What is Kratom?

Written by Chloe Nicosia

What is Kratom?  Learn more about the controversial substance and why it is on the DEA’s Drugs of Concern list.

What is kratom? There has been a lot of conflicting information reported about kratom, an herbal plant that is native to Southeast Asia. Use of kratom has gained popularity in the U.S. over the last five years with reported consumption used as treatment for chronic pain, digestion issues, and even as a cure for opiate dependency.  Some users claim that using kratom as an herbal alternative to medical treatment has helped them manage cravings to use opioids as well as withdrawal symptoms from discontinued opioid use. However, the drug has also been reported to have a “high potential for abuse”, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Those unfamiliar with kratom are often misled about its safety because it is legal to purchase in most parts of the United States. Those who think about trying kratom need to ask the following questions:  

  • What is kratom?
  • What does kratom do?
  • Is kratom addictive?

The DEA planned to list kratom as a Schedule 1 drug earlier this year, alongside drugs like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. However, this decision was postponed after the agency received a lot of negative response from researchers and critics that claimed more time was needed to explore the usefulness of the drug as a possible treatment for opioid dependency. While it is currently still legal and widely available, it is now included on the DEA’s Drugs of Concern list  due to its abuse potential, reported side effects, and the fact that there is no existing research that clinically proves it to have any legitimate medical use.

What does kratom do? Is kratom addictive?  This psychoactive painkiller produces both stimulant and sedating effects, depending on the amount ingested. PBS.org reports that the drug, which is typically sold as a powder in capsules or in a tea form, does relieve pain. Kratom and opioid drugs bind to the same receptors in the brain that produce sedation, decreased pain and pleasure, and therefore produce similar effects.  When ingested in small doses of just a few grams, users report effects of euphoria, alertness, sociability and loss of coordination. In larger amounts, kratom produces calmness and euphoria. While overdose does not seem possible for users of kratom, addiction is likely, as well as symptoms of withdrawal. The troubling issue at hand for those asking, “What is kratom?” or “What does kratom do?”  is that there is not enough information known about the drug to properly inform the public about all of the possible health dangers associated with kratom consumption. However, enough information has been gathered to vigorously warn the public against using kratom, as there is no doubt that serious risk does exist with its use:

  • Is kratom addictive? Regular use can cause dependency, anorexia, and insomnia.
  • What does kratom do? Even at low doses, kratom can cause hallucinations.
  • Is kratom dangerous? Kratom can have potentially deadly interactions with other drugs.
  • Long-term use of kratom can lead to problems with memory, learning, and other cognitive abilities.
  • The U.S. National Institute of Health has reported that chronic abuse of kratom has been associated with acute liver damage, though this is a rare side effect.
  • Dependence on kratom can also cause constipation, nausea, profuse sweating, and tremors.

Like opioid drugs, physical withdrawal symptoms can become apparent if a person who is dependent on the drug stops using it. Withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Hostility
  • Nervousness and emotional disturbances.
  • Runny nose, excessive sweating, severe nausea and vomiting.
  • Erratic movements
  • Respiratory depression
  • Delusions

Kratom abuse can also cause psychotic episodes. It has been reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that commercial forms of kratom are sometimes mixed with other compounds that have resulted in fatalities. Because of the limited amount of information available about kratom, therapies used to treat kratom addiction are still be researched. Kratom use in the United States has led to numerous calls to poison control centers and trips to emergency rooms. Everyone should avoid using kratom until further information can be provided about its safety and its use becomes regulated.