Is Kratom Dangerous?
Kratom is a psychoactive substance that is derived from the plant Mitragyna speciosa. The leaves can be chewed, smoked, or steeped to form a tea. Enterprising westerners have extracted the active substances from the plant to create kratom capsules. In addition to its stimulant effects, kratom is used as a nonmedical means to treat opioid withdrawal, supposedly by reducing opioid cravings and symptoms of withdrawal. However, do we fully understand the dangers of kratom?
Does Kratom Work for Opioid Addiction?
We know very little about how well kratom works as a treatment for opioid addiction. People who use the drug report feeling relaxed, energetic, and euphoric. Kratom apparently also has some pain relieving effects, according to the patients who have taken it. Kratom may reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms because it is, itself, an opioid. So kratom is not really treating opioid withdrawal, it is transferring one opioid addiction (e.g. heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone) to another opioid (kratom).
There are no FDA-approved uses for kratom, so anyone selling the substance is doing so without the approval of the FDA. Kratom should not be used to treat opioid dependence or withdrawal.
Is Kratom Addictive?
When kratom users stop taking kratom, they experience withdrawal symptoms. Kratom withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, constipation, hostility, aggression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, depressed mood, and low sexual drive. People who use kratom to avoid opioid withdrawal are actually using an opioid that is, itself, addictive.
Originally, scientists assumed kratom was not addictive. When they gave one of the active ingredients in kratom to rats, namely mitragynine (MG), the rats did not develop dependence or addiction like they would if they were given opioids or cocaine. Upon further study, however, researchers found kratom actually contains another psychoactive substance, 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-HMG). MG does not cause addiction or physical dependence, but 7-HMG apparently does. It is the 7-HMG in kratom that causes pleasant feelings and euphoria, but it is also 7-HMG that makes kratom addictive and a drug of abuse. People who use kratom develop a physical dependence to it, which means they need to take more and more of it to get the same desired effect they once did.
Upon further study, the FDA found that 22 out of the 25 most abundant compounds in kratom bind to the mu opioid receptor, which essentially makes them opioid agonists. While 7-HMG might be the main opioid-like substance in kratom that causes euphoria and addiction, it is likely not the only one.
Is Kratom Dangerous?
Not only is kratom addictive and can lead to its own set of withdrawal symptoms, but kratom is also known to cause several severe side effects. When people use kratom frequently and over extended periods of time, it may cause decreased appetite, weight loss, and depression. Patients taking kratom are more likely to develop psychosis (i.e. hallucinations and delusions) and to experience seizures. There have been reports of people falling into a coma after taking kratom. Kratom is also toxic to various organs in the body. Kratom may injure the liver, lungs, kidneys, heart, and/or the thyroid gland.
Can Kratom Kill You?
In a word, yes. Kratom can kill you. It is the FDA’s position that kratom is an addictive opioid, it can be abused, and it can cause serious health problems, including death. The FDA has been tracking deaths associated with kratom use over the past several years. Through academic research, poison control data, and events submitted to the FDA by the public, researchers have identified 44 confirmed deaths associated with kratom use.