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Everything You Need to Know About Kratom

August 12, 2022

Table of Contents

Kratom is a natural substance that has psychogenic properties. While it's not illegal, it's also not an approved medication for any condition at this time, including opioid use disorder (OUD).

Experts do not recommend using kratom to treat addiction disorders at this time. While some people try it and may say they feel better, doctors currently think the risks outweigh the benefits of this substance.

Before you experiment with an untested drug, know that there are proven treatments that can help you overcome OUD. These therapies are very safe and much better understood and tested than substances like Kratom. 

What Is Kratom?

Kratom is derived from the leaves of a Southeast Asia tropical tree that belongs to the coffee family. Kratom comes in various forms, including chopped or whole leaves, powder extracts, liquid extracts, pills, or capsules. Some people chew the leaves, and others smoke them or brew them into teas.

Kratom is also known by the following terms:

  • Biak
  • Ketum
  • Kakuam
  • Thang
  • Thom

Historically, kratom has been used to treat health conditions such as pain, fatigue, lethargy, inattentiveness, depression, and anxiety. Now, some people think kratom could help ease OUD symptoms. 

Is Kratom Safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says people should not take kratom. Kratom works on the same receptors used by opiates like heroin, and it could cause similar problems, including addiction.[1]

Kratom is an old drug, but kratom research projects are relatively new. We have very little information about how long-term kratom use could put your health at risk. But some early studies say the drug can cause liver problems when used for a long time.[2]

Since kratom can cause addictions and liver disease, it’s not a safe substance for anyone to use without discussing with a doctor. 

Common Kratom Side Effects 

There are two psychotropic ingredients in kratom: mitragynine and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine. Depending on the dosage, kratom can produce either of the following:

  • Opioid-like effects: In large doses, kratom can cause sedation, pleasure, and decreased pain. 
  • Stimulant-like effects: Small doses can cause feelings of boosted energy, increased sociability, and heightened focus and alertness.

Since kratom isn't dispensed from pharmacies, it's difficult to know what's in the dose you take. You may want a small dose to help you stay alert, but you may get a tainted batch that works differently than you expected. It's impossible to know how strong or safe this drug is.

Some people report kratom side effects, including these:[2]

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver problems 
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing 
  • Vomiting

Those side effects can range from mild to severe depending on the dose of the kratom, your health, and other factors. 

Is Kratom a Viable OUD Treatment?

Kratom has been used to self-treat the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. It is critical to note that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that kratom is safe or effective in mitigating opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Some people say anecdotally that kratom helps to ease their withdrawal symptoms and soothe their opioid cravings.[3] But some people who have taken kratom to help with opioids and can end up getting hooked on kratom instead.[4]

Since kratom is understudied and potentially dangerous, it has been listed as a Drug Enforcement Administration chemical of concern.[5] At this time, most clinicians would highly recommend against trying to self-treat OUD with Kratom or other unstudied substances. 

What Can You Use Instead of Kratom?

Medications are extremely helpful for people with opioid use disorder. Currently, three medications are available as FDA approved treatments for OUD: Methadone, Buprenorphine (Suboxone), and Naltrexone. All OUD treatment prescriptions include one, or a combination, of these three medications.

Common brand names include Belbuca, Suboxone, Vivitrol, Sublocade, and Zubsolv.

Bicycle Health is dedicated to helping people with opioid use disorder. To learn more about the success rates and safety of Bicycle Health’s telemedicine addiction treatment compared to other common treatment options, call us at (844) 943-2514 or schedule an appointment here.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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Citations

  1. FDA and Kratom. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-and-kratom. April 2022. Accessed July 2022.
  2. Kratom. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/kratom#safe. Accessed July 2022.
  3. The Good, the Bad, and the Maybe About Kratom. Healio. https://www.healio.com/news/primary-care/20180416/the-good-the-bad-and-the-maybe-about-kratom. April 2018. Accessed July 2022.
  4. A Complex Case of Kratom Dependence, Depression, and Chronic Pain in Opioid Use Disorder: Effects of Buprenorphine in Clinical Management. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342244963_A_Complex_Case_of_Kratom_Dependence_Depression_and_Chronic_Pain_in_Opioid_Use_Disorder_Effects_of_Buprenorphine_in_Clinical_Management. June 2020. Accessed July 2022.
  5. Drug Fact Sheet: Kratom. Drug Enforcement Administration. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Kratom-2020_0.pdf. April 2020. Accessed July 2022.

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