Treatment for substance abuse disorders are constantly changing and advancing, thanks to numerous research studies on the topic. Medicated treatment has been available for quite some time. Drugs that bind to opioid receptors in the body are often used, helping to reduce the effects of opioid substances, such as heroin, taken by the individual. While these can be useful, there are concerns raised about their use.
People are increasingly turning to natural substances to assist in the treatment of drug addiction. When looking at opioid abuse disorders, a rise in the use of Kratom has been noted recently. Kratom is used in both medicinal and recreational use. Many have found this natural herb helpful, yet the FDA and several other health authorities have reported warnings related to Kratom use.
We take a look at what Kratom is and answer an important question: “Is Kratom an opioid?”. We also consider the safety and risks of this natural substance used as an alternative treatment for opioid addiction.
What Is Kratom and How Does It Work?
A thorough understanding of Kratom is needed before considering how it reacts in the body. Kratom is not a synthetic chemical made in a laboratory. This is one of the most essential factors that sets it aside from current medicated treatments used for substance abuse disorder.
Kratom is a herb. It is often sold as a natural supplement. One reason why many people are turning to Kratom is due to the non-prescription availability of the supplement. It is used as an alternative medication. There are multiple uses for Kratom. Some people have started to take supplements that contain Kratom to help with treating the withdrawal symptoms they experience when undergoing detoxification from an opioid addiction.
Kratom is currently considered an unregulated substance. In the majority of the United States, the use of Kratom is considered legal. There are, however, recent movements that suggest the substance should be scheduled – which will reduce the availability of the supplement to the general population.
Kratom Benefits and Risks
Numerous studies have been conducted on the use of Kratom. There is some evidence that Kratom might produce positive effects in the body. At the same time, several potential risks and side-effects have also been associated with this natural herb.
In one study, multiple benefits were associated with Kratom. The study reports a survey conducted among individuals who have used Kratom in the past. Multiple positive effects were noted among those who took the supplement, including:
- A reduction in pain symptoms
- Enhancement in focus
- Reduced symptoms associated with anxiety
- Improved mood and a reduction in depressive feelings
- PTSD symptoms were reduced
Additionally, the same study provides evidence that some have found Kratom a useful option for stopping the use of opioid drugs. The use of the supplement was reported to assist in reducing common symptoms associated with withdrawal once the patient stopped taking an opioid. Among some individuals, opioid use was completely halted when Kratom was used as a treatment option. A few patients also reported a reduced use of opioids due to the effects of Kratom.
While benefits have been reported, we should not fail to look at risks, side-effects, and complications associated with Kratom usage. Multiple reports of negative effects have been noted among people who turned to Kratom as a solution for treating substance abuse disorder.
A major concern also lies with the recreational use of Kratom. This causes an increased risk in overdosing on the supplement. Many individuals consider it a safer “drug” due to the natural origin. The high concentration of chemicals found in the plant, however, can have serious adverse effects in the human body.
Common side effects noted among individuals using Kratom include:
- Chronic or periodic dry mouth
- Constipation is a very common side effect
- There have been reports of muscle pain
- Liver damage caused by Kratom has been noted in the past
- Weight loss over time
- Nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting
- There have been changes in urination too
It is important to note that the nervous system and the brain may be adversely affected by Kratom as well. Some potential adverse effects in these systems may include:
- An increase in depressive thoughts and feelings
- Dizziness and drowsiness
- Suppression of breathing
In rare cases, death has been reported as well.
Another factor to consider is the toxicity of Kratom. Several calls have now been reported with an association to Kratom. In 2010, a total of 10 calls were made to a poison center with regards to overdosing or toxicity resulting from the use of this natural herb. In 2015, just five years later, the figure increased to a total of 263 calls.
By this time, a total of 496 reports were also submitted by healthcare providers. Ingestion of the Kratom drug, associated with negative effects that led to the need for medical assistance, was reported in 595 individuals during the same year.
In 2015, a total of 49 individuals exposed to Kratom had potentially life-threatening adverse effects. In some cases, residual disability was noted following recovery from acute symptoms. Death was noted only on rare occasions, but still makes for an important point to consider when looking at Kratom.
Kratom and Opioid Addiction
While Kratom has been used for anxiety, depression, and pain in the past, the majority of interest surrounding the herbal supplement lies in its potential ability to assist in opioid addiction treatment.
Studies have confirmed that the chemicals found inside Kratom seem to have reactions in the body that are similar to what happens when opioids are used. In particular, certain opioid receptors are stimulated when a person uses a supplement that includes a Kratom extract. This may explain the reason why pain relief is mentioned as a potential benefit of Kratom, since it binds to the same receptors as pain medication that are classified as opioids.
There are studies that show promising results when Kratom is used as a method of treating these addictions. In one study, researchers looked at how self-treatment with Kratom might be a strategy to consider in patients who have a less severe addiction to opioids.
Researchers in the study noted that Kratom has an active chemical that might be useful in opioid recovery situations. The chemical is known as mitragynine, and is classified as an alkaloid.
This chemical binds to two of the opioid receptor types that have been identified in the body, including:
- Mu receptors
- Kappa receptors
It does not seem to bind to beta opioid receptors, however.
One thing noted in the study is that there seems to be an augmented effect when the mitragynine binds to the mu and kappa receptors. This essentially means that the binding effects cause an enhanced reaction by the receptors and related responses.
While these factors are noted, the researchers do explain that current pharmacology related to the use of Kratom and, in particular, the active mitragynine alkaloid, is not well understood yet. The researchers also urge further research studies to be conducted on the toxicology of the alkaloid.
Is Kratom an Opiate?
With current evidence related to the effects of Kratom’s primary alkaloid, mitragynine, and its effects on the opioid receptors, a common question asked is whether this herb should be considered an opiate.
This is a rather complex topic, as the answer may not be as simple as yes or no. When considering the structure of Kratom and its active chemicals, the classification would not fall within the spectrum of an opiate. Yet, the herb does have similar effects in the body – which causes some confusion among people interested in Kratom.
Researchers note that Kratom has chemicals that are similar to opioid in terms of their effects in the body. With this in mind, Kratom has now been classified as an opioid-like substance. This does not make it an actual opioid by natural classification, but does mean it has opiate-like properties that react to the same receptors.
FDA Warns About Kratom Use
The FDA published an official warning to citizens of the United States regarding the use of Kratom. The warning was made public during November 2019, and is based on current evidence surrounding Kratom and its effects on the body. Risks and benefits were carefully analyzed, and it was noted that the potential adverse effects outweigh the pros of the substance.
The official statement by the FDA explains that two particular chemicals in Kratom are found to be concerning. These include:
Currently, the FDA’s warning primarily focuses on the risk that individuals may abuse the plant-based extract. This may lead to addictive behaviors, which would make in an ineffective option for treating an existing addiction. Furthermore, risks associated with overdosing on the plant-based extract have been raised too, as many individuals consider it safer due to the “natural” status of the substance – yet serious complications may develop in the presence of a high dose.
The Addictive Potential of Kratom
A critical factor that patients need to understand about Kratom is that its effects in the body might lead to addictive behaviors. Researchers note that the use of the herb leads to the activation of opioid receptors in the brain. This is exactly the same mechanism that happens when a patient starts to use actual opioids. With continued use, the consistent release of neurotransmitters in the brain can cause a dependency on the substance.
This is why addiction to Kratom is also becoming an increasingly concerning topic. Patients experiencing signs of dependency when using this substance are advised to consider seeking out a Kratom addiction rehab center in Dallas-Fort Worth.
When the use of Kratom is ceased immediately, the patient may be suspectable to withdrawal symptoms – which questions the use of this herb as a treatment for opioid addiction. A 24/7 medical detox program for Kratom withdrawal symptoms in Texas may be considered in such scenarios. These facilities are able to assist in reducing the effects of withdrawal once the patient stops using the substance.
Preferred Treatments for Opioid Addiction
The FDA has approved specific medication to be used as part of an opioid addiction treatment program. Kratom is not one of these medications, even though many might turn to this natural herbal extract as a method for overcoming the adverse effects of opioid withdrawal.
With potential dangers and even deaths associated with Kratom, undergoing a more conventional treatment program is the preferred method for patients with an opioid use disorder.
According to one research paper, counselling has an important role in the treatment protocol for opioid addiction. The paper explains that individuals with a substance use disorder may experience changes in how they react and cope while struggling with an addiction. Counselling is often unavailable to individuals who opt for self-treatment. The use of counselling can also assist in helping the patient deal with potential causes for the substance abuse disorder.
Medicated treatment is also available to individuals with an opioid addiction. Studies conclude that pharmacotherapy does seem to play an important role during detoxification and long-term treatment in patients. Opioid antagonists have been noted as highly efficient at the treatment of withdrawal symptoms.
Naltrexone remains a valid option for patients with an addiction to opioids. The medication acts on the opioid receptors in the patient’s body, which may assist in reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms experienced.
There are different types of antagonists available. These react to delta, kappa, and mu opioid receptors in the body. The specific medication used will be chosen based on factors related to the patient, including the severity of the addiction and seriousness of the withdrawal symptoms experienced.
Kratom has become a relatively popular natural treatment for opioid addiction. Even though some positive effects have been reported, the FDA has warned citizens of the risks associated with Kratom. With these factors in mind, patients are urged to consider approved treatments for substance abuse disorder, holding more evidence to its efficiency and safety.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.