What is Kratom?
A small evergreen tree belonging to the coffee family, kratom is a psychoactive, indigenous Southeast Asia plant containing alkaloids that purport to provide therapeutic benefits. South Asians chew or smoke kratom leaves to increase energy, improve mood, and relieve pain. However, the more kratom a person consumes, the more relaxed and drowsy they start to feel.
Can You Buy Kratom in the United States?
Yes, kratom is available for purchase online as capsules containing crushed kratom leaves. Currently, the U.S. does not regulate the sale or use of kratom but some states have enacted laws that make it illegal to use kratom or buy kratom online. Listed as a Drug and Chemical of Concern by the DEA, kratom is not approved by the FDA for medical use.
Is Kratom Healthy?
What little research results are available regarding the benefits and safety of kratom indicates that the possibility of a user experiencing severe side effects outweighs the possibility of benefiting health-wise from kratom.
The most reported side effects of consuming kratom include:
- Irritability, anxiety, and aggression (when taken in lower doses)
- Drowsiness and sedation (when taken in higher doses)
- Nausea/vomiting (when taken in either dose amount)
- Tongue numbness/dry mouth
- Frequent urination/constipation
- Delusional thinking
- Visual hallucinations
More serious side effects are possible, especially when kratom and other drugs (or alcohol) are taken together:
- Difficulty breathing/respiratory depression (as sedating doses)
- Arrhythmia/tachycardia/high blood pressure/heart attack (at stimulating doses)
- Psychotic episodes
Over the past few years, numerous fatalities have been reported in people combining kratom with another drug. U.S. poison control centers regularly receive calls from kratom users experiencing extreme agitation, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, seizures, confusion, and hallucinations.
Is Kratom Addictive?
Kratom contains mitragynine and other alkaloids that act like opioids on certain receptors in the brain. Research has shown that kratom can be addictive, producing withdrawal symptoms similar in nature and intensity to opioid withdrawal symptoms. Many long-time kratom users who abruptly stop consuming kratom often need emergency treatment for signs of withdrawal within 12 hours of last taking kratom.
Kratom withdrawal symptoms include:
- Mood swings/irritability/anxiety
- Muscle and joint pain
Around a decade ago, kratom was considered a potentially safe alternative to pain medications like oxycodone or Vicodin. However, ongoing research involving larger subject numbers and more rigorous testing protocols has concluded that kratom has little to no benefits as an opioid alternative. Too many safety concerns pose severe to life-threatening risks to users who are already addicted to an opioid.
Kratom is Unregulated in the U.S.
Kratom being shipped from Southeast Asia to the U.S. has been found contaminated with heavy metals and infectious bacteria. Between 2018 and 2022, 35 deaths linked to kratom tainted with salmonella bacteria have been reported in the U.S. Online sellers of kratom typically have relationships with kratom farmers in Southeast Asia. These farmers harvest kratom leaves and ship them to U.S. sellers with no oversight provided by overseas or American inspectors. This and the fact that kratom is addictive and poses serious health risks to users should be enough to persuade anyone from taking kratom capsules or smoking kratom leaves.