Opiates — such as morphine and codeine — are among the most popular and effective medications for pain management. However, opiates can be highly addicting, and after users stop taking them, the resulting withdrawal symptoms can be severe.
In many cases, doctors use the opioids methadone and buprenorphine to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and wean users off of opiates. However, like opiates, these medications carry similar risks of abuse and high addiction potentials. As a result, researchers are evaluating alternative therapies that may be safer.
They began the study by administering morphine to rats for about a week. Shortly after, they ceased administering morphine so that the rats would develop signs of withdrawal. They then treated the withdrawal signs of the rats with either methadone, buprenorphine, or mitragynine.
The researchers found that mitragynine was effective at reducing acute opiate withdrawal signs of the rats over one to four days of substitution. However, after ceasing the mitragynine treatments on day five, the rats' withdrawal scores increased. As a result, the authors noted that mitragynine would likely have to be used for a longer period to remain effective.
Nonetheless, the authors concluded that "mitragynine is able to reduce morphine withdrawal symptoms similar to methadone and buprenorphine," and that the alkaloid "may be used as a potential treatment of opioid addiction-related withdrawal."
Although new, this study isn't the first to mention kratom's potential utility in managing opiate and/or opioid withdrawal. In 2007, a team of researchers highlighted several successful accounts of opioid withdrawal self-treatment using kratom that were published online. In 2008, another study investigated similar claims of successful self-treatment from a 43-year-old man. However, these reports have been largely anecdotal, and scientists are acknowledging the need for more research on the subject.