Both kratom and Suboxone are marketed as solutions for people with OUD. But only Suboxone is proven safe and effective.
In 2019, about 10.1 million adults misused opioids. While Kratom is sometimes marketed - illicitly - as a treatment for OUD, there is no strong evidence that it is useful for this reason. In fact, it may have some harms. Suboxone, in contrast, is an FDA approved medication for OUD.
What Is Kratom & How Does It Work?
Kratom is a psychoactive substance commonly consumed in tea or other liquid preparations. The two chemicals in kratom leaves (Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine) activate opioid receptors in the brain. Mitragynine also functions as a stimulant by interacting with other receptor systems in the brain.
In low doses, kratom produces a mild stimulant effect, leading to enhanced energy, sociability, and alertness. At higher doses, kratom effects include pain reduction, mood changes, and sleepiness.
Because it has some activity stimulating opioid receptors in the brain, some people try to use it as an OUD treatment. This is inadvisable, has not been shown to work, and is associated with some serious health risks.
What Is Suboxone?
- Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that binds to opioid receptors in the brain and activates them. As a result, the medication decreases cravings and prevents withdrawal symptoms associated with OUD.
- Naloxone is an opioid agonist that prevents patients from misusing the medication through snorting or injection.
Suboxone also has a "ceiling effect," meaning that the euphoric properties and respiratory suppression tend to slow down at higher doses, preventing the risk of overdose and death.
Kratom has no ceiling effect, so you can experience growing effects with increasing amounts, which may easily lead to an overdose.
This pharmacological "ceiling effect" makes buprenorphine safer than other opioid-based medications, kratom, or misused opioids.
Kratom vs. Suboxone
Suboxone is a safe and FDA-approved medication for the treatment of OUD.
Even though kratom activates opioid receptors, it's difficult to know the full risks of its use due to lack of research. Federal regulators do not approve kratom because there's no proof that the drug has therapeutic benefits.
Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) is a proven and effective treatment method for OUD. This approach involves treatment with FDA-approved medications such as Suboxone, methadone, and Vivitrol. You must visit a doctor to get started, and some people find that intimidating.
Suboxone is safe to use but may cause some side effects. Common Suboxone side effects include the following:
- Sweating excessively
- Swollen hands and legs
- Sense of numbness in the mouth
Kratom's side effects can include nausea, constipation, drowsiness, muscle pain, liver damage, depression, hallucinations, delusions, and difficulty breathing.
Other side effects may include:
- Appetite loss
- Excessive perspiration
- Dry mouth
- Increased urination
- Hallucinations and seizures
Suboxone may trigger opioid withdrawal symptoms if taken while other opioids are present in the system. To avoid this, patients should only take the drug under the supervision of a health care provider.
Kratom withdrawal occurs within 12 to 48 hours of the last dose, and users describe the opioid withdrawal as moderate.
Suboxone has a lower misuse potential than kratom. It contains an opioid antagonist, and kratom does not.
By the nature of its opioid agonist and stimulant properties, kratom has the potential to be addictive like any other illicit opioid. Regular kratom use can lead to symptoms indicating the user has developed a kratom use disorder, including cravings and tolerance.
Suboxone is legal.
Kratom is legal at the federal level, but state rules can vary. Several states and localities have voted to make selling, possessing, growing, or consuming kratom illegal. Other states have discouraged its use by establishing age limits on who can legally buy and use the drug.
Suboxone is made in laboratories, and batches are checked for quality.
Since kratom is not regulated in the U.S., many samples are tainted with unknown substances, and there's no way to know the true potency of any particular sample.
The FDA reported 44 kratom-related deaths in 2017. Several of the deaths appeared to result from contaminated kratom or combining kratom with other substances like benzodiazepines, alcohol, or over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.
Due to Suboxone's chemical makeup, it's incredibly difficult to overdose on the medication.
It is possible to overdose on kratom, and there is a real risk of respiratory depression and death since it is an agonist at opioid receptors.
Suboxone is often covered through most insurance programs. Due to a lack of evidence and its potential risks, U.S. medical professionals do not prescribe kratom, and insurance does not pay for it.
Suboxone vs. Kratom Comparison
How different are these two substances? A side-by-side comparison chart can make your choice clear.