WTF Is Kratom and What Are the Effects of This Drug?
Kratom may help curb the opioid epidemic, but its efficacies and dangers remain controversial. So, what exactly is this substance?
Published on September 30, 2019

A lot of head shops sell it. Random Indonesian Facebook accounts hustle it, too. It’s called kratom, and it’s being marketed as a treatment for opioid addiction and chronic pain. 

Kratom is a green powder that comes from the Mitragyna speciosa tree, more commonly known as (you guessed it), kratom. The tree naturally grows in the tropical climates of Southeast Asia, and its leaves are packed with compounds known as alkaloids, which can possess medicinal properties. The powder sold as kratom is made by drying out the leaves and crushing them.

Kratom’s two primary components are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine (7-HMG), though, like cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms, kratom contains dozens of other potentially beneficial compounds that could work in tandem to provide a therapeutic effect.


What’s Kratom Taken For?

Kratom is typically consumed by people in the West as a treatment for opioid addiction. Kratom powder causes both opioid- and stimulant-like effects in its users. Some opioid addicts swear that kratom as the only thing that got them to stop popping prescription painkillers. Although, as you can imagine, folks looking for a quick recreational thrill may seek out kratom, as well.

How Is Kratom Taken?

Since kratom is a leaf in powder form, it’s basically a tea. You can steep kratom powder in hot water to boil a tea, sprinkle it on food, or load it into capsules and swallow it whole. You can also smoke kratom much like you’d smoke weed. 

What Are the Risks of Taking Kratom?

Kratom’s biggest risk, as far as we know, is acute liver failure. Some people who’ve consumed kratom have experienced hepatic issues. The risk of liver damage skyrockets if the individual combines it with other drugs like alcohol. That liver issue alone was enough to make the DEA consider listing mitragynine and 7-HMG as Schedule I substances, the same category reserved for “dangerous” and “addictive” drugs with “no accepted medical use,” like marijuana or heroin. The DEA and FDA have not made any final decisions on kratom’s legality in the US, though some states such as Indiana, Vermont, and Wisconsin have banned it outright.

Other possible adverse effects from kratom include restlessness, insomnia, increased heart rate, and, ironically enough, respiratory depression (decreased rate of breathing), one of the leading causes of death due to opioid overdoses. Since previous research on kratom has been subpar, to say the least, not much is known about its adverse (or beneficial) effects.

Additionally, overdosing on kratom is a lot like overdosing on opioids, and many of the same treatments for opioid overdoses are employed during kratom overdoses. So, keep that in mind.


Should I Try Kratom?

Homie, that’s entirely up to you. If you’re comfortable with being a guinea pig, and are willing to assume any and all risks (including legal risks, depending on your area) associated with kratom use, that’s your prerogative. Just know, ahead of time, that science knows next to nothing about kratom’s effects on the human mind and body. And if you’re desperate to permanently kick an opioid addiction, you should probably consider taking more conventional and medically accepted routes, first.

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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