Is Kratom Addictive?

Is Kratom Really Addicting?

In early January of this year, the New York Times published a piece written by a sports writer named Alan Schwartz. To my knowledge, Schwartz has not specialized in the area of writing about addiction, drug abuse or the War on Drugs. It should be noted that Alan Schwartz received serious backlash when in 2011 he wrote a series of articles for the New York Times on Attention Deficit Disorder. A clinical psychologist named Dr. Thomas E. Brown wrote An Open Letter to Alan Schwartz criticizing his research.

Despite lack of experience writing within these areas, he took on the task of writing about kratom from the perspective that it’s addictive and is leading people in recovery back to using hard drugs, such as heroin.

I will address the things that were said by the people whom he interviewed.

The first thing that really stood out to me, having been involved with recovery since my initial treatment at Hazelden in 1986, was that these people all seemed to be avoiding responsibility and placing blame on an inanimate object. That’s not what we do in recovery. We don’t blame outside things for our problems, especially when it comes to recovery.


Chances are, if you’ve been to enough AA or NA meetings, you’ve heard the phrase, “I am responsible.”  What that means is that we must take responsibility for our thoughts, our habits, our choices and our recovery. So, if a person with a previous addiction to heroin or pain pills comes across kratom for the first time, and doesn’t know anything about it, it is a wise choice to get as much information about this medicinal botanical before making any decision as to whether or not kratom might be the right choice for an individual with a previous Substance Use Disorder.

Unfortunately, Ms. Pankova is not taking personal responsibility here. She is blaming kratom for her relapse. The question of legality is irrelevant because alcohol is legal and so are prescription medications (if they are in your name and don’t belong to someone else.) Alcohol and cigarettes are both legal substances, but can be addicting.

Saying that kratom is “preying on the weak and vulnerable” caters to a victim mentality. First of all, kratom isn’t a sentient, conscious being with the ability to “prey” on anyone.

Secondly, her assertions that it’s a “huge epidemic down here” that is causing “a lot of relapses” isn’t backed up with reliable epidimological data. It’s just one woman making a claim without backing it up with actual scientific evidence. In fact, Ms. Pankova’s statements are the exact opposite of what the Official Statewide Intelligence Drug Report found on Kratom’s Impact to Florida. 

The FDLE Laboratory System reflected a low number of submissions (1 to 6) annually between 2011 and 2015. Seven labs associated with various counties also reflected a low number of submissions (1 to 2) over multiple years.


A review of information currently available through identified law enforcement and laboratory sources in Florida indicates that Kratom does not constitute a significant risk to the safety and welfare of Florida residents.

Kratom use or abuse is not monitored by any national drug abuse surveys and much of the information regarding possible deleterious effects of Kratom use or abuse remains anecdotal.


As I have stated before, I am a recovering addict. That means I must take personal responsibility for the choices I make in terms of my healthcare. It means being an informed consumer.

As an example, I had another surgery in 2014 for my IC. I was again given a prescription, this time for Norcos. I knew I had to make them last and that taking more than prescribed would lead to problems, so I only took 1-2 pills each day. I suffered physically because of this, but I was so afraid of becoming psychologically and physically dependent on them and ending up going through a withdrawal period, so I chose to take less than what I was prescribed.

Then, in late 2014 I learned that the DEA had made Tramadol a scheduled drug. That meant my Primary Care Provider would no longer be able to prescribe the drug for me and I would have to go to Pain Management. That was not a good option for me. I didn’t have insurance and I didn’t have a steady income. I had no way to pay $250 for the initial consultation and I thought it was absurd that I would have to travel 30 miles to the nearest Pain Management clinic and pay $150 to MAYBE get some relief. It would mean starting all over again, meeting  a new doctor and that, to me, caused severe anxiety. For me, doctor visits are emotional triggers since I suffer from BPD. I find the visits to be emotionally exhausting and I always have panic attacks just thinking about meeting a new doctor.

So, I remembered when I had taken kratom back in the fall of 2012. I remembered that it had really helped me with the chronic pain I had every day. It was much more effective than Tramadol with very few side effects. But it was expensive because I was getting it from a head shop and didn’t know any better. So, I decided to do a Google search on kratom and find out as much as I could about what it was, if it was safe to take on a long term basis, and where I could get it for a reasonable price. I learned everything I could about the chemistry and pharmacological effects of the botanical known as M. speciosa.

I treated kratom just as I would anything my doctor would give me. I never took any prescription drugs without first learning everything I could about them. I was not going to put anything into my body that would cause me to become more manic, or more depressed as prescription drugs often did.

So, when I read about people who say kratom led them back to heroin, I think to myself, “did these people do any research on it before taking it? Were they taking it recreationally to get a “buzz?” Or were they taking it because it was a better alternative to prescription medication? These are the questions people need to ask themselves in terms of herbal remedies or conventional treatment.

It comes down to taking personal responsibility for our actions, not blaming the substance itself. Why? Because it is a myth that “YOU ARE ADDICTED TO THINGS THAT ARE ADDICTIVE.”

In his book, The Heart of Addiction, author Lance Dodes M.D. explains in the chapter MYTHS OF ADDICTION that “this myth is related to the overemphasis placed on being “hooked” on drugs . This unfortunate phrase suggests that it is the object of the addiction, the drug or activity, that magnetically attracts you, rather than that addiction is a psychological process that arises within a person.”

As Jeffrey Miron, director of economic studies points out in a recent blog entry for the CATO website:

A standard argument for outlawing drugs is that such substances are “addictive.”  As a matter of science, this claim is often over-stated: using alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, or heroin a few times does NOT generate physiological or psychological dependence; such effects kick in only after repeated, long-term use (and even then, far from universally).  That said, all these substances – and many more – can indeed be addictive.

But a crucial question is: so what?  Take the caffeine example. Hundreds of millions of people around the globe – perhaps billions – are addicted to tea, coffee, or diet coke, yet few consider this an issue for health or policy.  Why? Because long-term, heavy use of caffeine does not seem to have major undesired side effects.  Indeed, much of the world celebrates its coffee and tea habit, praising the culinary enjoyment and social interaction that accompanies or even arises from this addiction.

So for those who believe government should  ban “harmful products,” the question should not be whether a substance is addictive but whether long-term, heavy use harms health, productivity, or other aspects of life.

The story also contains several basic factual errors, like stating that it’s illegal in Wyoming, when in fact it’s Wisconsin. The author seems to fail to pay attention to details such as these. Kratom is only illegal in five states, those being Arkansas, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Indiana and Vermont.

In Illinois it is restricted to sell only to adults over the age of eighteen.

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