What is Kratom? Benefits and side effects

What is Kratom? Benefits and side effects

Are you curious about kratom, wondering what on earth kratom is, or want to learn more about kratom benefits? Known as a herbal alternative for managing issues such as chronic pain, opioid addiction, and withdrawal symptoms, kratom is also commonly used to treat depression and anxiety. 

What is kratom?

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a plant grown mainly in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia. A relative of the coffee plant, the leaves of the tropical evergreen kratom trees are used for both medicinal and recreational use. Kratom is typically sold as dried leaves crushed into powder, but can also be sold as capsules, extracts, pastes, or as tea leaves that can be brewed or that are sold pre-made. You can purchase kratom online from reputable sellers, or at your local head shop or health food store, where it is often sold as a herbal remedy.

There is a long tradition of kratom use in Southeast Asian countries, where it is used in small amounts as a stimulant similar to coffee, and at higher doses as a painkiller or as a recreational drug similar to beer, wine, or cannabis. However, since kratom is still relatively new to the North American market there is not a lot of research or clinical trials on it, and it has NOT been approved for medical use by the FDA. Though it has not yet been clinically proven, kratom is often used to treat ailments as diverse as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, opioid addiction, opioid withdrawal, and over-prescription of opioids

Kratom benefits

Wondering about the potential kratom benefits? Kratom is used for its medicinal, therapeutic benefits, for facilitating withdrawal from opioid addiction, as well as recreationally. At low doses, kratom behaves as a stimulant, with users reporting feeling more alert, awake, productive, and sociable. Because of its mood-boosting qualities, kratom can be used to help alleviate depression, anxiety, fatigue, and lethargy. At a low dosage it has also been anecdotally reported to have aphrodisiac qualities, improving libido and sexual endurance. At higher doses, kratom acts more like a sedative, dulling physical sensations and emotions. Kratom has also been reported to have an effect of suppressing appetites. 

As is the case with with CBD, Kratom is also widely used as a painkiller for those suffering from chronic illness, pain, and other ailments. Many users who consume kratom for pain relief and management on a continual, quotidien basis report that it provides similar (if not superior) relief for their ailments that prescription medication such as opioids do. It is often used as an alternative to prescription opioids for pain relief, and additionally is often used to treat withdrawal from opioid dependency. A John Hopkins Medicine study concluded that kratom likely has a smaller rate of harm than prescribed opiods do for addressing issues such as depression, addiction, anxiety, and chronic pain. As such, kratom is often used as an alternative or harm-reductive approach to issues such as the opioid epidemic.

How does kratom work?

Now that we know all about Kratom benefits, let’s learn more about how it works and interacts with the body. Kratom can produce similar effects to stimulants and opioids, depending on the dosage level. This is because of two compounds that are found in leaves from kratom plants:  7-Hydroxymitragynine (commonly referred to as 7-OH) and mitragynine. These two compounds interact with the opioid receptors in our brains, resulting in effects like pleasure, sedation, pain relief, and more. Mitragynine also produces stimulant effects by interacting with other receptors in the brain, resulting in feelings of energy, alertness, and sociability. Kratom is often used to treat opioid dependence or withdrawal because both Mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine affect the brain’s opioid receptors similarly to prescription medication like codeine and morphine, though kratom appears to produce fewer side effects and to be less habit-forming.  

Is kratom legal in the USA?

Yes, kratom is legal to purchase and consume in the United States, though it is not regulated by the FDA nor prescribed by medical professionals. Kratom is not legal in several European countries, or in Thailand, Australia, or Malaysia. In the United States and in Canada, kratom is often marketed as a herbal remedy or as alternative medicine. As kratom has grown in popularity over the past decade, there has been a debate over whether or not it should be banned or regulated. A recent John Hopkins Medicine study recommended that kratom be regulated to ensure safety standards and to further encourage research on its potential uses and benefits. Because of kratom’s seemingly safe potential for therapeutic use and pain relief, as well as it’s use as alternative treatment for opioid addiction, the report advocated for regulation and advised against banning the substance.

How to use kratom

Do you want to learn how to consume kratom in order to experience kratom benefits? There are many ways to consume the plant, here are a few of the most common:

Powder form

Leaves from the kratom plant are harvested, dried, and then crushed into a fine powder which is then taken orally. Though some people are able to simply take the powder directly and then wash it down with a beverage, it is much less intense to mix the powder into a drink with a strong flavour. Some people find it easier to consume by mixing it into a blended substance such as applesauce, a smoothie, or even to incorporate it into recipes for sauces, yogurts, and more.

Leaves

Leaves from the kratom plant can be chewed and spat out, similar to tobacco. Chewing leaves produces an immediate effect.

Dried leaves are often steeped to make tea, which can then be drunk. It is recommended to boil the kratom leaves for about 20 minutes before straining the mixture and enjoying.

Capsules

Kratom is often sold in pre-made capsules, which are taken as easily as any other pill.

Tinctures/Concentrates

Kratom is sometimes sold as a tincture, made by dissolving kratom extract into an ethyl alcohol concentration. Tinctures are typically MUCH stronger than other applications, so start with only 1 drop and observe the effects before taking a larger dose.

Smoked vs. Ingested

Some choose smoking dried kratom as their preferred mode of ingestion, because they feel the effects much more quickly than when it is orally ingested. However, smoking presents some negative side effects: it can be tough on your lungs to smoke, and since users feel the effects of kratom more quickly when it is smoked it can become addictive. For this reason it is NOT recommended to smoke or snort kratom. 

Side effects and risks of using kratom

Though kratom is used by many to treat various ailments, it has also been reported to cause numerous side effects in some cases. Since it is currently unregulated and not clinically studied, there just simply isn’t a lot of data on the potential side effects of kratom use both short and long term. Importantly, there isn’t a lot of anecdotal evidence available about how kratom interacts with other medications and substances.

Some report experiencing the following side effects after consuming kratom:

  • Sweating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Itching
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Discoloration of the cheeks
  • Insomnia
  • Liver damage
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Additionally, long-term or heavy use of kratom may create a dependency on the substance, or could lead to addiction and/or relapse into abusing other drugs, prescriptions, and substances. Especially since there is not a lot of information available about kratom dosage, users can regularly consume too much and experience negative side effects. If you are struggling with addiction to kratom or other substances, please reach out to loved ones as well as addiction resources such as hotlines, detox centers, and your family doctor if applicable

Where to buy kratom

Since kratom is legal in the United States, you can purchase it online at reputable sellers. It can also be found at head shops, or in the aisles at your local health food store, where it is often marketed as a herbal remedy or supplement.

FAQs

Anecdotal evidence from kratom users suggests that low to moderate doses of kratom are safe both short and long term to treat anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and opioid dependency and withdrawal. Since kratom is not regulated by the FDA, the supply is not controlled nor tested. Be sure to purchase from a reputable seller and begin with a low dose.

Anecdotal evidence has shown that kratom is a safe and effective alternative to prescription opioids, and can be used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. It is commonly used as an alternative to methadone, and many prefer to use kratom because it is a herbal and natural option.

Kelly LaRoche Written by: Kelly LaRoche

Kelly LaRoche is a writer, researcher, and cannabis enthusiast based in Ontario, Canada. Look to her well-researched articles for objective, accurate and informative cannabis and CBD information. With a background in music, she's also interested in the intersection of cannabis and the arts.

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