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The Risks of Kratom in Recovery

Recently, a mother who had been clean from opiates for two years gave birth to a baby boy. This miracle of birth and recovery are everyday events, despite the tragedies of the opioid epidemic. However, this newborn boy was in full-blown opiate withdrawal, and doctors couldn’t figure out why. In a report, doctors documented the first case of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome caused by Kratom, the non-opioid herbal supplement that is used to self-treat opioid withdrawals.

So, what gives? What exactly is Kratom, a nonopioid plant, and how can it create opioid withdrawal during pregnancy? This article is going to look at why Kratom use has jumped in recent years, and we are going to explore what it means for people in recovery and long-term health.

What is Kratom

Kratom is a natural powder produced from Mitragyna speciosa, a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. The tree’s leaves contain chemical compounds that can have psychotropic effects. It can be swallowed in pill or capsule form, but it is often brewed into a tea using dried powdered Kratom leaves.

While a nonopioid, Kratom does interact with the brain’s opioid receptors, producing many of the same pleasurable feelings that opiate highs produce. The most active compound, mitragynine, also affects the brain’s receptors that produce stimulant effects. Kratom has been implicated as a potential cause of over 44 deaths.

The American Kratom Association touts it as a “botanical supplement [that] is used for many things including minor pain and to promote a sense of health and well-being.” Meanwhile, the CDC and FDA warn against using Kratom. The FDA has deemed it an opioid, and the CDC has linked it to Salmonella outbreaks in over 20 states. The lack of regulation has made kratom susceptible to being mixed with other illicit and dangerous drugs such as fentanyl, coke, meth, among others.

Kratom: The Opioid Kryptonite?

As the opioid epidemic continues, more and more people are turning to alternative medicines and treatments. People addicted to heroin, prescription painkillers, and opiates are desperate for a way out. Family members, doctors, researchers, and others are equally desperate to find the best treatment options and solutions to opioid addiction.

Some alternative, herbal remedies have been popularized as non-habit-forming, non-opioid substances that are effective in getting someone clean from opiates. Kratom has gathered national attention for its potential as a natural treatment for lessening the severity of opiate withdrawal. A recent Rolling Stone article opened their investigation into Kratom with a success story, detailing a man’s victory over opioids using kratom. It is an insightful article into why the FDA has labeled it an opioid.

Research studies are less clear in the benefits of kratom as a self-treatment tool of opiate withdrawal and addiction. A 2013 study in the Addiction journal notes that while kratom helps alleviate the most severe opiate withdrawal symptoms, stopping “kratom administration itself appears to be associated with modest abstinence [withdrawal] symptoms.” The study concludes that more research is needed to understand the benefits and risks of kratom.

Kratom and Sobriety

Does taking kratom mean that someone isn’t sober? Or is it an herbal supplement no different than caffeine or melatonin? After all, people who smoke cigarettes are still considered sober even though nicotine is one of the most addictive substances. Many people in recovery have wondered, “Are you still sober if you take kratom?”

It’s difficult to say. Everyone’s recovery and sobriety are different. The critical thing to remember is that recovery is about far more than just abstinence from drugs and alcohol. Recovery treats the underlying causes and conditions that lead to addiction.

There isn’t much known about the long-term effects of kratom. As more research is done, though, more severe side effects that are extremely similar to opioid and meth withdrawal are being reported.

Some of the more severe side effects of kratom can include:

  • Muscle pain and spasms
  • Twitches, similar to “restless leg syndrome”
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hot flashes
  • Fever
  • Seizure
  • Liver damage
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Increased risk of suicide in people with Alcohol Use Disorder
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome during pregnancy

If you are having trouble with anxiety or quitting heroin or prescription opiates, speaking with recovery experts and getting expert medical treatment is a safer answer than self-treatment using kratom. While kratom may be a band-aid for some of the worst heroin withdrawal symptoms, a program of recovery and a plan tailored to help you stay sober for the long term is a proven way to overcome addiction.

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