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Is Kratom the Cure for Heroin Addiction?

Kratom Leaf

Could kratom, a synthetic drug sold on the street, be the “cure” for heroin addiction?
Though it is unlikely, given that there is no cure for any kind of addiction, some have been using the drug in an attempt to moderate their use of heroin despite the fact that it, too, is addictive, according to The New York Times.

Is there any merit to the stories that kratom use helps to treat heroin addiction? Are there any risks?

What Is Kratom?

Kratom is sold in powder form and available on the street or in drinks sold in cafes. Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the import of kratom in 2014, it cannot otherwise restrict its sale in the United States because it is classified as a dietary supplement. Unless it is proven to be unsafe or manufacturers attempt to claim that the substance has medicinal use, the FDA will not be able to stop the sale of the substance in any form.

Why Do People Use Kratom to Avoid Using Heroin?

The people who attempt to use kratom in recovery say that it helps them to avoid relapse because the substance provides a very muted high or euphoric feeling. Some liken it to taking methadone as a part of a tapered detox for heroin addiction. Methadone, too, is addictive, but many have successfully used the drug to immediately stop taking the dangerous drug heroin, and start taking a substance that allows them to slowly lower their dose over time.

Does Everyone Have the Same Positive Experience Using Kratom to Manage Heroin Addiction?

No. Not only is there no research to support the use of kratom as a safe heroin detox option, there are just as many stories of people who attempted to use the drug during addiction recovery and ultimately relapsed as a result. For many, the use of kratom is a trigger. It whets the appetite for a stronger high, and many find that they use more and more of the drug. But whether it is purchased on the street or in the form of a beverage at a local cafe, many buy more and more in order to amplify their experience. It usually doesn’t take long for them to return to heroin, a drug that is far stronger and much less expensive than kratom.

Other than the Risk of Relapse, Are There Any Other Risks for Using Kratom in Recovery?

Yes, there are many. For example, unlike the methadone that is prescribed and given to patients by a medical professional, kratom is not standardized in its production. There is no way to know what the drug is cut with, especially when it is purchased on the street. This makes it an unknown quantity and potentially dangerous for users in any amount.

Additionally, kratom can cause medical emergencies in users. There has been a number of accounts of erratic behavior and increasing rates of emergency admissions caused by use of the drug across the country. It is not safe, despite the fact that it is legal, and for those in recovery, it is a threat to the ability to remain sober.

Also, kratom is reported to cause a stimulant effect in users at low doses and a sedative effect at higher doses. This means that the drug may not affect all people in the same way every time, which can be problematic, especially if they are using other substances in combination with the drug.

Lastly, kratom addiction is problematic in and of itself. People who use it to stop using heroin may find that they simply replace the substance of addiction with kratom.

Dr. Edward W. Boyer is a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has studied kratom extensively and said: “It’s a fascinating drug, but we need to know a lot more about it. Recreationally or to self-treat opioid dependence, beware — potentially you’re at just as much risk [as with an opiate].”

How Big of a Threat Is Kratom?

As a public health concern, the threat of kratom varies by region, but in the areas where kratom is readily available, it is a significant issue. States like North Carolina, Florida, New York, and Colorado have seen spikes in emergency room visits due to the availability of the drug in drink form at bars and cafes as well as on the street.

As a personal health issue, use of kratom is never recommended among those who are trying to live a clean and sober life. It is a drug with no medicinal purpose that is used recreationally, and it causes a high in the user and can trigger cravings. This makes it a “no go” for those who are focused on building a life for themselves in sobriety.

Do I Need Addiction Treatment if I Use Kratom?

Whether or not treatment is necessary and, if so, what treatment services are recommended, will vary depending upon your unique circumstances. If you feel that you are struggling with kratom use for any reason and you are unable to stop on your own, treatment services are available to help. Speak to a drug abuse treatment counselor about your options in treatment and connect with a program that can offer you the style of treatment that resonates most with your goals for recovery. The sooner you connect with treatment that can help you stop using kratom, the sooner you will be free of the risks that come with use and abuse of the drug.

About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Desert Hope Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have... Read More