Kratom, known as Mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia and is mostly found in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
The leaves of this tree have been used for centuries in traditional medicine — they have both stimulant and sedative properties, depending on the dose.
When consumed in low doses, kratom can boost energy levels and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, when taken in high doses, it can act as a sedative, inducing euphoric effects similar to opioids.
Over the past 20 years, kratom has become increasingly popular in the US and is sold legally in most states.
Kratom addiction is becoming more and more common as many people who once were addicted to harder opioids turn to kratom as a “safer” alternative, only to become addicted to kratom instead.
Here’s everything you need to know about kratom.
As of right now, kratom is legal in most states except:
It’s also illegal in a few cities and counties, including:
Finally, it’s restricted to people over a certain age in a couple of places:
Kratom has not been classified as a scheduled drug by the DEA, which means that it’s not illegal on a federal level. However, they have listed it as a “Chemical of Concern,” which just means they’re monitoring to see if they believe it’s dangerous enough to schedule.
Despite its odd legal status, the FDA has decided not to regulate kratom at all, which means that any kratom you buy could have quality or purity problems — and much of it does.
The FDA has been hesitant to regulate kratom mostly because there’s little comprehensive research on its long-term effects on the human body. Kratom has been marketed as a "natural" and "safe" alternative to traditional opioids, which has further complicated its regulation.
While kratom is not an opioid, it does interact with opioid receptors in the brain in a way that’s similar to how opioids interact with them. This interaction produces a similar sense of euphoria and pain relief as opioids.
This is why some people believe that kratom is dangerous — opioids are highly addictive drugs that are fueling a massive drug crisis around the world.
However, kratom does not cause respiratory depression, a dangerous side effect associated with opioid overdose. This has led some to argue that kratom is a safer alternative to opioids, but this perspective often overlooks the potential for addiction and other health risks.
Yes, you can get addicted to kratom.
Regular use of kratom can lead to physical dependence and addiction. When you use kratom in high doses for long periods of time, you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you try to stop using it — these symptoms are very similar to opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Just like any other drug, your body will also develop a tolerance to kratom. Over time, you’ll need larger and larger doses to achieve the same effect.
Kratom’s safety mostly depends on the dosage and frequency of use. If you’re using kratom for a few days or weeks at a low dose, or if you use it irregularly, you might not have any side effects at all.
However, if you’re using kratom in large doses regularly, you can develop serious health complications. Liver damage is common in chronic users, and some users have reported developing seizure disorders after long-term use.
The damage that kratom causes to your liver is what’s most concerning, and this can be accelerated if you also drink or use other drugs on top of kratom.
Cases of kratom-induced liver damage have been reported, with symptoms including jaundice, itching, and abdominal pain. If you are using kratom regularly and start to notice these symptoms, get medical help immediately.
While rare, it is possible to overdose on kratom — however, kratom overdose is usually a result of combining kratom with other substances, such as alcohol or prescription drugs.
Overdose symptoms can include severe nausea, hallucinations, psychosis, seizures, and loss of consciousness. If you suspect someone has overdosed on kratom, call 911 right away and administer first aid if possible.
Chronic use of kratom can have a variety of negative long-term effects, both physically and psychologically.
Physical effects can include weight loss, insomnia, and constipation in addition to liver damage. Psychological effects can include anxiety, depression, and even hallucinations as a result of psychosis. If you already suffer from mental health issues, kratom can make those worse.
Because chronic kratom use can also lead to addiction and dependence, and because kratom interacts with the same receptors in your brain that opioids bind to, you can experience withdrawal symptoms if you try to quit.
It’s not uncommon these days for people to seek treatment solely for kratom addiction.
Common signs of kratom addiction include:
If you or someone you know is displaying these symptoms, you need to seek professional help immediately.
Withdrawal from kratom can be extremely uncomfortable. Symptoms can include:
The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can vary based on your overall health, the amount of kratom used, and the length of use.
If you experience withdrawal symptoms when you run out of kratom, going to a rehab or detox center might be the best way to get sober. Sober living is another option if you can’t go to a 24/7 treatment facility.
If you or someone you know is struggling with kratom addiction, it's important to seek professional help. Treatment options like intensive outpatient programs (IOP) and counseling can give you the tools and support you need to overcome addiction.
With professional help and support, it’s possible to get sober and reclaim your life.
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Cristal Clark, LPC-S, is the Medical Reviewer for ASIC Recovery Services. She reviews all website content for quality and medical accuracy. She is a master’s level Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and graduated from Liberty University in 2011. She has worked in the behavioral and mental health field for over 12 years and has a passion for helping others. She has been clinical director and CEO of a 200 plus bed facility, PHP, and IOP, with experience managing a team of counselors, individual/group/and family therapy, and coordinating continuum of care. Cristal is trained in EMDR and certified in non-violent intervention. She is a member of American Counseling Association and American Association of Christian Counselors.