Kratom: Uses, Side Effects, Misuse, & More
What is Kratom?
Kratom refers to both the Mitragyna speciosa tree and products derived from its leaves. Native to Southeast Asia, kratom is believed to have been used for hundreds of years as a traditional medical remedy to increase alertness and energy for work and social functions.1 Today, kratom is legally sold online and in stores in certain areas in the USA; however, is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any medical uses.1
Kratom contains two main psychoactive compounds: mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. These compounds bind to opioid receptors in the brain and produce a similar response to opioids and also have additional effects on other neuroreceptors.1,2 Some research has been conducted into the drug, but there is much to be discovered about the chemical compounds in kratom, exactly how it works in the brain, and its health effects.1
Why is Kratom Used?
Kratom has stimulant-like effects at lower doses and opioid-like effects at higher doses. It has traditionally been used for both increased energy and relaxation.1 People also use kratom for pain relief and as a way of self-medicating anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions.1,3
Though some studies report efficacy in using kratom to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms and to reduce their use of opioids, additional research and guidelines for use would be needed to ensure it is safe for these purposes.1,3
How is Kratom Used?
People may use kratom by:1
- Ingesting the raw plant matter in capsule or powder forms.
- Brewing the leaves as tea.
- Taking a liquid kratom extract.
- Mixing the powder into food or drinks.
Kratom Use in the United States
Approximately 1.7 million Americans 12 years old and older used kratom in 2021.3
Despite its widespread use, the FDA warns that further research is necessary to ensure the safety and side effect risks of kratom use before it can be approved as a dietary supplement or food additive.3
Effects of Kratom
The effects of kratom vary widely, depending on the amount taken and the potency of the product. Additional factors such as the method of ingestion, interaction with other drugs in a person’s body, any existing medical conditions, and how often a person has taken it can change the effect kratom has on someone.1
Effects reported with kratom use include both stimulant- and opioid-like effects such as:1
- Increase in energy.
- Heightened alertness.
- Increased heart rate.
- Pain relief.
Common adverse effects of kratom include:3
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Dizziness or drowsiness.
- Fast heart rate.
- High blood pressure.
Is Kratom Safe?
As kratom use becomes more popular, there is an increased concern for the serious health effects that may result.1 Additional research is required to address some of the following safety concerns:1
- Harmful contaminants in unregulated kratom products
- Safety issues due to intoxication or severe adverse effects
- Potential interactions with other drugs
- Potentially adverse long-term effects
- Potentially adverse effects when used during pregnancy
- Overdose risk factors (with kratom alone but also with other substances)
Some case reports document seizures as an adverse effect of kratom use. When used alongside other CNS depressants, including benzodiazepines and alcohol, or with opioids, there may be an increased risk of oversedation or respiratory depression drugs. Several reports have identified severe liver injury with regular kratom use.1,3
Can You Overdose on Kratom?
There have been very few deaths reported from overdose on kratom, and most involved other substances.1
Because the effects of kratom are poorly studied and have the potential for serious harm, and the purity of kratom products is unreliable, the FDA has warned against kratom use.1
Is Kratom Addictive?
While there is no specific diagnostic criteria for kratom use disorder outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), patterns associated with kratom use, including reported withdrawal symptoms, suggest that it may have addiction potential. In addition, the psychoactive chemicals in kratom products appear to activate some of the same brain receptors as other drugs with known addictive properties; however, the way they activate opioid receptors may reduce the potential for addiction relative to opioids.1
Studies in Asian countries have revealed social and physical problems associated with kratom use and implied addiction.5
Mild to severe withdrawal symptoms have been reported by people who have decided to stop using kratom.1
Withdrawal symptoms reported with kratom use include:2,5
- Anxiety and agitation.
- Tremors, uncontrolled limb movements, or muscle spasms.
- Watery eyes or runny nose.
- Insomnia, sedation, and fatigue.
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
- Muscle, body, joint pain, and nerve pain..
- Restlessness, depressed mood, anger, nervousness, and increased craving.
Kratom Addiction Treatment
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, safe addiction treatment conducted by medical professionals can help. Evidence-based approaches like medically managed detox, behavioral therapy, peer support, and more have helped many achieve sobriety and regain their livelihood.6
Call an American Addiction Centers (AAC) admissions navigator at to start treatment or learn more. There are addiction treatment centers across the United States that are ready to help begin your recovery journey.