Is Kratom An Opioid? Should You Be Using It?

Medically reviewed by Vd. Babita Sharma, Ayurveda Physician
by Swathi Handoo

Traditional and folk medicine often use mildly psychoactive herbs to treat different conditions. But, only in small/diluted doses. Kratom is one such example.

Kratom is a plant common to Thailand, Malaysia, and pockets of Southeast Asia. Though the supplements are known for their analgesic, antidepressant, and stimulant properties, the herb’s safety graph is only trending down. Selling and possessing kratom may also be illegal in a few countries of the West (1), (2).

What exactly is the problem? What does kratom do to your body? Is it safe to be consumed? The answers are in this read. Scroll down to find out!

 What Is Kratom?

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Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tree belonging to the coffee family. It grows in tropical countries like Malaysia and Thailand. It is also referred to as Thom, Thang, and Biak (1), (2).

In Southeast Asia, people chew the leaves of this tree or drink its tea. In small doses, it is considered to boost alertness, energy levels, and productivity (1). It is also a part of religious ceremonies and local rituals (1).

What Does Kratom Do To Your  Body?

Traditional medicine uses kratom to treat diarrhea and rheumatism (pain). It is also used as a substitute for opium in managing opioid withdrawal (3).

This plant gained popularity as a recreational drug. Two psychoactive compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, have been identified in kratom leaves (1), (3).

These compounds interact with opioid receptors in the brain. One may experience dizziness, pleasure, and decreased pain only when kratom is taken in high doses (1). It is, therefore, illegal to possess or consume kratom in several countries (1).

 Before getting to the side effects of this plant, here is a brief on its benefits.

What Are The Benefits Of Kratom?

Though there isn’t enough evidence to prove, kratom has shown to benefit in the following ways (2), (4), (5):

  • Increases alertness
  • Boosts endurance
  • Reduces pain (analgesic)
  • Relieves muscle spasms
  • Controls diarrhea
  • Reduces fever (antipyretic)
  • May manage diabetes
  • Works as an aphrodisiac
  • Fights fatigue, anxiety, PTSD, depression
  • Suppresses hunger (may be beneficial for obese individuals)
  • Evokes the feeling of euphoria

All these effects could be only when you stick to the intake limit. Within this limit, an optimal amount was what was used in traditional and folk medicine.

Kratom may also give you a natural high. But if you start using it in higher doses, you’ll experience an entirely different set of effects. Studies say that rather than treating withdrawal and addiction, this plant may lead to them (5).

Find out more in the following section.

What Are The Side Effects Of Using Kratom?

According to research, kratom may cause more harm than good. Whether you chew, smoke, or swallow it, high doses of this plant might be life-threatening. Here are a few case studies for your reference (2), (4):

  1. Animal studies with a prolonged dose of 200 mg/kg of kratom showed signs like dry mouth, anorexia, weight loss, skin darkening, and constipation. Aggression, hostility, inertia, and muscle and bone pain were also reported as withdrawal symptoms.
  2. A few cases of psychosis have also been recorded. A 55-year-old subject reported hallucinations, delusion, and cloudiness of consciousness while weaning off kratom.
  3. Liver injury is another side effect. Trials report an increase in triglycerides, cholesterol, and liver enzymes. Lab tests also show corresponding damage (hemorrhages) in healthy liver cells.
  4. After using kratom powder for 8 days, a patient developed intense abdominal pain, with brown discoloration of urine. This ultimately lead to jaundice and pruritus.
  5. Seizures, impaired retrieval of memory phases, and coma were also seen in subjects using kratom for opioid withdrawal.
  6. Overdose of kratom may also affect the kidneys and lungs and cause urine retention, edema, congestion, and toxicity.
  7. The psychoactive compounds of this plant can induce arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
  8. If used during pregnancy, the infant may experience symptoms of withdrawal after birth.
  9. High concentrations of kratom also caused accidental poisoning and death when it was taken with other drugs. This could be a possible case of herb-drug interaction.

Can There Be Drug Interactions With Kratom?

The active compounds of kratom, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, are known to react with multiple drugs.

Synergistic effects are observed if kratom is used with benzodiazepines, alcohol, opioids, anxiolytics, and other drugs for the central nervous system (CNS) (6).

However, experimental evidence indicates negative drug interaction between kratom and drugs like quetiapine and modafinil (6), (7).

 Above all, a safe dose range or a toxic threshold for the intake of kratom has not been established yet (4).

This is because there are sections in the society that are benefited with the use of kratom. Also, there needs to be further in-depth research and data to cement its status as a substance of abuse (2), (4).

However, the DEA issued a warning that Kratom “should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids.

Is It Legal To Use Kratom?

  • It is illegal to use kratom in countries like Malaysia. But, the legal status of kratom varies from region to region in the West.
  • Kratom is an illegal drug/substance in Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Sweden.
  • It falls under the term of “psychoactive substance” under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 in the United Kingdom.
  • In the United States, kratom is not scheduled under the US Controlled Substances Act.
  • However, it is legal in all US States except Arkansas, Alabama, Indiana, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Vermont, and the District of Columbia.
  • There are also city bans in Alton, IL; Columbus, MS; Denver, CO; Jerseyville, IL; San Diego, CA; and Sarasota, FL, and a county ban in Union County, MS.

What’s The Verdict?

Kratom is an evergreen tree native to the Southeast Asian countries. It has grown popular as a substance for the treatment of opioid and alcohol withdrawal (5), (8).

Its extract/tea/smoke is used to treat pain, fatigue, anxiety, etc. But many cases of overdose/abuse have been recorded too.

As the FDA does not find kratom safe, it is best to not self-medicate. Consult your healthcare provider to know more about kratom.

Unless prescribed, do not consume kratom or its supplements. If prescribed, adhere to the dosage.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Is it safe to mix alcohol and kratom?

Kratom and alcohol are similar. Both have psychoactive and stimulant effects on your CNS. Having them together will only worsen your condition. You should not be mixing kratom with alcohol.

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Swathi Handoo

Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.
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