Kratom is a tree that’s found in Southeast Asia with active components that can affect the human body and brain. Kratom contains two major alkaloids called mitragynine and 7-a-hydroxymitragynine. Alkaloids are chemicals found in plants that contain nitrogen, and many of them have powerful effects when people consume them.
While there are two major components in kratom, there are 20 or more active chemicals that can bind to receptors in the brain. More specifically, some can bind to the brain’s opioid receptors, which are the part of the brain that is activated by your endorphins. Opioid receptors can also be activated by illicit and prescription drugs like heroin, morphine, and several prescription pain relievers.
Kratom is said to have several benefits, including pain relief, increased energy, and increased focus. It has been used in many Asian countries for decades, and it’s recently increased in popularity in the United States. People may use it as a way to self-medicate for depression, anxiety, past trauma, low energy, and even opioid use problems. However, kratom is unregulated in the United States and has been associated with several deaths.
However, the majority of the deaths that involved kratom also involved other drugs, so it is not known if kratom was the definitive cause. Still, because the drug is unregulated, it may be unpredictable in its contents. Like regulated, illicit drugs, unregulated drugs may be contaminated with other substances like opioids.
Kratom contains chemicals that bind to opioid receptors, but the plant is in the coffee family, so taking kratom may have the effects of both opioids and stimulants. These effects may be dose-dependent. Low doses produce stimulating effects like increased sociability, increased energy, and alertness. When it’s taken in higher doses, it can create effects similar to opioids, causing pain relief, pleasure, and sedation.
Will You Experience Kratom Withdrawal Symptoms?
While kratom is sometimes used to treat opioid and stimulant withdrawal symptoms and lessen the severity of withdrawal, it can cause dependency and withdrawal symptoms on its own. Since the drug can act like opioids and stimulants in the brain, your central nervous system can get used to it over time. As your brain gets used to a drug, you may start to develop a chemical dependence on it.
This happens because your brain starts to incorporate the drug into your normal brain chemistry. That means it may start to adjust your natural chemical levels to achieve balance around kratom. When you stop taking the drug, your brain chemistry will be thrown out of balance suddenly, causing uncomfortable symptoms.
Since kratom hasn’t been studied as much as many opioids and stimulants, and it’s not regularly prescribed as a medication, the time it takes for you to develop a chemical dependence on kratom may not be fully understood. Plus, it may depend on how you take the drug, your typical dose, and other factors.
Still, like most drugs that can cause chemical dependence, taking it in higher doses for longer periods may make it more likely for you to experience dependence and withdrawal. Taking the drug regularly without breaks can also make dependence more likely.
Chemical dependence can come with several signs and symptoms, especially a growing tolerance. Tolerance will feel like the typical amount you take is having diminishing effects over time. Your body’s adaptation to the drug can make it so that it takes heavier doses to achieve the same effects. Other signs that you may experience kratom withdrawal when you stop using it include:
- Needing to take kratom more often
- Using more in one sitting than you intended
- Being unable to cut back or stop
- Taking high doses for several months
- Using the drug to avoid discomfort
- Using the drug despite uncomfortable symptoms
What Are Kratom Withdrawal Symptoms?
Kratom can cause opioid-like effects when the drug is taken in high doses, and it even has chemicals that can bind to opioid receptors. However, kratom may not cause withdrawal symptoms that are as severe as opioids. Opioids are often associated with uncomfortable flu-like symptoms. While they aren’t usually life-threatening, they can cause some intense discomfort. Opioid withdrawal is so unpleasant that it can be a significant barrier between people with opioid use disorders and getting treatment.
Kratom is sometimes used as an off-the-books treatment for opioid withdrawal or as an opioid replacement. But long-term use can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit.
While opioids can cause various physical symptoms, and stimulants primarily cause psychological symptoms, kratom can cause both. Physical symptoms of withdrawal can be similar to opioids, even if they aren’t as severe. Symptoms include:
- Muscle spasms
- Aches and pains
- Runny nose
- Teary eyes
Psychological symptoms can include:
- Mood swings
- Sleep issues
- Sleep disturbances
- Low mood
Like many drugs, including stimulants, kratom withdrawal can cause depression and anxiety symptoms. Psychological issues can last longer than other symptoms of withdrawal. If you experience depression or anxiety that lasts for weeks or gets worse over time, you may need to speak to a doctor or therapist to effectively address your mental health.
When Do Symptoms Start?
Kratom’s effects typically last for a few hours. Mitragynine has a half-life of around 3.5 hours, and 7-a-hydroxymitragynine has a half-life of around 2.5 hours. After that, the chemicals will be reduced to half of their initial concentration in your bloodstream, and their effects will diminish. After the effects wear off, you may start to feel some withdrawal symptoms within the next several hours, and they’re likely to show up by the second day.
How Long Does Withdrawal Last?
Kratom withdrawal symptoms may increase in discomfort until you reach your peak symptoms. After that, you’ll start to feel better. Uncomfortable physical symptoms may diminish first, but psychological symptoms could last longer.
Is Kratom Withdrawal Dangerous?
Kratom withdrawal can be unpleasant, but it’s not known to be dangerous or life-threatening. Since kratom is similar to opioids and stimulants in its effects, withdrawal from those other drugs can offer some insight into how your brain and body might react.
Opioids can cause extreme discomfort. Some compare it to a particularly bad case of the flu with powerful drug cravings mixed in. Stimulants usually cause mild symptoms and some general physical discomfort. In some cases, they can cause severe depression. All of these symptoms can be challenging to get through, especially when you go through withdrawal by yourself. However, kratom and similar drugs aren’t as life-threatening as depressants like alcohol during withdrawal.
Of course, severe withdrawal symptoms can cause some complications that can be dangerous when they aren’t addressed. For instance, the rare cases of fatal opioid withdrawal involved dehydration. Since opioid withdrawal can cause you to lose fluids through sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, and teary eyes, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids.
If your symptoms are so severe that you can’t keep fluids down, or if you don’t have access to clean water, you may encounter life-threatening complications if you don’t seek medical treatment. It’s possible for kratom to cause similar symptoms and risk dehydration. In most cases, symptoms are mild, and drinking plenty of fluids can help you avoid complications.
If you’ve been taking kratom for a while and you think you might encounter withdrawal symptoms, the safest way to get through them is to speak to a doctor. Every person is different, so your doctor can help you get through withdrawal while addressing your specific medical needs.
How Is Kratom Withdrawal Treated?
Treatment for kratom withdrawal will depend on your specific needs and the severity of your dependence on the drug. The best way to determine that is to speak to a doctor or addiction treatment professional and to go through a physical exam.
If you’ve taken kratom only for a short time in small doses, and you’re unlikely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms, you may not need any treatment besides rest, as you would with the flu. If you have more severe symptoms, or if you have a substance use disorder, your doctor might recommend medical detox.
Detox is a high level of care in addiction treatment that involves 24-hour care from medical professionals. You may be treated with medication to help ease your discomfort and to manage symptoms. You will also have constant medical monitoring to help avoid or address complications.
Detox centers usually have clinicians on staff that can also access and address your psychological and social needs as well. Substance use disorders are often related to mental health issues that need to be addressed for treatment to be effective. Clinicians can start to address issues like depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues in detox.
Detox typically lasts for around five to 10 days, depending on your specific needs.
What Happens After Detox?
Detox may be an important step in addiction recovery, but it may not be enough to address a severe substance use disorder. If you’ve become addicted to kratom, you may need additional treatment after detox to address issues like mental health, behavioral health, and powerful drug cravings.
There are several levels of care in addiction treatment after detox, including inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment. Through each level of care, you’ll receive a variety of therapeutic interventions to help address biological, psychological, and social needs.