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What is Kratom?

Kratom is an herb tree known to have opioid-like and medicinal properties. It originated in Southeast Asia and grows mostly in Indonesia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia.

Leaves from the Kratom tree have been used as an herbal supplement and medicine for treating health issues like cough, muscle pain, intestinal problems, opioid withdrawal symptoms, and diarrhea. Today, it is used as a recreational drug. People take it for pain relief.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Kratom is not illegal in most U.S. states. It is also readily available for purchase online. Sometimes it is packaged in packets as a green powder and labeled “not for human consumption.” Some people take it as a capsule or pill, while some chew the leaves or brew it as tea.5

Physicians believe that Kratom contains some chemical constituents that act like opioids and produce similar effects. This means this tropical tree has psychotropic effects (i.e., it can alter the mind). Kratom affects the same opioid receptors as morphine

How Do People Use Kratom?

The Kratom plant bears leaves that are glossy and dark green. People in various parts of the world use this plant in different ways. 

Four common ways to ingest kratom include: 

  1. Drying the leaves, crushing them into a powdery form, and then stirring it into drinks (e.g., juice or putting a spoonful of the powder into the mouth and washing it down with a drink)
  2. Brewing it into a tea
  3. Chewing the leaves fresh
  4. Taking a capsule of Kratom powder

Taking Kratom in capsule form is the easiest way to ingest the herb. However, users have to take several Kratom capsules to equal what they would have taken if they put the powder in a drink or took a spoonful of it. Kratom powder is fine and loose. It can be green, red, or orange.

Kratom use varies from person to person. There are other ways to take it aside from the techniques mentioned above. Some people prefer turning the leaves into extracts, resins, or tinctures (as they are usually more concentrated in these forms).

Side Effects & Dangers of Kratom

A study found that the primary reasons why people use Kratom include: to relieve pain, lessen anxiety, reduce depression, and stop or reduce opioid use.1 

Also, some Kratom users take the drug to avoid the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. However, the fact that this substance has some dangerous side effects calls for safety concerns.

Some of the side effects and dangers of Kratom use include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Tongue numbness
  • Aggression
  • Delusions
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abnormally fast heartbeat

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Can You Overdose on Kratom?

Yes, you can overdose on Kratom. Even though it has a lower risk of misuse than normal opioids,1 Kratom misuse is still common.  

Several cases of deaths linked to Kratom use have been reported, even though some involved other substances used alongside Kratom.

Calls to poison control centers in the U.S. about Kratom have increased in recent years. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology found that poison control centers received 1,807 cases of Kratom exposures between 2011 and 2017.7

Also, a report made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that Kratom overdoses caused 91 deaths between 2016 and 2017 across 27 states in the U.S.6

How Much Kratom Can Cause an Overdose?

Kratom overdoses can cause serious medical issues because there isn’t much known about dosage guidelines. 

Kratom has different strains (like marijuana). Some common Kratom strains include Indo, Maeng, Green Maley, Borneo, Thai, and red vein. Each strain has slightly different effects, and some are stronger than others.

Normal Kratom doses vary depending on factors like sex, age, and health status. Also, the strain and method of ingestion can influence the effects of the substance. Typically, users take about 3 to 9 grams of the powdered form.

A 2018 study showed that most Kratom users reported that up to 5 grams of Kratom powder consumed three times a day was enough to make the users experience some effects of the substance.4 5 to 15 grams of powdered Kratom might be classified as a high dose, while above 15 grams can be very risky.

Be sure to follow the dosage directions as written on the product label or consult your healthcare provider before use. 

Symptoms of Kratom Overdose 

Kratom is better taken in low doses. When taken in lower doses, it causes increased alertness and physical energy. However, high doses of Kratom can affect mental stability and can cause delusion, hallucinations, and confusion.2

Other symptoms of Kratom overdose include:

  • Brain swelling
  • Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
  • Irritability
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased urination
  • Hypertension
  • Constipation
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Liver damage
  • Death

Long-term use of Kratom can increase the risk of:

  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia

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What to Do if You Overdose on Kratom

If you overdose on Kratom, the first thing you should do is call for help. If help is not close by, dial 911 immediately. Quick medical intervention is crucial. 

Can Kratom Overdose Lead to Death?

Kratom overdose can cause seizures and even death. Several reports have shown that Kratom misuse can lead to fatal overdoses. 

Since it has high narcotic effects and has been associated with severe health issues like seizures, liver problems, and psychosis, Kratom can lead to death when taken in high doses. 

Other Health Risks Associated With Kratom Misuse

Aside from overdose, there are adverse effects and health risks associated with Kratom, especially when used in higher doses. 

Because of the health risks associated with this substance misuse, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned against Kratom use.3

The FDA has shown concern about the dangerous side effects of Kratom even though it is not classified as an illegal substance. The government agency has called for more research into the safety profile of this substance and is evaluating available scientific data to ensure the safety of use. 

Just like every other substance use disorder, Kratom misuse can be dangerous. 

Other health risks associated with Kratom misuse include:

  • Hallucinations 
  • Itching
  • Anorexia
  • Hyperpigmentation of the cheeks
  • Thyroid problems
  • Trouble breathing 

Is Kratom Addictive?

Yes, Kratom is addictive. Kratom exposures can increase the risk of addiction, dependence, and misuse. Therefore, Kratom products should be taken with caution.

Kratom works similarly to stimulants and opioids by increasing pleasure, decreasing pain, and causing sedative effects. This increases its tendency for misuse, and misuse can lead to addiction.

Signs of Kratom Addiction

Kratom is addictive, just like alcohol and opioids. The major sign of Kratom addiction is a physical dependence. An individual who is addicted to Kratom will always have the urge to use the drug. 

Here are some common signs of Kratom addiction:

  • The urge to use Kratom regularly 
  • Taking Kratom for longer than intended
  • Prioritizing Kratom and placing it above other needs
  • Buying Kratom frequently (even when money is tight)
  • Continuous use of the substance (even when it is causing problems)
  • Failure to stop substance use (even after making attempts)
  • Experiencing withdrawal after quitting substance use

Treatment Options for Kratom Addiction

Generally, there are three phases for treating every drug addiction or substance use disorder. The phases are:

  • Physical stabilization: One of the important aspects of physical stabilization is detox treatment to clear the drugs from the body. You will also receive medications and medical surveillance during your detox program.
  • Therapy: Most treatment facilities offer therapy and counseling as a treatment option for Kratom addiction. Family therapy is part of this phase. You might receive therapy as an inpatient or outpatient (depending on addiction severity). One of the most common forms of therapy for drug addiction treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps discover the root cause of the substance use.
  • Recovery: Recovery from substance misuse is a gradual process. Addiction treatment will often include a support group and aftercare programs to help deal with relapse and drug withdrawal symptoms.

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Resources

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Claire, Wilcox. “Why People Use Kratom: Results from an Online Survey.” NEJM Journal Watch, 24 February 2020.  DEA. “Kratom. Drugs of Concern. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration. FDA and Kratom.U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 11 September 2019. Grundmann, Oliver. “Patterns of Kratom use and Health Impact in the US - Results from an Online Survey.Drug and Alcohol Independence, Vol. 176 (2017): 63-70 NIDA. “What is Kratom?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, April 2019.  Olsen, Emily, et al. “Notes from the Field: Unintentional Drug Overdose Deaths with Kratom Detected - 27 States, July 2016 - December 2017.MMWR Morb and Mortal Wkly Rep, vol. 68, 14 (2019): 326-327. Post, Sara, et al. “Kratom Exposures Reported to United State Poison Control Centers: 2011-2017.” Clinical Toxicology, vol. 57,10 (2019): 847-854.

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