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Picture this: You’re one of the millions of people in the United States struggling with chronic pain, but you’ve heard about the dangers of using opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet, so you start looking online for safer alternatives. It’s there that you find out about kratom, a drug derived from a plant native to some Asian countries. You read that kratom side effects aren’t as intense as those associated with opioids and it’s effective in treating pain, so you start using it daily.
But, as more people in the Western world turn to kratom, we’re able to learn more about it. What scientists are finding out about the substance isn’t all positive.
In this piece, we’ll be answering questions frequently asked by a growing number of people as different sources weigh in on this contentious issue: What are the long-term effects of kratom use?
What Is Kratom?
Kratom is a substance derived from Mitragyna speciosa, a tropical evergreen tree native to the Philippines and New Guinea. It’s been used by Southeast Asian cultures for generations due to the energy and pleasurable sensations it provides. Some users have likened the feelings produced by kratom to those of club drugs or milder versions of common opioids.
How Many People in the United States Use Kratom and Why?
According to a study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, only 0.7% of Americans use kratom regularly. Compared to other substances and most medications, this is a very small number. In the same study, however, it was reported that a much more significant 10.3% of people with opioid use disorder were using kratom, which provides important context to our knowledge about why it’s used. Seemingly, many people use (abuse) kratom to aid in managing their recovery from addiction to opioid drugs and medications.
As of 2021, kratom is legal in most U.S. states but isn’t as easy to access as other supplements. For example, the vitamin retailer GNC has refused to carry products containing kratom due to the lack of safety data. It’s typically sold inside capsules or as a powder, liquid extract or tea.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Kratom Use?
Because kratom is still relatively new to the United States and Western culture in general, we don’t have a broad sampling of data about the long-term effects it has on users. However, we can discuss some of the potential risks of using kratom and how they might affect people over an extended period of time. Here are four reasons why you should be concerned whether kratom is safe to use regularly.
1. Kratom Causes Symptoms Consistent With Opioid Use
Kratom has been used as a replacement for powerful opioids such as heroin and a range of prescription pain relievers. It activates the same neural pathways in the brain and creates similar but less intense sensations.
However, just because kratom isn’t as powerful as some more potent substances doesn’t mean it’s safe. According to the FDA, kratom does have opioid properties and therefore carries similar risks. Over an 18-month period, kratom was found to be a factor in more than 90 fatal overdoses.
Additionally, a 2014 report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence revealed that more than half of regular kratom users reported side effects that matched opioid withdrawal symptoms. These included muscle spasms, trouble sleeping and increased anger, stress and tension.
This leads experts to believe that daily kratom use may be a path to opioid addiction — and all the health risks that accompany this condition — similar to daily use of pain pills or heroin.
2. Kratom May Be Acutely Dangerous
Forget about the long-term effects of using kratom for a moment — there’s evidence that suggests kratom can be dangerous even before it causes issues with addiction and withdrawal.
As kratom use has become increasingly common, the FDA has expressed concerns about its safety, mainly due to an uptick in kratom users being hospitalized with symptoms of poisoning.
There may be other unpleasant side effects of kratom use as well. Chronic opioid abuse is known to cause digestive troubles, so there may be a link between kratom and constipation, nausea and vomiting.
3. Research About the Risks of Using Kratom Is Lacking
It’s hard to say exactly what the long-term effects of kratom might be, but one thing is certain: There’s not enough research out there to conclude that kratom is safe to use.
Some people say kratom can’t be dangerous — after all, it’s natural and derived directly from plants. But drugs such as morphine and codeine are products of the opium poppy, and no one today claims they’re not harmful in high doses.
The “natural plants are always safe” narrative is inherently flawed — toxic chemicals can be present in botanical-derived products just as they can in those created in a lab.
4. Kratom Is Unregulated
Even if there are no other risks associated with kratom use, products containing it aren’t regulated by the FDA.
In fact, the FDA has warned companies that sell these products in the United States that they’re breaking the law if they’re marketed as “herbal supplements” to treat certain health issues such as pain and anxiety. This lack of regulation has also led to serious health risks, including kratom being linked to a 2018 outbreak of salmonella.
What If You Can’t Get Off Kratom on Your Own?
People sometimes start using substances like kratom and then find stopping is easier said than done. If you’re in this situation, understand that it’s not your lack of willpower keeping you from breaking the habit. It’s the nature of using addictive substances and becoming dependent on them.
Similar to the way withdrawal works with other drugs, it’s highly unlikely that once your system starts to need kratom to function normally, you’ll be able to quit on your own without professional support.
That’s where we come in — FHE Health offers recovery programs and targeted therapies aimed at helping clients get clean and improve their lives. If you or a loved one need helping getting off kratom, call us at (833) 596-3502 today and learn about your options for a safe detox and healthy recovery.