The Mitragnya speciosa plant, more commonly known as Kratom, is growing in popularity across the world. An increase in availability alongside more offerings from various brands means that Kratom use is at an all-time high, with the number of users still growing almost daily.
There are many beneficial reasons to use Kratom as an herbal supplement alongside potential side effects that need to be understood as they pose potential health risks. So can you overdose on Kratom? Kratom overdose is one of these dangerous side-effects that we will examine in further detail in this article.
Kratom – What is it and how is it used?
Kratom is a tree native to the tropical regions of Southeast Asia. The tree grows in the wild in areas such as Thailand and Malaysia, but more commercial growing situations are now common because of the plant’s popularity around the world. There are now full-scale Mitragnya speciosa farms scattered throughout its native growing regions that supply the United States and beyond with various Kratom products.
Kratom has been used traditionally in Southeast Asia for many years by drying the leaves and brewing as a tea or ground into a powder that can be mixed into other forms of food or drink. Green vein, white vein, and red vein are the three main strains of Kratom, and within each of those are other varieties of the plant as well.
These various strains provide different effects resulting from their chemical composition in the form of alkaloids present within their leaves. The main alkaloid found within Kratom that creates its many benefits, and potential side-effects is known as 7-hydroxymitragynine. The effects of Kratom can vary from person to person and are also dose-dependent.
In the United States, Kratom is legal, but localized restrictions in place in some areas prohibit its use. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not classify Kratom in its list of controlled substances so it is unrestricted at a federal level, unlike opioids which are labeled as a Schedule 1 narcotic.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does warn against Kratom use due to potential side effects, substance abuse issues, and reported drug overdoses involving Kratom. For more information on the legality of Kratom, look here.
The most common way to use Kratom is in the form of dried leaves or a powder made from the leaves. Kratom users can also try a number of products now available including capsules, tinctures, and other options made from the powerful leaves of the plant.
What Are the Effects of Kratom Use?
There are various effects that can occur from Kratom use. Much of the experienced effects of Kratom has to do with the dose taken. Kratom is somewhat unique in that the dose you take can result in a very different result. It’s always best to start with a low dose and work your way up from there if you are new to using Kratom.
Low doses of Kratom can result in increased energy levels, better mental clarity, and other stimulant effects. High doses can result in more calming and sedative feelings that have been compared to opioid-like effects. The vein and variety of the particular Kratom product being used can also result in different effects. More information about these differences in Kratom strains can be found here.
Kratom is also used to ease withdrawal symptoms resulting from substance abuse and addiction issues common with opioid users. Kratom can provide treatment for addiction to opioids, similarly to benzodiazepines, another common treatment for withdrawal symptoms.
Overdoses and Overdose Deaths – Is it Possible to Overdose on Kratom?
Drug use of just about any kind can potentially result in an overdose. Even though Kratom is often seen more as an herbal supplement and isn’t classified as an illicit drug by the DEA, that doesn’t indicate it is free of this risk. Mitragynine, the alkaloid present in Kratom, can produce opioid-like effects in higher doses, increasing the chance of potential overdose due to Kratom use.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were about 152 Kratom related overdose deaths over an 18-month period from mid-2016 to late-2017. With Kratom use on the rise, these figures can be expected to be higher today. A look at the toxicity results that were conducted post-mortem on these reported Kratom overdose deaths shows that a history of substance abuse and multiple substances were found in the bloodstream of most cases.
Calls reported to poison control centers and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) also show the potential for Kratom overdose and/or poisoning. These numbers have been rising, which is a sign of increased Kratom use, with almost 500 Kratom-related calls to poison control in 2016. This is under a third of opioid-related calls in that same timeframe but represents the very real possibility of Kratom overdose.
Drug overdoses with other more common drugs are higher in number, but it is possible to overdose on Kratom. Serious Kratom abuse, especially when combined with other drugs, such as prescription opioids, can even result in overdose deaths.
Signs of a Kratom Overdose
Even though Kratom overdoses are rare, they need to be dealt with quickly and effectively in order to potentially save the life of the person experiencing the issue. Especially when consumed with other substances, the possibility of a drug overdose is very real. It’s important to contact a health care provider or emergency service immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms after consuming Kratom.
Signs of a Kratom overdose include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Dry mouth
Most of the above overdose-related symptoms come from high doses of Kratom. But with a lack of scientific study in exact dosing and each individual acting differently to the effects of mitragynine and other compounds within the plant, caution should be taken even at low doses. If you choose to use Kratom, always start with a lower dose and work your way up from there to avoid the potential of overdose.
Is Kratom Safe?
Most of the negative and potentially dangerous side effects of Kratom use come when consumed in high doses. As with any form of substance abuse, the more often an illicit drug or herbal supplement is used, there is an increased chance of risk and side-effects, including overdose, addiction, and any of the symptoms mentioned above.
That said, there are plenty of people who use Kratom without any issues whatsoever. These Kratom users tend to start with low doses and don’t combine this dose with any other form of drug use. When taken in moderation, Kratom can certainly be safe. If you need higher doses, Kratom can still be beneficial and safe, but more caution needs to be taken to avoid serious side effects such as toxicity that can result in overdose symptoms.
As mentioned earlier, almost all of the deaths and overdoses associated with Kratom involve the presence of other substances and/or drugs. If you have a history of drug abuse or substance abuse, it is not safe to combine Kratom use with anything else. It is especially dangerous to combine Kratom with other pain-killers such as Fentanyl or similar opiates as these are very dangerous on their own and Kratom could cause extra unsafe complications.
Is Kratom Addictive?
According to American Addiction Centers, the possibility of Kratom addiction is possible with heavy use or abuse of the plant or products made from it. Chemical dependence is another way to describe addiction and this dependence occurs when pathways within the brain are altered because of substance abuse.
Kratom addiction can occur when 7-hydroxymitragynine, mitragynine, and other alkaloids found within Kratom begin to alter opioid receptors in the central nervous system in a way that results in dependence. Typically, this addiction takes hold of a Kratom user as they use more and more of the plant. Like other forms of addiction, a user will need more and more of a substance to feel its effects, resulting in higher doses of Kratom being used.
It’s essential to recognize any potential signs of addiction when using Kratom. Addiction is more common with opiates, including prescription opioids for pain, than it is with Kratom. However, it is still an herbal supplement that has the potential for addiction if Kratom abuse occurs. Once the opioid receptors in a user’s brain get used to a steady stream of the compounds found in Kratom, this dependence can occur quickly and be hard stop.
If you or anyone you know shows the signs of Kratom addiction, it’s important to get the proper help. Addiction treatment can be available from your local health care provider. It should be pursued before Kratom abuse becomes more serious and poses a serious effect on your physical and mental health. There are various treatment options available to help anyone dealing with Kratom abuse and addiction.
Are Kratom Withdrawals Possible?
Kratom withdrawals are indeed possible if a user gets to the point of dependence. When the opioid receptors within the central nervous system no longer get flooded with the alkaloids from Kratom they are accustomed to, various withdrawal symptoms can be experienced. These can range from mild to severe and be different in each individual.
Like other illicit drugs, these withdrawal symptoms are usually associated with high doses of Kratom over a long and continuous time. Since a common use of Kratom is for pain relief, anyone who is dealing with chronic pain risks addiction with heavy use. This can be a better, and less addictive alternative to prescription opioids for pain treatment, but still comes with potential withdrawals when stopped.
Signs of Kratom Withdrawals
Signs of Kratom withdrawals can vary from person to person and range from moderate to severe, depending on the dose and how long someone has been addicted. But the symptoms below are all potential side-effects associated with withdrawals of heavy Kratom use.
The DEA lists these potential signs of Kratom withdrawals:
- Achy joints and muscles
- Runny nose
- Mental health issues similar to depression
- Muscle spasms
- Weight loss
More severe symptoms can include:
These withdrawal symptoms are not inclusive and there are other potential side effects, especially from a mental health standpoint. Some of these side effects can appear as anger or depression, insomnia, and anxiety, to name a few.
Even though Kratom is an unregulated substance in the United States, it still comes with strong words of caution from the FDA due to its potential to be abused and result in adverse side effects. And while not as common as opioid overdose, increased popularity and access to Kratom provides easier access and increased risks.
Clinical toxicology reports show that Kratom overdoses almost always involve other types of substance use, but that doesn’t mean that Kratom overdose on its own is not possible. If you choose to consume Kratom, remember that it’s important to start with lower doses and increase from there to gauge its effects and power. If you consume extreme doses, adverse side effects, including overdose, are possible.