Health Benefits of Kratom

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on May 13, 2024
9 min read

Kratom is a tree from the coffee family native to Southeast Asia. Also known as Mitragyna speciosa, it's grown in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Its leaves are dried and used to make tea or put into capsules for sale as a supplement. Kratom leaves can also be smoked like tobacco.

You can find kratom leaves, powder, and capsules in some health food stores, vape shops, and online specialty stores. The most common uses of it are to relieve pain, depression, and opioid addiction. The two most active compounds found in kratom — mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine — work on opioid receptors but with fewer side effects.

Kratom has been used for hundreds of years in Southeast Asia as a natural home remedy. Traditionally, it has been used to treat:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle cramps

Though modern science has lent some support to these and other traditional medicine claims, much more research is needed.

Is kratom an opioid?

Experts consider kratom an opioid-like substance because it affects your brain's opioid receptors. In low doses, it’s a stimulant. But in high doses, it can relieve pain like opioids do. Just like opioids, kratom can be addictive.

Sometimes, people who use opioids replace the drug with kratom to lower their opioid use and ease withdrawal symptoms.

But other people use kratom similarly to an opioid. They misuse it as a way to relax, calm anxiety, treat depression, or self-treat pain.

Kava vs. kratom

Kava is a perennial shrub of the pepper family that grows in the islands of the western Pacific. Kava root has been traditionally used for relaxation, as it contains compounds known for their anti-anxiety effects. Today, kava is marketed as beneficial for anxiety, insomnia, stress relief, memory problems, mood regulation, and more. Existing research suggests small benefits for anxiety only, with no evidence supporting other conditions.

On the other hand, kratom has similar effects as opioids, such as pain relief and relaxation, in high doses. In low doses, it can boost energy, alertness, as well as your heart rate.

Research on what kratom does to the body in the short- and long-term is still being done. So far, scientists have observed that it can affect your body in many ways, depending on:

  • Its concentration and strength
  • Its formulation
  • How you take it
  • Other drugs you’ve taken
  • Any medical condition you have 
  • How you felt other times you’ve taken it and more

High doses of kratom (5-15 grams) have effects similar to opioids and sedatives. It may help relieve pain, make you feel relaxed, reduce anxiety, or make you feel confused. On the other hand, taking it in low doses (1-5 grams) may act as a stimulant, raising your heart rate, energy, alertness, and mood.

Kratom high

Kratom can make you feel “high” or euphoric, similar to the effects of opioids or THC in marijuana when taken in high doses. 

Kratom side effects

Kratom commonly causes nausea and constipation, but some users may have the following side effects:

  • Sweating
  • Itching
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth

Other rare but serious side effects include: 

  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Liver damage
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • High blood pressure
  • Slow breathing

Very little research has been done on the health effects of kratom. To date, kratom has not been found to be safe or effective for any use. Below are some of the health effects that are being studied:

Kratom for pain

Kratom may be effective for easing chronic pain, as it works by attaching to opioid receptors. One compound found in kratom, 7-hydroxymitragynine, is 13 times more potent than morphine.

Although kratom targets opioid receptors just like morphine and codeine do, it is considered an atypical opioid. Kratom selectively inactivates specific signals, which may explain the more tolerable side effects compared to typical opioids, but the FDA has not approved kratom for any medical use.

Kratom for boosting mood

Kratom may have mood-enhancing effects. Some reports suggest that kratom may be an effective treatment for opioid addiction. Some people use it to help ease the withdrawal symptoms of morphine and ethanol.

Early studies suggest that kratom may have potential as an antidepressant and a hunger suppressant. In one animal study, researchers determined that kratom lowers corticosterone levels in mice. Increased corticosterone levels are just one of the changes in brain chemicals that can be seen in depression.

In another study with rats, kratom supplementation suppressed hunger by inhibiting the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for appetite and cravings. More research on humans is needed to see if kratom has similar effects.

Kratom for opiate withdrawal

Some people have reported that kratom can help with self-treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms. It has also been promoted as a remedy or cure for opioid addiction. But there’s no approved use of kratom for these purposes. Experts need to look deeper into this to understand if it can actually help with withdrawal. Plus, it can cause addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

There is also a possibility of heart and kidney damage in certain people. You should not drive or operate dangerous equipment if you use kratom.

Because kratom has such potent ingredients, you should consult with your doctor before taking it or any other supplement. Consider the following before you start taking kratom:

Long-term effects

One study examined the effects of prolonged kratom use. Participants reported darkened facial skin, dry mouth, frequent urination, weight loss, and frequent constipation.

Kratom does not have FDA approval to treat any condition, so there is no specific recommended dose. Early studies suggest that doses below 5 grams of raw plant material may act as a stimulant, similar to caffeine. Higher doses between about 5 and 15 grams may have the opposite effect and may help relieve pain.

However, more research is needed to determine the effects of these dosage variations on the body in the short and long term. Because of kratom’s potency and lack of research to conclude safe amounts, be sure to consult with your pharmacist or doctor before using it.

There are three different strains, or “vein types” of kratom: red, green, and white. The color has to do with the age of the leaf. Experts have found that the red type might be stronger than the older form of kratom, which is green.

After someone takes kratom, they typically feel the effects in just 10 minutes. These might last up to 1 to 1.5 hours. Ways to take kratom include:

Kratom drink

Kratom can be made into a drink by mixing the powder form of the plant with water or adding liquid from the kratom plant into a drink.

Kratom toss-and-wash

You can take kratom following the toss-and-wash method. It involves taking a scoop of the kratom powder by mouth and drinking water immediately after.

Kratom tea

You can brew the leaves of the kratom plant to make tea.

Kratom capsules

Many people take kratom by swallowing it as a capsule. This capsule has crushed kratom leaves in it.

Other kratom products

Some people may take kratom by chewing or smoking the leaves or taking kratom extract.

Not much is known about what's in kratom, how it may affect a person in the short and long term, and whether it can be used as medicine. The FDA hasn’t approved kratom for pain relief, anxiety, depression, or as a treatment for withdrawal from opioids or other substances.

The FDA also warns people against taking kratom due to side effects such as nausea, constipation, dizziness, liver problems, and, in rare cases, death. Safety issues are also a serious concern, as kratom products may have contaminants such as heavy metals and harmful bacteria.

If you’re considering taking kratom in any form, recreationally or as medicine, it’s best to talk to your doctor about it. They may let you know about FDA-approved and safer alternatives for your case.

Kratom interactions

Many people who use kratom also use it with other drugs or substances. Taking kratom this way may cause serious side effects such as liver problems and death.

If kratom is used with other stimulants, such as caffeine, its effects will be worse. Likewise, if it is taken with any other substances that cause sedation, it can worsen that effect and even lead to respiratory depression and breathing trouble.

Kratom may also interact with any medicine or supplement that you are taking. So, you should discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist before taking kratom.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the use and sale of kratom are banned or controlled in many countries. For example, kratom is illegal in countries such as Singapore, Denmark, France, and Croatia.

But it’s legal and available online and in many places in the U.S. While kratom is considered a “drug of concern” in the U.S., it’s not on the U.S. schedule of controlled substances. The FDA has restricted it from being marketed as a drug, supplement, or food additive.

Does kratom show up on a drug test?

Kratom won’t show up on the standard 5-panel drug test that checks for marijuana (THC), cocaine, amphetamines, opioids, and phencyclidine (PCP). The drug test may also check for other substances, excluding kratom, such as barbiturates, ethanol (alcohol), hydrocodone, methaqualone, or propoxyphene.

But a blood or urine test specifically checking for kratom may detect it.

Kratom may be addictive if it causes you to continue using it despite any negative effects. Although the main compounds in kratom — mitragynine and 7-hydroxy mitragynine — act on the brain the same way addictive drugs do, researchers have seen that they act a bit differently, which may reduce the likelihood of them being as addictive as opioids.

Though kratom addiction isn’t as urgent as opioids, there have been cases where people addicted to kratom started showing psychosis symptoms such as hallucinations, delusion, and confusion.

Kratom withdrawal

After regular and prolonged kratom use, reports have included the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Hostility
  • Aggression
  • Inability to work
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Jerky movements of the limbs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Hypothermia
  • Sweating
  • Drooling
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Tremors
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Depression

These symptoms tend to last about a week.

There have been a small number of deaths due to kratom overdoses. This may be from the kratom itself or the drugs used alongside it.

Kratom works as a sedative and stimulant. It has been used traditionally for managing sleep problems, anxiety, depression, pain, and more. However, the FDA hasn’t approved it for any of these uses. Though it’s unlikely to cause serious side effects when taken in small to moderate amounts, it’s best not to consider taking it regularly or as a remedy for any condition. See a doctor if you think you can’t function without it, or start having withdrawal symptoms such as hostility, nausea, vomiting, chills, and diarrhea after regular kratom use.

When was kratom discovered?

Kratom was first noted in scientific literature in the year 1836.

Can kratom cause yeast infections?

There haven’t been any cases of kratom causing yeast infection. 

Are kratom and kava the same?

No, they’re not the same. Kava is a legal herbal supplement for anxiety, stress relief, relaxation, and more. Kratom products work as a sedative and stimulant depending on the dose and cannot be marketed as a supplement.

Can kratom cause liver problems?

Yes, kratom can cause liver problems such as acute liver injury and, in rare cases, acute liver failure.

Are kratom and tianeptine the same thing?

No, kratom and tianeptine are not the same thing. Tianeptine is a medicine approved for treating depression in many countries except the U.S. However, like kratom, they also cause a high effect when misused.

Can kratom cause low potassium?

Kratom has been reported to cause low potassium, but researchers don’t know much about how and why it affects potassium levels.

Will kratom be banned in the U.S.?

There haven’t been any noteworthy conversations about a kratom ban in the U.S. However, the FDA has said it cannot be marketed as a drug, supplement, or food additive.