A recent study reveals how kratom, a plant-derived dietary supplement, impacts the brain.
Little research has been done on the effects of kratom, but this study shows a connection between kratom and dopamine, a brain chemical involved in addiction.
A Study Of Kratom’s Effect On Dopamine
A recent peer-reviewed pilot study provides insight on kratom and its connection to dopamine.
The study examined 12 men with kratom addiction and 13 healthy men. Using brain-imaging technology, researchers found differences in the parts of the brain that control dopamine levels.
Most notably, the participants with kratom addiction showed less dopamine reuptake than the participants without a substance use disorder (SUD).
What Is Kratom?
Kratom is a substance that comes from the Mitragyna speciosa, an evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Malaysia.
Kratom leaves contain several alkaloids that affect the brain and body, though researchers don’t yet know all of its potential benefits or side effects.
Researchers do understand, however, that kratom has an impact similar to stimulants, which promote wakefulness by speeding up the central nervous system (CNS).
Researchers also understand that kratom interacts with opioid receptors, producing opiate-like effects such as euphoria.
At low doses, kratom increases alertness, and at high doses, it may promote relaxation.
Some people take kratom for its psychoactive effects, and some have reported medicinal effects such as chronic pain relief.
Is Kratom Safe And Legal?
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not list any approved uses for this substance, kratom products are legal on a federal level.
However, some states consider kratom a controlled substance, banning its sale and possession out of concern for its potential toxicity.
People considering taking kratom should first consult a healthcare provider.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that kratom is addictive and creates side effects such as dry mouth, weight loss, and constipation.
It may also cause psychosis when taken at especially high doses.
Why Does Kratom’s Impact On Dopamine Matter?
Dopamine is a complex brain chemical that plays many roles. It fosters motivation, focus, and energy thanks to its effect as a reward chemical.
When a person engages in a dopamine-releasing activity, such as eating or exercising, the dopamine causes a sense of pleasure, making the person more likely to repeat the activity.
Drug use interferes with this process by releasing unnaturally high levels of dopamine.
As the brain gets used to increased dopamine, it loses sensitivity to it and requires higher doses of the drug to achieve the same level of pleasure, and addiction can occur as a result.
This study indicates that the use of kratom causes similar dopamine-related changes in the brain as certain addictive drugs such as cocaine.
The Potential Of Kratom In Addiction Treatment
More research is needed on the short-term and long-term effects of kratom, including its pharmacology, addictive potential, drug interactions, and adverse effects.
However, this pilot study also raises questions about kratom’s potential as a form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in addiction care.
Anecdotally, people report that kratom relieves drug withdrawal symptoms, particularly symptoms related to opioid use.
While several medications, such as methadone, exist to treat opioid addiction, the FDA has not yet approved any medication for stimulant drug abuse.
If kratom proves safe and effective when used under doctor supervision, its stimulant effects may have the potential to treat stimulant withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, low blood pressure, and extreme drowsiness.
Furthermore, because kratom reportedly has both pain-relieving and dopamine-boosting properties, it may also have potential as a treatment for polydrug abuse, particularly for people dealing with both stimulant and opioid withdrawal.
The Future Of Kratom
Because little is known about kratom exposure and its impact on the body, it is difficult to predict what the future of kratom will look like in the U.S.
The legality and regulation of kratom ingestion may change over time.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) supports further research on kratom’s possible uses in psychiatry, including its potential as a treatment for opioid drug abuse.
It is also difficult to determine the best methods for treating kratom withdrawal and other symptoms of kratom addiction.
However, because this study indicates that kratom impacts dopamine, it is possible that kratom addiction may be treated using the same methods that are used to treat other addictions.
Find Addiction Treatment Today
Addiction is a complicated and often misunderstood condition. However, treatment is available.
If you or a loved one is experiencing substance abuse, contact Addiction Resource today to discover treatment options.
Published on August 16, 2023
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
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- Cureus Journal Of Medical Science
- National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)