The herbal world is buzzing about kratom, a controversial herb native to Thailand. Most popular as a stimulant or sedative, it’s also reported to have been used for treating chronic pain, digestive ailments, and as a cure for opium dependency.
But critics are of two minds when it comes to its drug-like effects. While it’s widely available, there are several things you should know before you head out to your local smoke shop.
While kratom is technically legal in the United States, it’s on the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) list of Drugs and Chemicals of Concern.
Kratom is usually marketed as an alternative medicine, but it doesn’t have a stated medical use. You can find it in supplement and alternative medicine stores.
The plant’s dark green leaves are usually dried and either crushed or powdered. You can also find fortified kratom powders, usually green or light brown in color, which contain extracts from other plants. It’s also available in paste, capsule, and tablet form.
At low doses, kratom works as a stimulant, where users report that they have more energy, are more alert, and generally more sociable. At high doses, it’s a sedative. It produces euphoric effects and dulls emotions and sensations.
Its main active ingredients are the alkaloids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, and there is evidence that these can have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, or muscle relaxant effects. For this reason, kratom is often used to ease symptoms of fibromyalgia.
In the United States, kratom is mostly brewed as a tea for the self-management of pain and opioid withdrawal. It is not officially recommended for any medical uses, nor has any of the production been regulated in the U.S. or around the world.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), a small dose consists of just a few grams. The effects usually appear within 10 minutes and can last for up to one and a half hours. These effects could include:
- loss of motor coordination
A larger dose of between 10 and 25 grams of dried leaves can cause a sedative effect, with feelings of calmness and euphoria. This could last for up to six hours.
The effects of kratom have not been studied extensively in the lab, but looking at kratom historically, it is clear that it can be quite harmful. For this reason, kratom is outlawed in its country of origin, Thailand, as well as in Australia, Malaysia, and several European Union countries. The National Library of Medicine, a division of the U.S. National Institute of Health, states that chronic use of kratom has been associated with acute liver damage, although this is rare.
Kratom contains almost the same amount of alkaloids as opium and hallucinogenic mushrooms, while most species of plants contain just a few. Alkaloids have a strong physical effect on humans. While some of these effects can be positive, others are serious causes for concern.
Researchers have confirmed the addictive properties of kratom, and there is evidence that overuse can lead to problems with learning, memory, and other cognitive abilities.
Dependence can often cause side effects like nausea, sweating, tremors, the inability to sleep, and hallucinations. According to the EMCDDA, potential treatments for kratom addiction could include antidepressants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents.
Other Side Effects
Long-term use of kratom, even at small doses, can cause side effects such as:
- severe weight loss
- hyperpigmentation of the cheeks
- potentially deadly interactions with other drugs
Kratom hasn’t been studied extensively, and it has no proven medical uses. It’s also outlawed in many countries, and listed as a drug of concern in the U.S. While technically legal, it also has the potential to be lethal when combined with prescription medications or other recreational drugs.