have a full understanding of all of the effects.

Seeking Treatment for Opioid Addiction or Kratom Addiction

Northbound is well versed in providing comprehensive treatment for clients battling opioid addiction, and kratom falls under this umbrella. Though not too much is known about kratom yet, clients can still benefit from the full integrated, comprehensive treatment provided for addiction and mental health disorders at Northbound. They can work through underlying issues and focus on building strategies and resources to support recovery and prevent relapse.

It is important for those in recovery to also be strong advocates for kratom research to protect their own well-being and the well-being of those in their lives. A few states have already taken a step forward in banning this substance, at least until more extensive research is conducted, and are striving to keep it out of the hands of youth and those at risk for addiction or in recovery. Much like the ongoing opioid epidemic, kratom has the potential to be a dangerous drug and requires more substantial investigation.

If you or a loved one is struggling with kratom or opioid addiction, contact Northbound today. It’s not too late to start treatment.

Reviewed by Paul Alexander

Paul AlexanderPaul Alexander is the founder and CEO of Northbound Treatment. He received his Certified Addiction Treatment Specialist training at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, and was awarded Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2002. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, Law and Society, Summa Cum Laude, from University of California, Irvine, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. He believes wholeheartedly in transformational leadership, organizational health and effective, fully integrated substance use disorder treatment.

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