Kratom, the mysterious, medicinal herb from Southeast Asia, has drawn praise from advocates and concern from critics. The former group views it as an effective pain reliever and worthy treatment for opioid withdrawal. The latter, not so much.
Among those critical of the herb is one of the federal government’s foremost regulatory agencies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 2017, the federal agency likened kratom to a narcotic opioid that “carries similar risks of abuse, addiction and in some cases, death.”
Kratom does produce effects that can make it addictive and dangerous. High doses can induce feelings of euphoria, but prolonged use can also introduce serious health complications including respiratory depression.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who recognize the herb for its medicinal properties. Take the Virginia-based advocacy group the American Kratom Association (AKA), which states that the herb can help users achieve health and well-being. AKA claims that kratom “has been used for hundreds of years to safely alleviate pain, combat fatigue and help with the effects of anxiety and depression” and blames misinformation as to why it is negatively perceived.
Whatever the case, millions of people rely on kratom as it is widely available, affordable, and does not require a prescription. There is a bounty of anecdotes and testimonials that attest to kratom’s medicinal effects.
There remains, however, a lack of scientific evidence that substantiates its attributes as a pain reliever and opioid substitute. It should be noted that researchers are studying kratom’s ability to help people get off more potent drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Still, it is important to know what is an acceptable dose of kratom. The wrong dose can make it a drug of abuse in and of itself, which could impact your life.
What Exactly Is Kratom?
The kratom herb is in the coffee family and grows naturally in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Papua, New Guinea. Kratom has been used in traditional medicine since the 19th century, but it was introduced in the United States as recently as a decade ago.
Its bitter leaves can be ingested in a variety of ways. It can be taken as a tea, in tablet or powder form, mixed with codeine syrups, or incorporated in caffeinated beverages and juices. Some people simply chew it. Generally, kratom is used to treat pain, anxiety, or depression. It is also consumed to boost appetite and sexual desire.
Kratom is composed of two compounds, mitragynine, and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine. The mitragynine component acts as a stimulant by interacting with the brain’s receptor systems. The 7-α-hydroxymitragynine ingredient, which is about 13 times stronger than morphine, interacts with the brain’s opioid receptors producing feelings of decreased pain, pleasure, and sedation. The opioid effects of kratom are especially felt when it is taken at high doses.
When taken on an empty stomach, kratom’s effects can be felt within 15 to 20 minutes.
How Harmful Is Kratom?
In 2017, the FDA commissioner issued a warning about the dangers surrounding kratom use.
“There’s clear data on the increasing harms associated with kratom,” stated Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He said that from 2010 to 2015, calls to U.S. poison control centers regarding kratom increased 10-fold. In that same statement, the commissioner cast doubt on kratom’s ability to treat people who go through opioid withdrawal.
“There is no reliable evidence to support the use of kratom as a treatment for opioid use disorder. Patients addicted to opioids are using kratom without dependable instructions for use and more importantly, without consultation with a licensed health care provider about the product’s dangers, potential side effects or interactions with other drugs.”
The FDA also said there were 44 deaths associated with the use of kratom between 2009 and 2016.
AKA, the kratom advocacy group, however, refuted those stats, saying that the deaths were not a result from the natural use of the plant, but from people who engaged in polydrug use, had underlying drug conditions, or used toxic, adulterated kratom products.
While there is considerable debate about kratom’s dangers and effectiveness, too much of the herb can be harmful.
How Much Kratom Is Too Much?
There is no generalized dosage chart for kratom use because the plant affects people differently.
One kratom use guide defines a moderate dose of the powdered form of kratom as anything between 3 to 6 grams. It also notes that a dose above 5 grams is considered “strong.” Another kratom use site shares that new users should begin with a 2-gram dose, but it also says that over time, a user can grow to consume 5 grams due to tolerance.
Another source states that a level tablespoon of finely powdered kratom, about 6 to 7 grams, is a midsize dose for average potency kratom, a mild dose for a low-potency strain, and a strong dose for the high-potency version of the herb.
For anyone using kratom, experts agree that users should sample a tiny dose of the herb to determine its effects, citing that the plant affects each person differently.
If you fear that you or a loved one is developing a growing tolerance and/or dependence on the substance, you should be mindful of the signs of a kratom addiction.
Signs of Kratom Addiction
Kratom changes the brain in a fashion similar to opioids, producing similar withdrawal symptoms and overdose signs. People who use the drug for recreational use, especially as a substitute for opioids, are prone to developing an addiction.
They can rapidly build up a tolerance to kratom, requiring a greater dose to feel the effect a smaller amount once provided. Though people use kratom to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms, the herb can produce its own effects when they become dependent on it. Kratom withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Gooseflesh skin
- Restless leg syndrome
- Excessive sweating
- A runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Changes in skin color
- Sunken eyes
- Extreme irritability
- Aching of the muscles and joints
- Extreme mood swings
When kratom addiction sets in, you will be unable to stop using the drug, fail to meet work, social, or family obligations, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The signs of kratom addiction are as follows:
- High energy levels
- Increased alertness
- Increased sociability
- Ability to stay focused on a task
- Insensitivity to emotional or physical pain
- Constricted pupils
- Foggy state of mind
- Sudden sleepiness
- Aggressive behavior
- Respiratory issues
Like opioids, attempting to quit kratom “cold turkey” can be dangerous. The safest and most effective way to treat a kratom addiction is with professional treatment.
The Dangers of Kratom
Kratom is regarded as a safe drug because it is plant-based. There are numerous testimonials that attest to its properties, but that does not mean the herb is not harmful. Specifically, kratom can cause respiratory depression, liver damage, seizures and symptoms of psychosis. When kratom is adulterated with other substances, its harmful effects can be amplified, resulting in death.