Understanding Kratom: Uses, Benefits, and Risks

Kratom, scientifically known as Mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, particularly in countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The leaves of this tree have been used for centuries in traditional medicine due to their psychoactive properties. In recent years, kratom has gained popularity in the Western world as a herbal supplement, touted for its potential to alleviate pain, improve mood, and aid in opioid withdrawal. However, its use is not without controversy and potential risks.

What is Kratom?

Kratom leaves contain several active compounds, with mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine being the most prominent. These compounds interact with opioid receptors in the brain, producing effects similar to opioids, though kratom is not classified as an opioid. Depending on the dosage, kratom can have varying effects:

  • Low Doses: Acts as a stimulant, increasing energy, alertness, and sociability.
  • High Doses: Acts as a sedative, providing pain relief and a sense of euphoria.

Traditionally, kratom leaves were chewed, brewed into tea, or crushed into a powder. Today, it is available in various forms, including capsules, tablets, extracts, and resins.

Uses and Perceived Benefits of Kratom

  1. Pain Relief: One of the most common reasons people use kratom is for its analgesic properties. It is used to manage chronic pain conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.
  2. Mood Enhancement: Users report improved mood and reduced anxiety. Some studies suggest it might have antidepressant properties.
  3. Opioid Withdrawal Aid: Kratom is used by some as a natural alternative to ease the withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid addiction. Its opioid-like effects can help mitigate the cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  4. Increased Energy and Focus: At lower doses, kratom can act as a stimulant, providing a boost in energy and enhancing focus and concentration.

Major Risks and Side Effects of Kratom

Despite the perceived benefits, kratom use carries significant risks and potential side effects:

  1. Addiction and Dependence: Regular use of kratom can lead to dependence and addiction. Users may develop tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects, and experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, sweating, and nausea when they stop using it.
  2. Psychological Effects: High doses of kratom can lead to anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and in severe cases, hallucinations and delusions.
  3. Physical Side Effects: Common side effects include nausea, constipation, dry mouth, and increased urination. There are also reports of more severe effects like liver damage and seizures.
  4. Interactions with Other Substances: Kratom can interact dangerously with other drugs, including prescription medications, alcohol, and other recreational drugs. These interactions can amplify the effects of kratom and increase the risk of adverse reactions.
  5. Lack of Regulation: Kratom is not regulated by the FDA, which means there is little oversight on its purity, potency, and safety. Products can be contaminated with harmful toxic substances, leading to unexpected and dangerous side effects.
  6. Health Risks: There have been reports of overdose fatalities associated with kratom use, often but not always in conjunction with other substances. The exact cause in such cases is difficult to pinpoint, but it underscores the potential dangers of unsupervised kratom use.

Conclusion

Kratom is a complex substance with a range of potential benefits and significant risks. While it can provide short term pain relief, and is a potential aid in opioid withdrawal, its use must be approached with caution as there are drawbacks to it. The lack of regulation and potential for addiction and severe side effects make it imperative for users to be well-informed and for more research to be conducted. 

If chronic pain from arthritis is bothering you, schedule a consult today with one of our board-certified physicians to help.

Resources:

(1) Kuehn B. Kratom-Related Deaths. JAMA. 2019;321(20):1966. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.6339

(2) DEA. DEA Announces Intent To Schedule Kratom. https://www.dea.gov/press-releases/2016/08/30/dea-announces-intent-schedule-kratom. Accessed 8/4/23.

(3) Associated Press. Parents sue over son’s death after he took kratom supplement. https://apnews.com/article/health-business-lawsuits-georgia-us-food-and-drug-administration-46027961c11d27c3cee56c547a4a1664 Accessed 8/5/23

(4) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. National Survey on Drug Use and Health. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt39443/2021NSDUHFFRRev010323.pdf Accessed 8/5/23

(5) USFDA. FDA and Kratom. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-and-kratom Accessed 8/5/23

About The Author
Ignatios Papas, DO Medically Reviewed By James Leiber, DO

Ignatios Papas, DO Medically Reviewed By James Leiber, DO

Ignatios Papas, DO Medically Reviewed By James Leiber, DO

Ignatios Papas, DO Medically Reviewed By James Leiber, DO

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