What Is Kratom: Facts About This Controversial Drug

Kratom Leaves

Kratom is a relatively new drug in the US and Europe, but it has been used for centuries in Southern Asia as a painkiller. Mitragyna Speciosa is a plant in the coffee family. The drug can be found in leaf form, but mainly comes in capsules filled with powdered leaf material. It can be used in tea or smoked, but most people prefer to simply ingest it.

  • It is legal in the US, and this makes it popular among the young people who are not yet old enough to buy alcohol and are concerned about getting arrested for possession of weed and other illegal drugs
  • For the most part, Kratom is considered to be a calming relaxing stimulant.
  • Mitragynine is the active ingredient in it
  • It stimulates the opioid receptors such as a drug like oxycontin or heroin

This drug gives the user a relaxing and calming effect. It initially has a stimulating effect that has been compared to caffeine. When taken in higher doses, it has an energizing effect that is followed by a relaxed and mellow feeling. The risk of overdose is low because it is nausea inducing, especially in high doses and this makes it difficult for people to keep enough down to be dangerous.

On February 6, 2018, the FDA released a statement clarifying their position on the classification it as an opioid. 

  • Quoting: “Using this computational model, scientists at the FDA first analyzed the chemical structures of the 25 most prevalent compounds in it. From this analysis, the agency concluded that all of the compounds share the most structural similarities with controlled opioid analgesics, such as morphine derivatives.”

It goes on to say: “Our scientists analyzed the chemical structure of these kratom compounds against the software to determine its likely biologic targets. The model predicted that 22 (including mitragynine) of the 25 compounds in kratom bind to mu-opioid receptors. This model, together with previously available experimental data, confirmed that two of the top five most prevalent compounds (including mitragynine) are known to activate opioid receptors.”

Finally, the FDA stated: “The new data provides even stronger evidence of kratom’ has opioid properties.”

Side Effects

Most people who take it, use it for its stimulating or sedative effects. In low dosages, it is a stimulant and makes a person more energetic, talkative and sociable. In high dosages, it creates euphoria and lethargy. The effects come on rather quickly and can last up to seven hours, but if taken in higher dosage effects can last longer. Some of the undesirable effects that a user might experience include:

  • Vomiting and Nausea
  • Delusions
  • Respiratory Depression
  • Psychotic Episodes
  • Hallucinations
  • Combative Behavior
  • Paranoia


Kratom is often smoked. The leaves are dried and crushed then rolled in a smoked paper and then smoked. But due to the way the alkaloids are distributed through the body when inhaled, it can be ineffective. By lighting it, you burn the alkaloids making the resin less effective.


The question of whether this drug is addictive is a matter of serious controversy. According to this New York Times article, there is no question, others vehemently disagree. This drug may be addictive and can lead to compulsive use. Some of the addictive side effects include;

  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Constant cravings leading to more use
  • Darkening of the skin on the face
  • Weight loss

Withdrawal symptoms are one of the primary criteria of addiction. The withdrawal symptoms are similar to those felt by a person withdrawing from heroin or prescription painkillers, including:

  • Muscle pain
  • Restlessness and sleeplessness
  • Episodes of panic
  • Severe depression
  • Sudden mood swings

Other than the risk of possible addiction, few users are sent to the emergency room and poison centers is  not large. Unlike other opioid, it has extremely low chances of overdose. Most of the adverse effects are being felt in Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand, where the drug is heavily used. In Thailand the drug is illegal and 13000 people are arrested for Kratom related crimes where this is 5% of all drug-related crimes in the country.