Kratom is a tree from the coffee family native to Southeast Asia. Also known as Mitragyna speciosa, it is grown in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Its leaves are dried and used to make tea or encapsulated and sold as a supplement. Kratom leaves can also be smoked like tobacco.
You can find kratom leaves, powder, and capsules in some health food stores, vape shops, and online specialty stores. The most common uses of it are to relieve pain, depression, and opioid addiction. The two most active compounds found in kratom, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, work on opioid receptors, but with fewer side effects.
Kratom has been used for hundreds of years in Southeast Asia as a natural home remedy. Traditionally, it has been used to treat:
Though modern science has lent some support to these and other traditional medicine claims, much more research is needed.
Is Kratom an Opioid?
Experts consider kratom an opioid-like substance because it affects your brain's opioid receptors. In low doses, it’s a stimulant. But in high doses, it can relieve pain like opioids. Just like opioids, kratom can be addictive.
Sometimes, people who use opioids replace the drug with kratom in an effort to lower their opioid use and relieve withdrawal.
But other people use kratom similarly to an opioid. They misuse it as a way to relax, calm anxiety, treat depression, or self-treat pain.
Very little research has been done on the health effects of kratom. To date, kratom has not been found to be safe or effective for any use. Below are some of the health effects that are being studied:
Kratom may be an effective reliever for chronic pain by attaching to opioid receptors. One compound found in kratom, 7-hydroxymitragynine, is 13 times more potent than morphine.
Although kratom targets opioid receptors just like morphine and codeine do, it is considered an atypical opioid. Kratom selectively inactivates specific signals, which may explain the more tolerable side effects compared to typical opioids, but the FDA has not approved kratom for any medical application.
Kratom may have mood-enhancing effects. Some reports suggest that kratom may be an effective treatment for opioid addiction. Some people use it to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms of morphine and ethanol.
Early studies suggest that kratom may have potential as an antidepressant and a hunger suppressant. In one animal study, researchers determined that kratom lowers corticosterone levels in mice. Increased corticosterone levels are just one of the changes in brain chemicals that can be seen in depression.
In another study with rats, kratom supplementation suppressed hunger by inhibiting the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for appetite and cravings. More research on humans is needed to see if kratom has similar effects.
With stimulating forms and doses of kratom, you might feel that you have more energy, are more alert, and have a faster heart rate.
On the other hand, different types and doses of kratom can make you feel relaxed or confused.
Because kratom has such potent ingredients, you should consult with your doctor before taking it or any other supplement. Consider the following before taking kratom:
Kratom side effects
Kratom commonly causes nausea and constipation, but some users may have the following side effects:
- Dry mouth
- Liver damage
Kratom for opiate withdrawal
Some people have reported that kratom can help with self-treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms. But there’s no approved use of kratom for this purpose. Experts need to look deeper into this to understand if it actually can help with withdrawal.
There is also a possibility of heart and kidney damage in certain people. Dependence on the drug can also occur. You should not drive or operate dangerous equipment if you use kratom.
One study examined the effects of prolonged kratom use. Participants reported darkened facial skin, dry mouth, frequent urination, anorexia, weight loss, and frequent constipation.
After regular and prolonged kratom use, reports have included the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Inability to work
- Muscle and bone pain
- Jerky movements of the limbs
- Nausea and vomiting
- Restlessness and irritability
- Nervousness and anxiety
These symptoms tend to last for about a week.
Kratom does not have FDA approval to treat any condition, so there is no specific recommended dose. Early studies suggest that doses below 5 grams of raw plant material may act as a stimulant in the way that caffeine does. Higher doses between about 5 and 15 grams may have the opposite effect and may help relieve pain.
However, more research is needed to determine the effects of these dosage variations on the body in the short and long term. Because of kratom’s potency and lack of research to conclude safe amounts, be sure to consult with your pharmacist or doctor before using it.
There are three different strains, or “vein types,” of kratom: red, green, and white. The color has to do with the age of the leaf. Experts have found that the red type might be stronger than the older form of kratom, which is green.
After someone takes kratom, they typically feel the effects in just 10 minutes. These might last up to one to one and a half hours.
Kratom products. People use kratom in different ways. One is called “toss and wash.” This is where you dissolve the leaf in hot water and drink it alone or mixed with other teas to make it taste better.
Other forms include crushed or powdered dried leaves, paste-like extracts, or capsules filled with kratom.
Is Kratom Legal?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the use and sale of kratom is banned or controlled in many countries. But it’s legal and available online and in many places in the United States. While kratom is considered a “drug of concern” in the United States, it’s not on the U.S. schedule of controlled substances.
Does Kratom Show Up on a Drug Test?
Sometimes, drug tests can detect kratom. There are specific tests that look for the drug. But many regular drug panels don’t test for it.
If kratom is used with other stimulants, like caffeine, these effects will be worsened. Likewise, if it is taken with any other substances that cause sedation, it can worsen that effect and even lead to respiratory depression and breathing trouble. There is also the potential of kratom interacting with any medicine or supplement that you are taking, so you should discuss that with your doctor or pharmacist before adding it.
Kratom overdose. There have been a small number of deaths due to kratom overdoses. This may be from the kratom itself or the drugs used alongside it.