Research on Kratom
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is an herb used in herbal medicine and as a supplement for its stimulating, mood-enhancing, pain-relieving and sedating effects. People may chew raw kratom leaves, brew them into teas, or take powders or extracts in capsules. Some people use kratom to boost energy, while others take it for anxiety or depression, or to ease opioid withdrawal symptoms.
According to a 2016 study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, many kratom users report taking the plant for multiple benefits. Respondents indicated they took kratom to improve their mood and concentration, reduce anxiety and depression, increase energy, manage pain related to COVID-19, or to ease opioid withdrawal. Other positive self-reports included decreased pain, improved social relationships and sexual function, and reduced stress.
These anecdotal reports are consistent with the known properties of kratom’s alkaloids. Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine have been shown to be partial agonists of the u-opioid receptor, but have little or no affinity for the d-opioid receptor. They also have analgesic, or pain-relieving, efficacy when tested using the hot plate or tail-flick assays. In addition, the two compounds have been shown to have anxiolytic and antidepressant properties in animal models.
Other preclinical studies have shown that kratom’s alkaloids may be useful in managing pain related to chronic diseases, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, or in other conditions that produce persistent, debilitating pain, such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. In addition, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine inhibit select cytochrome P450 enzymes in vitro, suggesting they might interfere with the absorption of drugs that are metabolized by these enzymes.
Despite the fact that it’s not regulated by the FDA, and that some states have banned it, kratom is sold online in the United States as a dietary supplement, and in stores in the form of pills, powders or concentrated extracts. People may buy kratom on the basis of its reported medicinal properties, its ability to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms, or because it provides them with an affordable, easy-to-find natural pain reliever that is safe for them to use at home.
However, as of 2018, kratom is still being sold illegally in some states and has been linked to several opioid overdoses. The FDA has urged states to regulate its sales, but that hasn’t happened yet. The American Kratom Association says the agency’s advice is misguided and that scientific studies must be done to formally establish kratom’s safety and effectiveness. Until then, many consumers are wondering just how to properly use kratom and how to tell if it is contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as salmonella. Those who do purchase kratom must also be aware of the possible side effects, such as liver damage, seizures and hallucinations. The risks of using kratom increase with higher doses. The FDA advises anyone who uses kratom to consult a medical professional before starting or continuing to use it. They should also know that if they experience any adverse or toxic reactions, they should stop using the substance immediately.