What is Kratom? What is it Used For?
Kratom refers to the leaves of a tree by the name of Mitragyna speciosa tree. It’s a supplement that’s been used for hundreds of years. It provides several different benefits that can range from stimulation to sedation and pain relief.
The active ingredients are a set of over 17 alkaloids. The primary ingredients are mitragynine, 7-hydroxymitragynine, and 5-HO-mitragynine. They work by activating the opioid receptors in the brain. This system is involved with regulating pain, mood, muscle relaxation, and much more.
Some of the active alkaloids also target the adrenergic system, which gives the plant its stimulating activities. This works the same way coffee works (kratom and coffee are closely related).
Is Kratom Addictive?
Yes, kratom can become addictive. Any substance that offers a release from pain, depression, or other forms of discomfort can become addictive if they aren’t used responsibly.
People who abuse kratom can become dependent on it over time. This takes several months of consistent kratom use to get to this point.
There are two stages to kratom addiction:
Stage 1: Psychological Dependence
Addiction to kratom doesn’t start out with any physical symptoms. If you miss a dose of kratom, you’re not going to feel sick. Instead, you’re going to crave the experience or benefits kratom offers you. This is the same for addictions to other substances or activities (like sex or gambling). You don’t physically need the substance, but you seek it out because of how it makes you feel.
Stage 2: Physical Dependence
After several months, physical addiction can form. When this happens, your body adapts to the presence of the substance and alters its chemistry to take it into account. When this happens, your “normal” state of homeostasis (balance) assumes kratom will be in the system. When it’s not, you fall out of balance, which causes symptoms of withdrawal.
Physical dependence is more than just psychologically craving the experience. You actually feel sick without taking it.
This stage of addiction is harder to treat because it can feel pretty uncomfortable when you stop taking kratom.
Luckily, kratom withdrawal is very mild compared to other substances. It can leave you feeling irritable, anxious, and uncomfortable. It lasts for a few days but will eventually go away as your body adjusts.
This is a far cry from the fevers, cold sweats, and seizures that occur while withdrawing from prescription pain meds or illicit opioids.
Combatting Kratom Misinformation
There’s a lot of misinformation about kratom on both sides of the equation. If you look at websites that are supposed to be providing unbiased health information — like WebMD — you’ll find all kinds of factually incorrect information about how kratom is as addictive, if not more addictive, than prescription pain medications. This simply isn’t true, and there’s never been any data to back this up.
On the other side, there are kratom vendors and blogs claiming that kratom has no addictive qualities whatsoever. This is also factually incorrect and not supported by science.
Uneducated users, believing that kratom will never cause an addiction, may begin to use extremely high doses every day and develop a serious habit that’s hard to kick.
The best thing to do is to promote the facts and remain aware of its risks and dangers. Kratom is powerful and potentially life-saving medicine for many, but it needs to be respected.
The fact of the matter is that if you take kratom every single day, multiple times a day — you’re going to eventually start to become dependent. When this happens, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the herb wear off.
At the same time, an addiction to kratom is an entirely different beast to prescription pain pills. It takes several months to become addicted (compared to a few weeks with prescription pills), and withdrawal symptoms from kratom are significantly milder.
Warning Signs of Kratom Addiction
If you’re unsure of whether you or your loved ones are addicted to kratom, there are a few signs and symptoms to look out for. Here are some of the most obvious signs of kratom addiction.
- Continuing to use kratom despite the emergence of problems in your life or adverse consequences
- Spending unreasonable amounts of money on kratom
- Repeatedly attempting to stop using kratom but being unable to
- Losing interest in regular activities, socializing, etc.
- Having difficulty controlling or regulating the amount that you take or your dosing frequency
- Changes in daily habits such as sleeping or eating
- The development of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
- Lying or keeping secrets regarding kratom use
- Craving kratom throughout the day or being unable to function or enjoy life without it
How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Kratom?
In general, it takes several weeks or months to become physically addicted to kratom. By taking at least a few days off of kratom each month, you may be able to avoid physical dependence and addiction altogether.
Different people will have different experiences in regards to developing a kratom addiction. Some people find that they develop an addiction and tolerance relatively quickly. Others are able to build a tolerance and use kratom on a regular basis for months without actually experiencing withdrawal symptoms at all.
Many different factors will affect how long it takes for you to get addicted to kratom. However, the best thing that you can do is listen to your body.
If you start developing a tolerance, then that means you’re becoming dependent. Rather than playing with fire, it’s best to reduce the amount that you’re using or reduce the frequency of your use.
Factors That Affect Kratom Addiction
There are lots of factors that can impact your chances of becoming addicted to kratom. The dose you take, the frequency of use, strain selection, and genetic factors can all influence how likely you are to becoming addicted to kratom.
1. The Impact of Dosage on Addiction
One of the biggest factors that will determine how quickly you become addicted is your dosage. Simply put, if you’re taking huge doses, you’re going to get addicted faster.
The bigger the dose, the more your body has to compensate for the effects of the kratom. It will downregulate faster, and the results will be more severe.
Related: Kratom Dosage Guide.
2. The Impact of Dose Frequency on Addiction
Dosing frequency is equally as important as the dose itself. If you’re taking multiple doses per day, then you’re much more liable to develop an addiction than you would be if you were taking a single dose.
If you’re taking kratom all day, even at small doses, then your brain and body don’t get a break from the alkaloids. The only time that you’re going to be functioning without kratom active in your body will be during your sleep.
On the other hand, if you take one dose per day — even if it’s a relatively large dose — then your body has much more time to return to baseline. You will likely be able to avoid the process of downregulation for longer if you’re just using a single dose.
However, even with just a single daily dose, it’s possible to build up a significant tolerance and dependence. The only way to really avoid addiction is to avoid daily use or to supplement with potentiators which we discuss in another article.
Many people find that taking kratom more than twice a week makes it difficult to maintain control.
3. Previous Opiate Addiction
The body has an interesting mechanism by which it seems to familiarize itself with addiction and dependence. If you’ve been addicted to opioid drugs in the past, then you may become addicted to kratom much quicker than you would otherwise.
4. Kratom Strain Rotation & Type
There is some speculation that rotating kratom strains can offset the development of addiction, although there’s not much scientific basis for this.
The idea is that you’ll be switching up the alkaloids that your brain and body are exposed to. This could theoretically slow the process of downregulation.
However, since most of the alkaloids in kratom work on the same systems, the benefits of strain rotation might not be that obvious. You’re still going to be introducing mitragynine and 7-hydroxy-mitragynine into your body.
However, white kratom — which has a lower concentration of 7-hydroxy-mitragynine — is often reported as being less addictive than red and green strains, which have a higher concentration. 7-hydroxy-mitragynine is the most potent alkaloid in terms of its effects on the opioid system, so choosing strains with less of this alkaloid may actually deter dependence.
It’s also important to note that some strains of kratom, especially ‘enhanced’ strains or extracts, can really speed up the process of addiction. For example, strains like Ultra Enhanced Indo contain a much higher alkaloid content than the average strain and will cause addiction much quicker.
How Does Kratom Cause Addiction?
There are several mechanisms by which kratom can cause addiction. It’s important to understand how these processes occur in the body. This will help you make an educated and informed decision about how to proceed with your kratom use.
1. Kratom & the Opioid System
The main reason that kratom can cause addiction is its influence on the opioid system. The opioid system is the body’s main line of defense against pain. We produce opioids naturally that are called endorphins. These work as the body’s natural painkilling substances.
Supplements like kratom also work on this system to provide similar painkilling relief. However, when the opioid system is constantly bombarded with compounds that activate its receptors, the body begins to respond.
One of the main ways that it does this is through a process known as downregulation. Downregulation is your body’s attempt to always remain in a state of balance. When it detects that a certain system is overstimulated, it tries to counteract the perceived imbalance.
It does this by basically dialing down the receptors in the system, in this case, the opioid system. When this happens, you’ll start to notice that you’re becoming less sensitive to kratom. This is called building tolerance.
If you continue to use it despite becoming desensitized to kratom, then your body will become physically dependent. It will become so reliant on kratom for stimulating the opioid system that it won’t put much effort into producing opioids on its own, in addition to downregulating the system.
If you suddenly stop using kratom once you’ve reached this point, then you’re likely to experience withdrawal symptoms.
2. Kratom & Dopamine
Kratom also has a strong influence on the brain’s dopamine system.
The dopamine system is part of our reward pathway. Dopamine itself is responsible for things like managing our mood, as well as sensations of reward and pleasure. Dopamine is also involved with libido, energy, and many other important things.
Because of its powerful impact on the dopamine system, kratom can cause downregulation here as well. This can lead to physical dependence. When you’re dependent on a dopamine-boosting supplement, you may find yourself unhappy, lethargic, and unmotivated when you’re not using it.
Kratom Withdrawal: Signs & Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms are a collection of unpleasant physical and psychological problems that emerge when your body tries to function without a substance that it’s addicted to.
It’s important to note that kratom withdrawal symptoms are not necessarily dangerous. If you have used pharmaceutical or illicit opioids before, then you’ll already be familiar with opioid withdrawal. Kratom withdrawal is similar but much less intense than typical opioid withdrawal.
In fact, many people use kratom to overcome the withdrawal to more potent and dangerous synthetic drugs like morphine and heroin. Because kratom works on a lot of the same receptors, it can help people overcome withdrawal symptoms temporarily. Once the opioid withdrawal period is over, they can then withdraw from kratom with far fewer symptoms.
However, if you have never been through withdrawal before, the symptoms can seem shocking or unpleasant.
Most people with mild-to-moderate kratom habits report that withdrawal symptoms are similar to battling a cold or flu.
Kratom also causes a number of psychological withdrawal symptoms. Many report these symptoms are more intense and longer-lasting than the physical symptoms. Compared to typical opioid withdrawal, physical symptoms are significantly less challenging, and psychological symptoms are far more obvious.
A) Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
These are some of the most common and significant psychological issues experienced by people going through kratom withdrawal.
One of the most common symptoms associated with kratom withdrawal is depression. People who have gone through withdrawal from both kratom and synthetic opioids often report that the depression is far more severe with kratom withdrawal. This is possibly due to the more potent interaction that kratom has with the dopamine system.
Think of it this way: each day, kratom causes you to experience an elated or euphoric mood boost. Or, at least, it did during the earlier stages of your use.
Eventually, you become accustomed to this state of euphoria. After this becomes the baseline, many people start to chase the high. However, the euphoria becomes evasive. Instead, people find that they’re simply unhappy or agitated without kratom and that they need it to feel pleasure or joy.
Agitation & Restlessness
A number of people experience mental restlessness when they’re going through kratom withdrawal. They are plagued with the sensation of needing to do something, but they lack the energy to do it.
There is a phrase used among herbalists that goes something like this. “Any problem that you’re covering up with herbal medicine will affect you much worse if you refuse to deal with it.”
This is true with kratom, which many people use to manage anxiety. If you refuse to deal with your anxiety in a permanent manner with therapy or other options, it won’t simply get better. It’ll get worse, but you won’t realize it because you’ll be medicated with kratom.
The disturbances in your brain chemistry caused by dependence can also cause anxiety. In fact, many people who have never experienced anxiety reported that they developed anxiety problems after reckless kratom use.
Lack of Motivation
Another issue that people often face after excessive kratom use is a lack of motivation. Opioid downregulation can sap you of the will to achieve things, and a lack of dopamine can leave you feeling uninspired and dejected.
B) Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
There are a number of physical withdrawal symptoms associated with kratom withdrawal. Some are more serious than others. For most people, symptoms won’t be much more serious than those of a mild flu.
Many people experience the classic symptoms of an allergy when they are going through kratom withdrawal. This might mean having a runny nose, sneezing a lot, having watery eyes, or yawning excessively.
Lethargy and Fatigue
Lethargy and fatigue are two of the most common kratom withdrawal symptoms. Many people are surprised to learn that they’ve become dependent on kratom as their primary source of energy. When they suddenly stop taking it, they have no energy to do anything.
Many people find that they are unable to get to sleep during kratom withdrawal. The dopaminergic imbalance causes a lack of energy, and yet they lack the ability to actually drift off to sleep.
If insomnia leads to sleep deprivation, a number of other issues can emerge. Whether caused by withdrawal or not, sleep deprivation can cause emotional disturbances, hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive changes.
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome, or RLS, is one of the most irritating kratom withdrawal symptoms. It’s a sensation of restlessness and agitation that lies deep within your muscle tissues. RLS doesn’t just affect the legs, although this is the most commonplace for it to occur.
RLS tends to make people incapable of finding comfort or rest. The sensation of agitation is so intense that people find that they have to constantly jerk or move their muscles in order to avoid it.
Muscle and Bone Aches
Regular opioid use can lead to a condition called ‘hyperalgesia,’ which is basically the opposite of analgesia (pain relief). Hyperalgesia increases your sensitivity to pain.
Because of this, one of the symptoms of opioid withdrawal is pain. This most commonly manifests as aches that can be felt in the muscles and bones.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
One of the most frustrating aspects of addiction to kratom is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS.
PAWS tends to set in after the initial physical withdrawal symptoms have abated. PAWS symptoms are usually psychological in nature and may include things like depression, anxiety, and anhedonia (an inability to find pleasure).
There are many factors that can contribute to the symptoms of PAWS, but they’re generally the result of changes in brain chemistry caused by long-term substance abuse.
PAWS symptoms do go away, but it may take a longer period of time. Seeking the help of a therapist can help, as can engaging in activities that can restore brain function such as meditation.
What To Do If You’re Addicted to Kratom
The best way to manage a kratom addiction is to avoid it entirely. This means that you should regulate your dose size and avoid taking it every day.
If you’re already addicted to kratom, or if you know someone who is, there are a number of solutions you might want to take advantage of.
1. Support Groups
There are lots of support groups for people with kratom addiction, especially online. Websites like Reddit have entire communities of people dedicated specifically to helping people manage kratom addictions.
If your addiction is serious and you’re not able to overcome it on your own, there’s always rehab. Rehab centers will hook you up with therapists, group meetings, and education that you can use to overcome your addiction.
There are a few different rehab models you can check out. Some involve staying at a facility for a few weeks to receive treatment 24/7 — others involve an at-home model, which involves online meetings with doctors and psychologists and access to local support groups.
3. Address the Root Cause
Underneath all addictions is a deeper trauma or health issue that needs to be explored. Nobody chooses to become addicted to something. It happens gradually as an attempt to soothe or escape a deeper pain or trauma.
It’s important to seek out methods of identifying this underlying cause by asking yourself what is it kratom does for you? What pain or issue is it solving that makes you want to keep using it.
For many people, the answer to this is physical pain, but for others, it could be something much deeper. Visiting a mental health therapist is invaluable for learning to identify with this pain, bringing it to the surface, and integrating it. This process isn’t as straightforward as it sounds and can take many years to get to a point where a substance is no longer needed to provide this sense of relief — but it’s the best way to cure any addiction long-term.
Summary: Is Kratom Addictive?
Kratom addiction is a very real issue that should be acknowledged and understood properly. Kratom addiction is not life-threatening, and it’s certainly less severe than addiction to opioid medication. However, it’s still an addiction and should be treated as such.
Understanding and preparing for addiction and the subsequent withdrawal symptoms can help you get a handle on your experience with kratom. If you’re too far in, there’s still hope: support groups and rehab centers have helped thousands of people beat kratom addiction.