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Uses of Kratom

Annette McDermott
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Mitragyna speciosa leaves

Mitragyna speciosa, also known as kratom, is a member of the Rubiaceae family, the same species of plant that coffee comes from. It has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy by people in South East Asia. Before you use kratom, there are some things you need to consider.

What Is Kratom?

The tall kratom tree is native to South East Asia countries such as Thailand and Malaysia. The tree's dark green leaves are chewed, dried into powder, made into tea or boiled for their health benefits.

Kratom is believed to contain alkaloids that act as mu opioid receptors in the brain. According to a PubMed abstract, most potent pain relievers used today act through mu opioid receptors. The headline of another abstract states, "Mu opioid receptor: a gateway to drug addiction," and the abstract indicates the importance of mu opioid receptors to the development of addiction therapies.

Uses and Research

Search kratom on the Internet and you'll find many websites that praise the uses of kratom and even more sites selling kratom products. Kratom is quickly becoming popular in the Western world. Sage Wisdom's Kratom User's Guide suggests kratom is unique because at low doses it acts as a stimulant and at high doses a sedative. The guide states kratom is used for the following:

  • Recreational drug
  • Painkiller
  • Diarrhea medicine
  • Opiate addiction treatment

But much of the evidence for kratom's success is anecdotal -- reported by users yet not well studied. However, studies do show kratom may help relieve withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to powerful narcotics. This may offer addicts a gentler treatment option than methadone (the usual treatment of choice).

Kratom is also touted by many to relieve depression and anxiety symptoms. A 2011 study showed kratom to have an antidepressant-like effect on mice.

Side Effects

It's believed that, although kratom is like an opiate, it functions without the same side effects as other opiates. However, this doesn't mean the herb is completely safe to use. In fact, although kratom is legal in the United States, many countries list the herb as either a controlled substance or illegal including (but not limited to) Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea. Some U.S. states currently have pending legislation to regulate kratom.

The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services indicates on its website that kratom has a euphoric, relaxing and anxiety-reducing effect on the body. They mention that side effects are usually rare but may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Increased/decreased urination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Prolonged sleep

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency suggests kratom may not be as benign a substance as people think. They state on their website that kratom can be addicting, especially with long-term use. Side effects caused by kratom withdrawal after long-term use can be very serious. These include:

  • Hostility and aggression
  • Emotional changes
  • Achy muscles/limbs
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Confusion

Use With Caution

Kratom may turn out to be an exciting breakthrough in helping people kick a drug habit or relieve pain and anxiety. But while kratom has reportedly helped many people, the fact remains that little scientific research using the herb on humans has been performed.

When used as directed in low quantities, there is little evidence kratom is unsafe. However, since kratom is considered an unregulated herbal supplement, people are at risk of using too much, using poor quality kratom, or using kratom mixed with other, potentially dangerous, ingredients.

A Legal High?

Another concern is kratom's accessibility to teenagers, especially those searching for an easy way to get legally high. One NBC News story reported teenagers looking for a way to get high are showing up in emergency rooms after using kratom. The report quotes Frank LoVecchio, Banner Good Samaritan Poison and Drug Information Center's medical director, as saying, "Every month somebody is trying to get a new 'safe high.' (Kratom) is definitely not safe."

If you're interested in using kratom, discuss its pros and cons with your doctor first. If you and your doctor decide kratom is right for you, do your research and only purchase it from a trusted, reputable source and use under your doctor's supervision. Finally, if you're a parent, discuss the risks of using kratom with your children.

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Uses of Kratom