What is Kratom?

I heard about kratom about three months ago when a friend asked if anyone had ever suggested it to me as a pain reliever. They shared with me an article from Vice News[i] that described kratom as a natural supplement (not synthetically made in a lab) that many opioid and heroin addicts were using to get off these drugs. There also seemed to some pain relieving properties for people in chronic pain, when taking the correct dosage. This is what I found out after days of research:


  • Kratom is derived from a tropical plant species that is part of the coffee family. It has been used in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years as a traditional remedy. Kratom comes in three different forms: as a powder that can be taken straight or mixed with water, leaves that can be chewed or steeped in water like tea or in a packed capsule.[ii]
  • It is known to be a natural analgesic, muscle relaxer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant.[iii]
  • Kratom is currently illegal in six states: Indiana, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Vermont, Alabama and Arkansas.[v]
  • There are three different strains[iv]:
  1. White is more euphoric and can be dissociative.
  2. Green is stimulating with painkiller effects.
  3. Red is more sedating and very similar to feelings produced by opiates.
  • Kratom Science states the following about this substance[vi]:

In very small doses of a few grams of the leaf, kratom functions primarily as a stimulant. This produces effects similar to caffeine without the known jitteriness of drinking several cups of coffee. In higher dosages, kratom functions as a neurological opiate, triggering the mu opiate receptors in the brain, even though kratom is chemically different from the opium derived medications such as codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. An important distinction is that unlike other administered drugs like oxycodone and morphine, kratom exhibits less dependency and addiction potential on the user. However, dependence is still possible as with all of these other derivatives with prolonged and incremental use.


  • After reading numerous message boards, it seems that some people use it to get off of methadone and oxycodone.
  • Vice News reports that it is used to wean addicts off of heroin.[vii]
  • Those with multiple sclerosis, back pain, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease have reported relief when using kratom.
  • The addictive properties of kratom are reported to be less than traditional opioids.


  • A study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs states that kratom has at least some addiction potential. However, the report shows that kratom addiction is mild compared to opioid addiction.[viii]
  • There have been a limited number of deaths attributed solely to kratom. The majority of overdoses where kratom is present, other drugs and alcohol were all contributing factors.  Unlike opioids, kratom does not suppress the breathing function, which is an element of overdosing.
  • Some report a lack of sex drive, while others say kratom increases it.
  • Kratom can cause nausea.
  • Rare cases of acute liver damage has been reported with recreational use[ix] and seizures.


  • The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) released a report during their investigation on whether or not to criminalize kratom in January 2016. “Kratom does not currently constitute a significant risk to the safety and welfare of Florida residents.” Additionally the report sites that the Florida Department of Health “found there are no pervasive health issues can be attributed to the ingestion of kratom products in Florida.”[x]
  • However, the Federal DEA does not agree. As of September 30, 2016 there will be a ban on the use of kratom and it will become a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as  Ecstasy and LSD. The ban will last two years, at which time the government will re-evaluate kratom and determine if it has potential medicinal benefits or is deemed a harmful drug. The full notice of intent can be read at https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2016-20803.pdf.
  • According to the American Kratom Association, the DEA has not performed extensive scientific studies on kratom to warrant this sudden ban.[xi]
  • Over 100,000 people have signed a White House Petition asking to reverse the DEA’s position.[xii]

Have you ever taken kratom? If it remained legal would you try it? Do you feel this is another hurdle for chronic pain patients, as well as addicts, to have an alternative to deal with their pain/ addiction? Do you think the DEA is making the right decision?

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