08 Oct Kratom Highly Addictive, Study Finds
Kratom is the name of a plant-based stimulating and sedating drug with an established history of use in several countries in Southeast Asia. In recent years, use of the drug has spread to the U.S. and other parts of the world. Kratom is known for its potential to produce physical dependence and addiction in regular users. In a study published in June 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a team of Malaysian and German researchers investigated the frequency of dependence and addiction in habitual users of the drug. These researchers concluded that the overwhelming majority of such users develop significant problems.
Kratom Drug Use
Kratom comes from a Southeast Asian tree species called Mitragnya speciosa, a relative of coffee trees that grows naturally in countries that include Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand. The leaves of this species contain a substance called mitragynine, which has dose-dependent drug effects that can have either a stimulating impact on the human body (at relatively low doses) or a sedating impact (at relatively high doses). Methods of use for kratom include chewing the leaves or using them to make a tea.
Intake of kratom is fairly widespread in certain segments of Southeast Asian society. However, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), no one really knows many people in the U.S. use kratom. Unlike many other substances with no established medical usefulness and a potential to produce addiction, the drug does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Controlled Substances Act, a federal law that prohibits or strictly limits the sale or possession of drugs and medications ranging from cannabis/marijuana to heroin. In addition, no nationwide drug surveillance program tracks the popularity of kratom. However, DEA officials report that anecdotal evidence indicates the popularity of the drug is growing, with supplies mainly coming from vendors operating over the Internet.
The chances for developing any form of substance addiction arise when repeated exposure to a substance triggers lasting changes in brain function and creates physical dependence. For some substances (e.g., alcohol), physical dependence is more or less synonymous with addiction. However, physical dependence and addiction can also function as separate phenomena (as is often the case among prescription opioid users who follow their doctors’ dosing instruction). Specific symptoms that commonly mark the transition from dependence to addiction in any substance user include strong urges or cravings for continued substance intake, rising tolerance to the effects of any given level of substance intake and the onset of withdrawal when the intake of a substance stops or drops off quickly. Habitual kratom users can develop physical dependence, as well as the benchmark symptoms of addiction.
How Many Regular Users Are Affected?
In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Malaysia’s Centre for Drug Research and Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg used an assessment of 293 habitual kratom users from Malaysia to determine the frequency of both physical dependence and addiction-related symptoms of craving and withdrawal in people who take the drug on a regular basis. Since there is no specific screening test for kratom use, the researchers adapted an existing test used to detect a dependence on drugs or alcohol in general, as well as two additional screening procedures normally used to detect the presence of cannabis/marijuana withdrawal and drug craving. All of the people enrolled in the study had used kratom regularly for more than six months.
After analyzing the results of the screening tests, the researchers concluded that over 50 percent of the study participants had a “severe” dependence on kratom. They also concluded that an additional 45 percent of the participants had a “moderate” dependence on kratom use. In addition, the researchers concluded that the study participants commonly experienced recurring urges for kratom intake and went into withdrawal when the drug was not available in accustomed amounts. Specific symptoms cited during kratom withdrawal included sleeping problems, muscle tremors and muscle pain, a declining appetite, hot flashes and unusual levels of irritability, anger and anxiousness.
The study’s authors found that severe issues with kratom dependence, kratom withdrawal and recurring cravings for kratom use are most likely to occur in habitual users who take relatively large amounts of the drug. In addition, once present, problems with dependence, withdrawal and recurring cravings typically grow worse over time. This fact indicates a deepening of kratom addiction in long-term users.
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