Kratom popularity is on the rise, and there has been great debate on its safety level for medicinal and recreational use. Millions of Americans, namely opioid users, insist that kratom is their savior. However, the herbal substance has reportedly caused 91 deaths within an 18-month period ending in 2017; and that number has grown significantly.
Regardless of kratom’s potential therapeutic benefits, the facts remain the same: Kratom use either opens the door or leaves the already opened door ajar to substance dependency and abuse. That means that discontinuing the use of kratom will result in withdrawal.
If you’re reading this, it’s because you’re either wondering how kratom leads to substance abuse or how long does kratom withdrawal last. We’re about to answer all of those questions and more—keep reading.
What’s the Deal With Kratom?
Kratom is broadly defined as an herbal supplement made from the leaves of the Mitragayna Speciosa, otherwise known as the kratom tree. The kratom tree is indigenous to Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.
Much like khat and coca leaves, kratom has been used traditionally throughout these countries as a homeopathic pain reliever, energy booster, and aphrodisiac. It’s also applied topically for wound healing and as a local anesthetic. It’s also used recreationally for its euphoric effects.
The kratom leaves are typically chewed or brewed into a tea. The leaves can also be smoked, similar to how marijuana is smoked, or crushed into a powder for supplementary purposes. In the United States, kratom can easily be found in pill, tea, and powder form.
Kratom is legal on a federal level. However, many states have banned the substance sales—which have been found at smoke shops labeled as “incense” or under other pseudonyms. Arguably the largest issue with kratom is that it behaves like an opioid—and is largely underregulated.
Currently, the FDA advises against using kratom for multiple reasons. The primary reasons have to do with the need for more scientific evaluation as it’s not yet FDA approved. There’s also the potential to abuse the substance, leading to addiction and, in some cases, death.
How Does Kratom Affect the Brain and Body?
Interestingly enough, kratom is sought after as a means to self-treat opioid addiction and withdrawal. This is thanks to the misconception that kratom is a natural, safe, healthy, and effective remedy to combat addiction. In reality, kratom is more than capable of exacerbating addiction because it contains similar chemical compounds as opioids.
The two chemical compounds in kratom responsible for how the substance interacts with the brain and body are Mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine. These two compounds specifically interact with the brain’s opioid receptors to produce feelings of sedation, pain relief, and pleasure. Mitragynine is also known to interact with some of the brain’s other neuroreceptor systems, making it responsible for kratom’s stimulating effects.
In other words, much like opioids, kratom causes the brain to release endorphins voluntarily, i.e., feel-good chemicals throughout the central nervous system.
Here’s the issue:
The brain gradually becomes accustomed to the synthetic stimuli and begins to builds up a tolerance. The tolerance is the direct result of overexposure to kratom’s stimuli, which forces it to produce more endorphin receptors to accommodate the stimulation. After a while, higher doses of kratom are needed to produce the same effects, and the pattern continues.
With a higher amount of endorphin receptors, there’s now a greater demand for endorphins. Unfortunately, this new pattern also creates a deficit in the brain’s naturally produced endorphins—hence the need for larger doses of kratom. This is how a chemical dependency is formed in the brain, manifesting as an addiction.
When the demand for a larger number of endorphins isn’t met, withdrawal happens.