Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a medicinal plant from Southeast Asia. The leaves contain a pharmacopeia of active alkaloids — some of which serve as powerful painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants.
Despite all its benefits, there is a downside: kratom can be addictive.
Any substance that can alleviate discomfort has the potential for addiction. In the case of kratom, its ability to ease chronic pain, help facilitate a night of better sleep, alleviate anxiety, or improve mood set up perfect conditions for people to become dependent.
In higher doses, kratom serves as a means of escapism. Users can get “drunk” on kratom to produce a euphoric and spaced-out state of mind that temporarily eliminates feelings of insufficiency, sadness, and pain.
How Does Kratom Work?
The effects of kratom are dose-dependent. In lower doses, it’s stimulating like coffee or coca, but in higher doses, it’s a sedative and analgesic like benzodiazepines or opiate drugs.
The active ingredients are a series of about 16 primary alkaloids. Each of these alkaloids interacts with different receptors in the brain. The collective interaction of all these active ingredients is what provides the characteristic effects of kratom.
Alterations in alkaloid ratios from one kratom strain to the next can change the emphasis of effects — some kratom strains are much stronger painkillers; others are more energizing and uplifting.
The alkaloids found in the largest quantities are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine — these makeup over 70% of the total alkaloid profile of the plant.
What Makes Kratom Addictive?
There are two main ways kratom can become addictive — compulsive behavior and physical dependency.
The first stage of addiction happens because of kratom’s beneficial effects. This could be the painkilling, anxiolytic, sedative, energizing, or intoxicating qualities of the plant. People who take kratom want to feel a certain way.
For example, someone may take kratom to feel less physical pain; another might take it as a form of release from what they deem a painful existence.
When we rely on a substance (herbal or otherwise) to feel a certain way, we’re essentially using it as a crutch. Over relying on substances like this almost always leads to deeper, more serious forms of addiction and compulsion, called dependency.
The second way people become addicted to kratom results from this dependence, which can happen slowly over several weeks or months of use.
When someone takes kratom over and over without breaks, the body responds by resisting its effects. It does this by hiding some of the receptors kratom relies on to produce its beneficial effects. There’s a reason our bodies aren’t flooded with painkillers, and there’s a reason why we feel pain.
As we become tolerant to the effects of kratom, we need to continually increase the dose to feel the same level of effects.
As this progression continues, we eventually reach a point where the body has made so many changes to resist the effects of kratom that we can no longer maintain balance (homeostasis) without it. As soon as kratom wears off, we feel sick. This is called withdrawal.
Signs & Symptoms of Kratom Addiction
Addiction is best defined as a compulsion to use a certain substance or engage in a particular activity despite the clear negative consequences of doing so.
It doesn’t matter how often you use kratom, what dose you take, or whether or not you experience withdrawal symptoms whenever you stop taking it. If you continue to use the herb despite clear negative consequences, you’re probably addicted.
Here are some of the early warning signs that may indicate an addictive relationship with kratom:
- Kratom use is taking a significant toll on relationships, physical health, or finances: You notice that your use of kratom has led to problems in your personal life, but you continue to use it anyway.
- You use kratom at the first signs of stress or discomfort: Using kratom is the only way for you to feel better during stressful periods.
- You lie to others about your kratom habits: You want to avoid confrontations with others, so you keep your behaviors secret.
- You spend too much time and money on kratom: You are so worried about keeping a large stash that you neglect other aspects of your life.
- You no longer have an interest in hobbies: You gain less pleasure from activities you were passionate about.
- You’ve tried and failed to quit kratom already: You have tried to stop using kratom at least once in the past but failed.
- You need to take large doses of kratom to feel the effects: You have difficulty regulating your doses because your tolerance has increased drastically.
- You’re rarely hungry: You feel less hungry throughout the day, and your weight has started to drop.
- You’re experiencing significant changes in sleep: You’re either feeling unrefreshed whenever you wake up, can’t fall asleep, or are sleeping much more than usual.
- You feel sick whenever kratom wears off: Your body has adapted to the presence of kratom, and you feel sick if you stop using it.
What Does Kratom Withdrawal Feel Like?
Withdrawal symptoms start to kick in when the effects of kratom start to wear off. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on the level of tolerance the body has formed to the effects of the herb.
Minor withdrawal symptoms usually involve depression, irritability, and lethargy. Some people experience a runny nose and body aches similar to what a cold or flu feels like.
More severe withdrawal can also involve severe diarrhea or constipation, anxiety, increased sensitivity to pain, insomnia or hypersomnia, muscle cramps and jitteriness, and more. It’s very uncomfortable, and there are only two ways to make it stop — either take more kratom or wait it out until the body can readjust.
Withdrawal symptoms will persist until the body can reverse the changes it made to resist the effects of the drug. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Common signs of kratom withdrawal include:
- Anxiety: It is a common side effect of long-term use, and it can also happen during withdrawal due to chemical imbalance. Notably, severe anxiety can occur in those who used kratom to deal with it previously without getting professional help.
- Restlessness: Mental and physical agitation is a common withdrawal symptom that can intensify kratom cravings. It often manifests as an uncontrollable urge to move or as intrusive thoughts.
- Depression: It is a significant symptom of kratom withdrawal that sets it apart from synthetic opioids. Kratom interacts extensively with dopamine, providing euphoria with each dose while your tolerance increases. You may feel unhappy and unmotivated when your body gets used to it and cannot achieve the same high.
- Insomnia: Sleeping trouble is a typical result of withdrawal, and you can suffer from it even if you feel fatigued all the time. This condition can worsen if you reach the point of sleep deprivation, creating a more significant complication.
- Muscle Pain: Opioid-induced Hyperalgesia (OIH) is a condition derived from long-term opioid use that causes you to be more sensitive to pain. It can happen during withdrawal and typically goes away after an extended period of abstinence.
- Flu-like Symptoms: It is common to feel symptoms like fever, fatigue, sneezing, or a runny nose during withdrawal. These are relatively harmless and will subside after the first few days.
- Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): This condition causes you to feel an intense itching or crawling sensation on your limbs and an uncontrollable urge to move them. It can consequently disrupt your sleep and daily activities.
- Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS): PAWS is a set of symptoms that lingers for weeks or months after quitting a substance. You may feel insomnia, depression, fatigue, and irritability, among other impairments. This condition is not permanent, but it is one of the most disruptive consequences of addiction.
Withdrawal symptoms can be quite taxing on your body and mind, primarily if you are used to large doses.
One of the most effective measures you can take is tapering off kratom rather than quitting cold turkey.
By tapering, you can minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms. This makes the pain of withdrawal symptoms much more manageable but will also prolong the amount of time it takes to stop using kratom.
The key here is to stick to a rigid dosing schedule. You want to take enough kratom to offset the withdrawal symptoms but not enough that you’re eliminating them entirely. If you want to reverse the effects of dependence on kratom, you’ll need to experience some of these symptoms. If not, you may actually be further increasing your dependence on the herb.
Outside of tapering, getting through kratom withdrawal relies on managing specific symptoms as best you can.
For vomiting or diarrhea, drink lots of water and electrolyte drinks to regain any lost fluids. For pain, you can try taking other non-opiate painkillers like NSAIDs or CBD.
We also recommend you take a couple of days off to get all the rest you need. This way, your recovery will be faster, and you will feel better throughout the process.
Being surrounded by friends and family can have a very positive impact on your recovery. Simply having someone to listen will help lessen the mental toll of withdrawal, and their presence alone can make a significant difference during these challenging times.
Tips For Avoiding Kratom Addiction in the First Place
Kratom addiction results from repeated use over a long period of time, which can be a few weeks or several months, depending on the individual. Some take notably longer than others to develop tolerance, but this does not make it less risky.
1. Take Smaller Doses
Taking large doses of kratom will significantly impact your system’s chemical balance: your body will have to make drastic changes to compensate for the excess of alkaloids.
If you take smaller amounts, the changes in your body will be more subtle, and there is a smaller risk of increasing your tolerance. Another benefit is that you’ll reduce the chance of side effects, so it is ideal that you take no more kratom than you need.
2. Take Tolerance Breaks Often
One of the worst mistakes you can make if you want to avoid addiction is taking kratom repeatedly throughout the day. Even if you’re taking smaller amounts, the potential for dependence is significantly higher if you don’t give your system a break.
This is because when you take kratom several times a day, its alkaloids are constantly saturating your system, leaving no time for your brain to go back to normal. This way, you can develop an addiction much quicker than if you spaced out your doses.
Just as important as not taking more than a dose a day is taking breaks a couple of times a week. It’s essential that kratom leaves your system entirely if you want to avoid developing physical dependence.
We recommend avoiding daily use if possible. Taking at least two days off kratom each week is usually enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The least often you need to use kratom, the better.
3. Switch to a Different Strain
Although no scientific research has been carried out on this subject, anecdotal evidence suggests that some types of kratom are more addictive than others. Red-veined strains are often regarded as more addictive because of their higher amounts of 7-hydroxymitragynine.
Because of this, switching to a milder, white-veined strain can lower the potential for addiction. If you are used to highly sedative strains, try using a more balanced green-veined one, and stay away from those marketed as “enhanced.”
If you are unwilling to switch entirely to another strain, you could still try rotating between a couple of different ones. This may help your body not get used to a particular alkaloid concentration, thus making the process of dependence slower.
Is Kratom Safe? What Are The Risks?
Kratom is considered safe, especially compared to synthetic opioids like morphine or oxycontin. Moreover, kratom’s composition is entirely different from opioids, and the risk of overdose death is about 1,000 times greater with opioids than it is with kratom.
Still, every person’s body reacts differently to kratom, and many can experience unpleasant side effects even after a low dose. These side effects are not dangerous, but if you notice any, we recommend you stop taking kratom until you discuss it with your doctor.
The most common side effects of kratom include:
- Dry mouth
- Increased heartbeat
- Stomach pain
There is much misinformation on kratom use and addiction, backed by large anti-kratom entities such as the FDA. Much of it stems from prejudice and a misunderstanding of the functioning of the herb.
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that kratom does not represent a hazard to public health, debunking many of these claims. However, some still say that kratom is a miraculous cure to pain and lethargy, which is also not true.
The truth is that kratom is safe when used responsibly, that is, by controlling your dosage and taking care of your mental well-being. When we abuse kratom or use it to escape from our problems, it has the potential to become addictive and make all matters worse.
How to Quit Kratom
If you find that your kratom habit is disrupting your life or a loved one’s, you need a safe way to quit before matters worsen. In case of severe addiction, we recommend discussing this topic with your doctor before attempting to stop on your own.
A) Wean Yourself Off Slowly
The best way to quit kratom is to do it gradually over several weeks, with a method we call tapering off.
This involves reducing the size of your daily dose by 10% each day until you reach about 0.5 grams, at which point you should be able to quit without much physical discomfort.
Depending on your initial dose size and the withdrawal symptoms you experience, this method could take longer than expected. If you are having a hard time, try smaller steps, but don’t give in to the temptation — consistency is key.
Example Kratom Weaning Schedule:
|Week 0||Identify your usual dose of kratom. This is the baseline|
|Week 1||90% of your initial dose|
|Week 2||80% of your initial dose|
|Week 3||70% of your initial dose|
|Week 4||60% of your initial dose|
|Week 5||50% of your initial dose|
B) Cold Turkey
You can also try to quit cold turkey, but this is best suited if you only have a mild addiction to kratom or a stoic resolve. You will likely feel withdrawal symptoms as soon as kratom starts leaving your body, around 6 hours after your last intake.
The symptoms could last up to three weeks after you quit but be manageable enough that you can move on with your life without much trouble.
Finally, if every other method fails for you, it is best to seek professional help by attending a detox center or counseling. It is uncommon for a kratom addiction to reach this level, but it can happen, especially if you have suffered from opioid dependence in the past.
The Recovery Process is Ongoing
Quitting kratom is not only about ending physical dependence; this is just the first step.
You must also address those issues that made you seek kratom in the first place and avoid falling back into the same habits as before.
Whether physical or emotional, one’s ability to address and deal with these underlying issues can make or break one’s ability to remain sober.
Users who visit a therapist or focus group for months or years after quitting have the best chance of avoiding relapse.
Summary: Is Kratom Addictive?
Kratom can be addictive, especially if you use it to self-medicate or have previously struggled with substance abuse. Fortunately, symptoms of kratom addiction and withdrawal are not life-threatening.
Although kratom addiction is much less aggressive than synthetic opiates, the symptoms and impact of kratom addiction can still be severe.
Many cases of kratom addiction can be dealt with at home, but it takes a lot of hard work and support to get through it. For more severe addiction, rehab programs may be necessary.
It’s important not to underestimate kratom’s potential for addiction, but with responsible use, it can be avoided.