A lot of dubious information about the purported health benefits of so-called kratom can be easily found on the internet. Various websites claim that Mitragyna speciosa (kratom, biak, ketum)—an Asian tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family—can be used to help with anxiety, cough, depression, diabetes, diarrhea, high blood pressure, pain, and even to lessen symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota rates kratom “unsafe and ineffective.”
“Although people who take kratom believe in its value, researchers who have studied kratom think its side effects and safety problems more than offset any potential benefits. Poison control centers in the United States received about 1,800 reports involving use of kratom from 2011 through 2017, including reports of death. About half of these exposures resulted in serious negative outcomes such as seizures and high blood pressure. Five of the seven infants who were reported to have been exposed to kratom went through withdrawal.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that kratom can cause effects similar to both opioids and stimulants.
“Two compounds in kratom leaves, mitragynine and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine, interact with opioid receptors in the brain, producing sedation, pleasure, and decreased pain, especially when users consume large amounts of the plant. Mitragynine also interacts with other receptor systems in the brain to produce stimulant effects. When kratom is taken in small amounts, users report increased energy, sociability, and alertness instead of sedation. However, kratom can also cause uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects.”
One of the dangerous consequences may be addiction. “Like other drugs with opioid-like effects, kratom might cause dependence, which means users will feel physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug. Some users have reported becoming addicted to kratom.”
Despite these red flags, the latest data from Millennium Health suggest that the use of the controversial substance is on the rise in the United States. The 2020 Millennium Health Signals Report warns that “kratom positivity rates increased in every US region and doubled nationally. Individuals who were positive for kratom were also more likely to be positive for non-prescribed opioids, benzodiazepines, and illicit substances.”
This correlation suggests that kratom primarily appeals to people already self-medicating mental health issues such as anxiety and depression with other problematic substances. Combining kratom with opioids and benzodiazepines is even more problematic than kratom use alone.
The health information website Healthline points out that “kratom hasn’t been studied in-depth,” and “hasn’t officially been recommended for medical use.” Kratom is not currently an illegal substance in the United States, but “there are a lot of things about this drug that remain unknown, such as effective and safe dosage, possible interactions, and possible harmful effects including death.”
These are all facts that you should carefully consider before taking this drug.