Kratom is a controversial botanical product that may help manage pain but could be addictive.
Kratom is made from the dried leaves of a tropical tree (Mitragyna speciosa) native to countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia. (1)
Kratom is an evergreen tree in the coffee family. Its leaves have been used as both a stimulant and a sedative. (2)
Kratom is legal in the United States, though it has been outlawed in several other countries, including Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, and some European countries. (3)
Is Kratom a Drug? How Is It Used?
Kratom has been used for centuries as a psychostimulant. Psychostimulants are drugs that can temporarily increase mental alertness, concentration, and physical energy. Examples of psychostimulants include caffeine, nicotine, methamphetamine, and cocaine. (3)
Laborers and farmers in Southeast Asia have traditionally chewed kratom leaves or brewed tea from the leaves to help combat fatigue and increase productivity during long working hours. (2)
What Effect Does Kratom Have on People Who Chew, Smoke, or Swallow It?
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, kratom’s stimulating effects can be felt within 10 minutes of taking a few grams of dried leaf and may last for about one to one-and-a-half hours. (2)
More on the Uses and Effects of Kratom
Kratom has also been used for many years as an analgesic for the treatment of chronic pain. Its uses for the treatment of muscle pain, diarrhea, and cough may date back to the 1800s. In Thailand, for instance, kratom has been used as an aid to help treat morphine dependence. (5)
Kratom has gained popularity in the United States in recent years. In the United States, kratom is often sold as a dietary supplement or alternative medicine that can be purchased on the internet and at some supplement stores. (6)
Kratom Pills, Powders, Extracts, and More Ways the Supplement Is Sold
In addition to pill form, kratom may be purchased as dried or powdered leaves, green powder, leaf extract, or gum. Some people eat or smoke the leaves or brew dried or powdered leaves as a tea.
Kratom also goes by these names: (1)
Kratom’s Effects on the Brain, Body, and Mood
Kratom’s effects on the brain depend on the amount taken.
At low doses of 1 to 5 grams (g), kratom appears to act as a psychostimulant, though researchers aren’t exactly sure why. Kratom users report increased energy, sociability, and alertness when kratom is taken in small amounts. (7)
At moderate to high doses (5 to 15 g), kratom may have pain-relieving effects. Some kratom users report feelings of sedation, pleasure, and decreased pain. (7)
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), kratom leaves contain compounds that act like opioid painkillers. The agency says it’s likely that kratom has the same effects on the body as opioids. (4)
What to Know About Opioids and Kratom
Opioids are a class of drugs developed from the opium poppy that bind to special sites in the brain called opioid receptors. Once attached, these compounds send signals that block pain and have a general calming effect. Opioids include such painkillers as morphine, methadone (Dolophine), oxycodone (OxyContin), and fentanyl (Duragesic), as well as illegal drugs such as heroin.
Kratom also works by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain. (4)
Kratom May Have Opioidlike Effects
A survey published online in September 2017 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence suggests that many kratom users may be taking kratom for its opioidlike effects. More than two-thirds of kratom users reported taking kratom as a substitute for nonprescription opioids or heroin, while roughly one-fifth of kratom users reported taking it for chronic pain or disability. (5)
Compounds in kratom may also bind to other receptors in the brain, including serotonin receptors, leading proponents to suggest that kratom could help treat mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. (7)
Kratom’s Side Effects and Potential Problems
Proponents of kratom often claim that the botanical can help ease a variety of health conditions, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and opioid addiction and withdrawal. Yet the FDA says there is no reliable evidence to support any medical uses of kratom. (8)
Reports have surfaced in recent years about harmful side effects related to kratom-containing products, including seizures. (9)
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported a tenfold increase in calls to U.S. poison centers related to kratom between 2010 and 2015. More than one-third of these calls reported kratom use in combination with other substances, including narcotics and the antianxiety drugs called benzodiazepines. (9)
Kratom can cause these side effects: (1)
- Dry mouth
- Increased urination
- Loss of appetite
Is Kratom Habit-Forming or Addictive?
Experts don’t know for sure, but some of the active compounds in kratom certainly suggest that it could be addictive. The FDA and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) say that kratom might cause dependence because of its opioidlike effects. (1)
Kratom and Possible Symptoms of Withdrawal
Dependence means that users who stop taking kratom may experience symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms are physical and mental side effects that happen when you stop using an addictive substance.
Kratom withdrawal may include these symptoms: (1)
- Muscle aches
- Emotional changes
- Runny nose
Kratom Safety Concerns and Warnings
In 2016, the DEA moved to temporarily classify two psychoactive chemicals found in kratom as Schedule I drugs but later withdrew this action, saying more research was needed regarding the risks associated with kratom use. (5)
Schedule I drugs are those that the DEA deems the most dangerous. These drugs can cause severe psychological or physical dependence. (Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, marijuana, LSD, and ecstasy.)
The federal government has not banned the sale of kratom, but some states — including Vermont, Tennessee, and Indiana — have enacted local bans or have kratom legislation pending.
Why Is There So Much Controversy Around Kratom and Kratom-Containing Products?
Kratom proponents claim that the DEA has misrepresented the potential for kratom abuse and point to a lack of evidence that the substance causes harm. (5)
In late 2017, the FDA released reports of 36 deaths involving kratom use. The deaths occurred in combination with other substances, so there’s no solid evidence that kratom was the sole cause of any of these deaths.
The National Institutes of Health says that kratom itself doesn’t appear to be associated with fatal overdose. (5)
Click below to continue reading: