Can Kratom alkaloids be used to treat alcohol use disorders?

Mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as Kratom, is often used to self-treat chronic pain, reduce opioid dependence, and to limit or completely eliminate drug withdrawal symptoms. Because Kratom may be less dangerous than typical opioids, many are curious to see if it can offer benefits beyond the two aforementioned.
One study in particular sought out to find if various alkaloid extracts found in Kratom — specifically the mitragynine, 7-hydroxymitragynine, paynantheine, and speciogynine alkaloids — could help reduce alcohol intake in those struggling with alcohol use disorders.

What are alcohol use disorders?

In the United States alone, there are an estimated 15 million people battling an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Many think of alcohol use disorders as the occasional bender, but in reality it’s a progressive disease. First, it’s important to note that there are two forms of alcohol use disorders. The first is alcohol abuse, which means that an individual consume large amounts of alcohol, which often results in poor decision-making skills, on occasion. The second is alcoholism, which indicates a dangerous dependency on alcohol. Many who suffer from the latter, typically start with harmless social drinking and then move on to heavy or binge drinking. The initial stages of alcoholism are characterized by euphoria and pleasure followed by depression, anxiety, social problems, and difficulty concentrating.
Gradually, the individual drinks more to get the same effects, and when they stop drinking for 12+ hours they often experience withdrawal symptoms like tremors, sweating, nausea and vomiting. Seizures, hallucinations, and delirium tremens (DTs), which is an extreme form of alcohol withdrawal, are also dangers of alcohol abuse.

Kratom alkaloids for alcohol use disorders: does it work?

The experiment conducted in the study observed a group of mice and how effective Kratom alkaloids and synthetic carfentanil-amide opioids were in regard to reducing alcohol intake.
To determine this, the study focused on G proteins and β-arrestin at three different opioid receptors. This is because the alkaloids found in Kratom tend to have an affinity for G proteins rather than β-arrestin.
G proteins (guanine nucleotide-binding proteins) are a group of signaling molecules that play an essential role in cells. They act as the cell’s primary transmitters — translating outside signals to inside the cell. G proteins are activated when the outside signal binds with a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR). When this happens, it triggers many processes within the cell, including inhibiting or activating enzymes responsible for breaking down neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, controlling blood pressure, regulating embryonic development, maintaining overall homeostasis of the body, and more.
β-arrestins are a family of proteins that act as scaffolds for GPCRs by binding to them. When GPCRs are activated, β-arrestins bind with agonist receptors to promote internalization of the receptor and result in desensitization. Activation of β-arrestin proteins has been shown to have many other effects including inhibition of neurotransmitter release, regulation of gene expression, modulation of oxidative stress responses, and protection from apoptosis.
Ultimately, the study found that Kratom alkaloids had an affinity for G proteins and when they interacted with the three individual opioid receptors (μ, δ, and κ opioid receptors), it resulted in limited alcohol use, thus showing Kratom’s potential as an alcohol alternative.
Key takeaway from the study*:
  • Kratom alkaloids were strongly G protein-biased at all three opioid receptors and reduced alcohol intake, but kratom and 7-hydroxymitragynine were rewarding.
With all of the ongoing research surrounding Kratom, this study is a stepping stone for discovering the other potential benefits of Kratom and offers important insight into the way in which Kratom can support those with alcohol use disorders.