Kratom for opioid withdrawal: Does it work?

Kratom is promoted as a treatment to ease withdrawal symptoms from opioid medicines. But it can cause addiction and withdrawal symptoms of its own.

If you take pain medicines such as oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone, others) for a long time, your body becomes used to these drugs and you may become dependent on them. As a result, you may have unpleasant physical symptoms when you stop taking these medicines, especially if you stop suddenly. These symptoms include sweating, vomiting, fever, agitation and anxiety. You also may feel like you have the flu. These symptoms are part of a process called withdrawal. It may last for several days to weeks.

Because withdrawal is often not pleasant, many people look for ways to ease the symptoms. Some people take medicines or substances to try to ease their symptoms. One of these substances is kratom.

Kratom, an herbal extract from the leaves of an evergreen tree (Mitragyna speciosa) that grows in Southeast Asia, is promoted as a treatment for withdrawal. While kratom is sold as a dietary supplement in some states in the U.S., it is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any medical use. The FDA warns people not to use it due to the risk of addiction, misuse and dependence. Kratom is illegal in some states and some countries.

In Asia, people have used kratom in small amounts to reduce tiredness or treat opium addiction. In other parts of the world, people take kratom to try to ease opioid withdrawal, feel more energetic, relieve pain, or reduce anxiety or depression. People take kratom to ease withdrawal because it may make them feel happy and they can get kratom more easily than drugs prescribed for withdrawal.

Safety concerns

Researchers have studied kratom as a potential treatment to ease withdrawal symptoms. But evidence suggests that rather than treating addiction and symptoms of withdrawal, the use of kratom may lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms. Commercially available kratom products are not "natural." They often have high levels of very addictive substances. And kratom may contain dangerous contaminants, including heavy metals and harmful bacteria.

Over time, people who use kratom may get cravings for it and need the same medicines used to treat opioid addiction, now called opioid use disorder. These medicines include buprenorphine (Brixadi, Sublocade) and buprenorphine-naloxone (Suboxone, Zubsolv). When kratom is used during pregnancy, the infant may have symptoms of withdrawal after birth.

As with pain medicines and recreational drugs, it is possible to overdose on kratom. But this is rare. The treatment for kratom overdose is like the treatment for opioid overdose. This includes the use of naloxone (Narcan, Kloxxado, others) and getting medical attention right away.

Although people may enjoy the good feelings that kratom can produce, kratom hasn't proved to be an effective treatment for opioid withdrawal. And a small number of people — small compared to deaths from other drugs — have died after taking kratom.

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Dec. 30, 2023 See more In-depth

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