June 29, 2021

What You Should Know About Kratom

A Q&A on the controversial opioid withdrawal aid

kratom plant

Kratom is one of those plants that you might assume is a safer, natural alternative to other drugs. But don’t be fooled: There’s a dark side to kratom-derived pills, powders and teas.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

In this Q&A, integrative medicine specialist Yufang Lin, MD, explains why “natural” doesn’t always mean safe, especially when it comes to kratom.

Q. What is kratom?

A. Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tree in the coffee family. It’s found in Southeast Asia and Africa. Traditionally, people have:

  • Chewed kratom leaves.
  • Made kratom tea to fight tiredness and improve productivity.
  • Used kratom as medicine.
  • Substituted kratom for opium.
  • Used kratom during religious ceremonies.

Q: What does kratom do?

A: Low doses of kratom can make you more alert. However, high doses of kratom can cause:

  • Decreased pain.
  • Pleasure.
  • Sedation.

This is because two of the compounds in kratom (mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine) interact with opioid receptors in your brain.

Q: Why do people use kratom?

A: Precisely because kratom interacts with the brain’s opioid receptors, some people use it to relieve pain or overcome opioid addiction. Medical communities now try to shy away from opioid use for pain, so many patients who previously relied on them no longer can. Scrambling to find alternatives, some people turn to kratom, which is a compelling replacement because it has similar pain-relieving effects.

People tend (however incorrectly) to think that kratom is safe because it’s “natural.” It’s also legal and easily obtainable in many states — without the stigma attached to narcotics.

Q: How is kratom used?

A: Traditionally, people drink kratom as a tea or chew its leaves. Kratom can also be found in resins, extracts and tinctures.

Advertisement

These days, you may find kratom in pills, capsules, powders or even drinks. In Thailand, for example, you can buy a concoction made with kratom leaves, cough syrup, cola and ice. And kratom bars have begun to pop up across the U.S., offering kratom concoctions in place of cocktails.

Q: Does kratom have any side effects?

A: Yes. Don’t let the fact that kratom is “natural” trick you into thinking it’s safe. In fact, kratom’s potential for severe side effects outweigh its potential benefits — and in extreme cases, kratom has even caused death.

The most common side effects of kratom are:

  • Aggression.
  • Altered mental status.
  • Anxiety and irritability.
  • Constipation.
  • Delusion and hallucination.
  • Drowsiness and sedation.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Itching.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Tongue numbness.

Other serious kratom side effects include:

  • Cardiac issues, such as heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms and high blood pressure.
  • Encephalopathy (brain disease).
  • Hallucination.
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
  • Insomnia.
  • Liver damage and liver failure.
  • Rhabdomyolysis (A condition that leads to kidney damage when muscles disintegrate and release a protein into the blood).
  • Respiratory depression (difficulty breathing).
  • Seizure.

Long-term kratom users may also experience:

  • Increased cheek pigmentation.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Tremor.
  • Psychosis.
  • Weight loss.

Q. Is kratom addictive?

A: As with opioids, you can get addicted to kratom. People going through kratom withdrawal may experience:

Q: Is kratom legal?

A: The U.S. Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) has warned consumers about the dangers of using kratom. And as of mid-2021, kratom is illegal in six states:

Advertisement
  • Alabama.
  • Arkansas.
  • Indiana.
  • Rhode Island.
  • Vermont.
  • Wisconsin.

In some states, including California, Colorado, Florida and Mississippi, kratom is legal under state law but banned or controlled in some individual cities, towns and counties. In other states, various kratom legislation is still pending.

Globally, kratom is illegal or restricted in more than a dozen countries, including parts of Europe, Japan and Russia.

Q. Is kratom safe to use?

A: Due to its dangerous health effects — plus the very real risk of getting your hands on low-quality and contaminated kratom products — you should not use kratom in any form.

If you are experiencing pain or want to overcome opioid addiction, talk to your doctor. Together, you can find a safe way to reach your health goals.

Related Articles

Sad, exhausted parent holding newborn in cage surrounded by drug addiction possibilities
February 15, 2024
Can Babies Be Born Dependent on Drugs?

Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, or NOWS, can develop when a birthing parent uses opioids, nonmedical drugs or even some prescription drugs during pregnancy

close up of arm with nicotine patch on it
January 3, 2024
How (and Why) to Quit Dipping for Good

Nicotine replacement products and relaxation techniques can help you ditch the dip

person shooting a heart with a bow and arrow
November 2, 2023
Can You Be Addicted To Love? Here’s What We Know

Being ‘hooked’ on love can cause unhealthy relationship patterns and obsessive thoughts

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
October 16, 2023
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals that make life easier aren’t always so easy on the human body

person running outside
June 15, 2023
Could You Be Addicted to Exercise?

Sneaking off or turning down social activities to exercise might be signs of an addiction

pill bottle surrounded by pills
May 29, 2023
What To Know About the Dangerous Drug Called ‘Tranq’

Xylazine is an animal sedative that’s behind an increasing number of human overdose deaths

spilled pills on table top
April 20, 2023
How To Help Someone Who Overdoses

You must act fast to save a life

Whippet canisters placed on top of deflated yellow balloons.
April 10, 2023
Whippets: What You Need To Know About These Drugs

Popular among teens, these inhalants give you a quick high with potentially lasting consequences

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery

Ad