What do families need to know about teens + kratom?
As a parent, you want to do all you can to keep your children safe from harm. If you have teenagers, one important way to keep your kids safe is to educate yourself about possible substances your child may be exposed to. One drug that has been gaining increasing attention in recent years is kratom.
This herbal drug comes from plants, so young people may assume it's safe because it's all natural. However, kratom can have dangerous side effects and has even been linked to fatalities. Discover more about kratom, its side effects and risks, and what parents of teens should know below.
What is kratom?
Kratom is a tree found in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. It contains psychoactive compounds that react with the brain's opioid receptors, resulting in an effect that's similar to taking opioids.
Historically, kratom has been used in traditional medicine in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. However, in more recent years, kratom has gained attention as a "Drug and Chemical of Concern" in the United States.
In the U.S., some people have turned to kratom as an alternative to treat mental health problems, like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Of the 10 to 16 million Americans who use kratom, as many as 67% report using it to self-manage mental health problems. At a time when teens and young adults are more stressed than ever, it’s easy to see why self-medication has become so prevalent.
Kratom is also commonly used to treat pain, alleviate fatigue, and suppress appetite. Lastly, it's been suggested that kratom can help alleviate withdrawal symptoms for people dealing with opioid use disorder (OUD).
Kratom is sometimes compared to CBD. Both substances are known to be used to treat issues like pain and insomnia. However, CBD and kratom don't have much in common beyond this. In the case of adolescents, kratom has been flagged as a drug that may lead to abuse—alongside substances like fentanyl, marijuana, and cannabis products.
Kratom's side effects + risks
Crushed kratom leaves can be packed into capsules, brewed in teas, or smoked. Kratom products also come in tablets or paste form. The drug is most frequently abused by oral ingestion, for example, as an extract, tablet, or capsule.
In low doses, kratom can have a stimulating effect. Symptoms include increased alertness, talkativeness, and energy. In higher doses, kratom does the opposite, creating a sedative effect. There have also been instances of kratom leading to psychotic symptoms, like delusion and hallucinations.
Possible side effects and risks of kratom include:
- Increased urination
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Hepatotoxicity (liver damage)
- Tachycardia (heart rate over 100 beats per minute)
Kratom + drug abuse in teens
One issue with kratom is that it may not be viewed as a "risky" drug because it's a natural product. Young people may consider the drug harmless. In fact, kratom can pose very real health risks, as described above—and even prove addictive.
Individuals who have developed a dependency on kratom may experience both mental and physical withdrawal symptoms if they try to wean themselves off the substance. This can lead to seeking the drug out more regularly and taking it in increasingly higher doses to achieve the same impact.
Mental symptoms of kratom withdrawal include irritability, restlessness, feelings of tension, and depressed mood, among others. Physical withdrawal symptoms may include joint pain, runny nose, insomnia, diarrhea, loss of appetite, tremors, itching, lack of focus, and chills.
Treatments for kratom abuse disorder are being explored. Suboxone® may be one treatment option, serving as a replacement therapy for kratom-dependence patients (important safety information). Suboxone is also commonly used to treat opioid use disorders (OUDs) as part of medications for addiction treatment (MAT) programs.
What parents need to know about teen access to kratom
Although some states have made kratom illegal, the substance itself isn't illegal across the U.S. However, there are no medications, supplements, or drug products containing kratom that are legally marketed under the Controlled Substances Act. The same is true for the drug's main chemical components, mitragynine and 7-hydroxy mitragynine.
With that in mind, unapproved drug products do sometimes end up in the U.S. through illegal, unregistered retailers. Goods containing kratom have been seized at U.S. mail facilities, often falsely declared as something legal, like incense.
Many unregistered retailers operate on social media, making them very accessible to teens. Parents can do their part to protect their kids by talking to them about the risks of kratom use. Open and honest discussions are essential to raising awareness.
It's also helpful to be familiar with potential signs of kratom addiction. In addition to the mental and physical symptoms described above, another sign might be withdrawing from friends, family, and obligations, like school.
The topic of drug abuse in adolescence can become overwhelming and scary for any parent. Educating yourself about potential threats is the first step. You can then educate your teens, too.