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What Is Kratom?

by Landmark Recovery

November 12, 2019

As the opioid crisis continues to rage on, the United States Food and Drug Administration has issued a public health warning regarding products that contain kratom. Kratom is a tree native to Southeast Asia that contains leaves with compounds that have psychotropic, or mind-altering, effects.

Kratom is currently not an illegal substance and is easy to order over the internet. It is sold as a green powder or sometimes as an extract or gum. The FDA said that it is concerned that kratom appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.

Currently, it is estimated that three to five million people in the United States are already using the supplement. Learning more about how kratom can affect someone’s physical and psychological characteristics is important, especially because the substance is still currently unregulated federally. Everyone should understand that kratom can be dangerous and lead to addiction, dependence, and overdose.

Kratom leaves in nature.

ThorPorre, Kratom tree, CC BY 3.0

What Is Kratom?

Kratom is a substance that is not currently illegal and is sold on the internet and in some stores across the country. It is a substance that contains compounds that have psychotropic and mind-altering effects.

Specifically, Kratom refers to the leaves of a Mitragyna Speciosa plant. This is a fairly unknown plant so you may be wondering “Where is Kratom grown?” Kratom is found in the southeastern parts of Asia. The substance is consumed by chewing or drinking tea brewed from the dried leaves or powder or by smoking it.

Kratom is also referred to as:

  • Ketum
  • Kahuam
  • Ithang
  • Thom
  • Herbal speedball
  • Biak-biak

If you’re unsure how to pronounce kratom

The substance is used to get the desired effects and feelings associated with it. While some have used it as a remedy, others around the country use it recreationally.

What Does Kratom Do

The substance is used in parts of Asia for common health problems, such as pain, fever, cough, and diarrhea, it can also be used as a mood enhancer. At lower doses, kratom has stimulant-like effects, but, with higher doses, effects will be more similar to that of opiates. The substance is consumed throughout the world for its stimulant effects and as an opioid substitute.

One study from Frontiers in Psychiatry looked into the potential benefits and risks of the substance. They found that kratom possesses some stimulant and negative effects and may even be effective as an antidepressant. However, using the drug can lead to seizures, impaired memory function, coma, and death.

Some psychological and physical effects from kratom include:

  • Euphoria
  • Aggression
  • Hostility
  • Psychosis
  • Dry mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Jerky movements

Personal testimonies found that five to ten minutes after using kratom, users describe themselves as feeling “happy, strong, and active” and said that their “mind is calm” after taking the substance.

For people that use the substance regularly, there are some not-often explored side effects that can pop up. Side effects can include nausea, constipation, sleep issues, erectile dysfunction, sweating, itching and more. Some users have also reported hair loss, likely as a result of daily kratom use.

How Long Does Kratom Stay In Your System

Now that you know what the effects of kratom are. You may want to know how long does kratom stay in your body. According to one study, kratom is still detectable in a urine sample approximately two weeks after cessation of drug use.

While it may stay in your system that long, you won’t feel the effects for that long. And because kratom can change the way that you think and feel, it is something that many people will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance

How Long Does Kratom Withdrawal Last

There is not a lot of research on kratom and how long the withdrawal symptoms would last for for people who stop using it. However, some of the common withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping kratom use include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Aggression
  • Emotional changes and more

Because of the withdrawal symptoms associated with kratom, to avoid this, people will continue to use the substance, leading to dependence.

Two kratom leaves zoomed in for detail

Manuel Jebauer, Kratom leafes, CC BY-SA 3.0

Can You Get Addicted To Kratom?

Kratom does hold some addictive potential and escalated use of the substance can lead to some harmful side effects, such as loss of appetite, weight loss, increased pigmentation, and sleep cycle problems. Along with these personal problems, social problems also are an effect of extended kratom use and addiction.

There are also some withdrawal symptoms associated with the use of kratom. According to some, kratom use is associated with cravings, difficulty to abstain, and sharp, unpleasant symptoms during abstinence periods that are characteristic of withdrawals.

Some specific physical withdrawal symptoms include anorexia, weight loss, insomnia, muscle spasms, pain, watery nose and eyes, fever, decreased appetite, and more. Psychological symptoms commonly reported include nervousness, restlessness, tension, anger, hostility, aggression, and sadness.

Can You Overdose On Kratom?

Kratom overdose deaths, while possible, are not common in the United States. However, this may be because the drug is not widely used among the U.S. population at the present time. There have been multiple reports of death in those who have ingested kratom, however, most of these have involved other substances.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of exposure calls to poison centers related to kratom increased 10 times over from 2010 to 2015. Similarly, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 11 deaths in the United States that were associated with kratom exposure and nine of these 11 deaths involved kratom plus other drugs such as alcohol, caffeine, benzodiazepines, fentanyl, and cocaine. Only two deaths between 2011 and 2017 were found to be from kratom alone.

However, this number is only continuing to climb and may get out of control soon. According to a report done by the Georgia state government, there were 36 deaths in which kratom was present in 2018 alone.


As the opioid crisis has blown up in the past decade, more first responders and regular citizens are beginning to carry naloxone, an opioid antagonist on their persons in order to reverse opioid overdoses that may come in contact with. With that said, naloxone is recommended to use when someone is experiencing respiratory depression from a kratom overdose.

An individual holding Kratom pillsPsychonaught, Kratom Pills, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Treatment For Kratom

While there is no specific medical treatment plan for kratom addition, people who need help can seek out a treatment center that can provide them with medical and psychological help. Not only will treatment provide access to medically supervised detoxification, but treatment centers will offer patients therapy and counseling sessions that will teach them more about the details of addiction and how to prevent relapse in order to ensure long-term sobriety.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to kratom or another substance, you can get the treatment that you deserve. Learning what an intervention is and how you can use one to help your loved one come to terms with there issues is a significant first step in seeking treatment and promoting long-term sobriety.

Case Study

A study published by the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives looks at how one 32-year-old man was affected by kratom use and the physical signs of dependence and withdrawal that he showed.

According to the study, the subject had a history with hypertension, anxiety and lower back pain. For his chronic lower back pain he had begun to use kratom in both powder and tablet form. He was using the substance as directed by the dose on the bottle: 60 tablets over one week.

The man had no drug or environmental allergies and had no history of smoking but drank alcohol occasionally. His family were healthy and didn’t show signs for medical concerns.

When the patient was admitted to an inpatient facility, he had a slightly elevated blood pressure while other vital signs were normal. The patient was awake and alert but showed some physical symptoms including jaundiced skin. However, during subsequent hospital days, jaundice resolved and liver enzymes started trending down, and the patient reported feeling better.

Is Kratom An Opioid?

Opioids are substances that are derived from the opium poppy. Drugs like heroin, oxycontin, hydrocodone, and morphine, are all examples of opioids. Kratom, on the other hand, comes from a plant called Mitragyna Speciosa that is native to Southeastern Asia. The plant is in the same family as the coffee tree and because of this, kratom is not an opioid as it is not derived from opium.

With that said, kratom has effects that are similar to that of opioids such as prescription painkillers. However, the FDA is concerned over the drug for many reasons, one of which being that the substance affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine.

Kratom As Treatment

With that said, there is some discussion among the medical community about how kratom may be used as a form of medically assisted treatment and a substitute therapy for chronic pain and opioid addiction.

The Mayo Clinic says that while kratom may help ease withdrawal symptoms, more evidence suggests that rather than treating addiction and withdrawal, the use of kratom may lead to these issues. Over time people developed cravings for kratom and eventually need the same medications that are used to treat opioid addiction such as buprenorphine and naloxone.

Brief History Of Kratom

Currently, kratom is listed on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s “Drugs of Concern list” meaning that is is not currently being regulated by the controlled substances act but can pose risks to those who abuse it.

But how did it end up there?

As mentioned before, kratom is a herbal plant indigenous of Southeast Asia and has been used “for millennia as a stimulant; as a remedy in traditional medicine; and in a social context. More specifically, in northern Malaysia and southern Thailand, manual laborers have used kratom to improve their work productivity and relieve fatigue according to research papers from Biomedical Research International. Rural residents of the region also ingest kratom leaves to self-treat common medical problems such as diabetes, diarrhea, fevers, and for pain relief. It is still used in Asian communities during social gatherings.

While there is currently no quantitative data on how prevalent kratom is in the Southeastern region, it does seem to be considered in some countries such as Malaysia and Thailand. Despite this, the possession of kratom has been illegal in Thailand since 1943. It is also controlled in other countries in the region including Malaysia, Myanmar, Australia, and Bhutan. Specifically, kratom was banned in Malaysia and regulated under the Poisons Act of 1952 to control widespread abuse. Citizens caught possessing or processing kratom leaves would be fined or imprisoned if found guilty.

While the substance has been popular in Asian countries for some time, it has only recently made the move to the European Union, the United States, and other countries such as Japan. In these countries, there are a variety of products related to kratom including raw leaves, capsules, powder, tablets, and more.

At the federal level, the substance is not regulated in the United States, however, some states have made efforts to control the substance in some way. Also, there have been measures passed by the FDA to allow customs and border control agents the authority to seize kratom products from international suppliers.

The popularity of kratom is increasing in the United States for many reasons. For one it has effects similar to that of opioids. Second, it is cheap, online vendors sell an ounce of plant material in the form of a supplement for $10 to $40. And perhaps most importantly, due to the loose regulation, it is easy to obtain and can be obtained without a prescription.

While the future of kratom in the United States remains unclear, everyone should learn more about the substance as it becomes more and more popular in the country. Understanding the potential benefits and risks of the substance is important and learning the side effects and potential for abuse and overdose is important for those who are considering using it.

Now What?

While kratom may be unregulated by the FDA in the United States, it is still considered a dangerous substance and can lead to dependence, addiction, and even overdose and death. There are a number of symptoms associated with kratom use and withdrawal including anorexia, insomnia, muscle spasms, pain, fever, nervousness, restlessness, anger, hostility, sadness, and more.

While there are no specific treatment plans for those who are dealing with kratom addiction, a treatment center can be effective in helping patients achieve long-term sobriety. At Landmark Recovery, we offer patients medically supervised detox programs to help them safely deal with withdrawal symptoms. Following detoxification, patients will go through counseling and therapy sessions in individual and group settings to help them learn more about addiction and how to stay sober following inpatient treatment.

After being discharged, patients will have access to outpatient treatment that takes place a few days a week to help them stay consistent with treatment while also adjusting to life after rehabilitation. If you or a loved one is struggling with any sort of substance abuse problem, please visit our website and reach out to our admissions team to learn more about an individualized treatment plan and how our rehab in Indiana can help you.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.