Kratom, known scientifically as mitragyna speciosa, grows on an evergreen tree in the coffee family. It is native to Southeast Asia — specifically Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, though the common name “kratom” comes from Thailand.
While it has been used in traditional and folk medicine for centuries, it is growing in popularity today as a homeopathic remedy.
The plant itself can grow to a height of about 82 ft. Its trunk, generally straight with smooth, gray outer bark, may grow to a 3-ft diameter. The trunk is generally straight, and the outer bark is smooth and grey. The leaves are dark green and glossy, growing between about 5.5 and 8 in long and about 3 to 5 in wide when fully open, and are oval in shape, narrowing to a point at one end The flowers grow in threes at the ends of the branches.
Kratom is typically taken in two forms: brewed as a tea from powder, or as a capsule, similar to other over-the-counter herbal supplements. It is growing in popularity, and, if it is legal in your area can be ordered online.
Although it has not been cleared for medicinal use by the FDA, many users treat it like an herbal supplement, and ascribe a wide range of applications to the various kratom strains available. Kratom is often used homeopathically as a mild sedative, analgesic, and stimulant, depending on the color or strain.
Different Types of Kratom Powder
Much like other plants, Mitragyna Speciosa has several different varietals. In general, kratom can be broken down into red, white, and green-veined leaves. While there are different strains within each of those designations, for the most part, red vein causes sedation, and functions more as a depressant. White vein kratom is a mild stimulant. Green vein kratom is in between the two, but has lesser effects in both sedation and stimulation.
Depending on the strain, Kratom can act like a depressant or stimulant. Two compounds, 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,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Mitragynine also acts as a stimulant, interacting with other receptors in the brain.
The NIDA has noted that, in small doses, users have reported “increased energy, sociability, and alertness instead of sedation.”
Is Kratom Legal?
Kratom is legal in most of the United States. It can be purchased in head shops or online. It is not regulated at the federal level, though the FDA has publicly voiced concerns about the drug’s risks.
There are 44 recorded deaths associated with kratom use, usually when used in combination with other drugs or when the kratom was mixed with preservatives and its purity was compromised.
States and counties are allowed to ban kratom at their discretion. The legality of kratom is in a constant state of flux, with rules and regulations changing quickly and frequently.
Kratom is banned in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont, Rhode Island, Washington D.C., and Ohio. While some states have legalized kratom, it may still be banned in certain cities, such as San Diego, while it is otherwise legal in the state of California.
The DEA announced in 2016 that it intended to make kratom a schedule 1 substance, but it did not end up scheduling kratom at all.
Kratom Bans Outside the United States
Kratom, in most of the world, is controlled, illegal, or banned. The ASEAN, a group of 10 Southeast Asian states including Thailand and Malaysia, where kratom is native, no longer allow kratom in traditional medicines and health supplements traded across ASEAN countries.
Thailand itself has outlawed the possession of kratom leaves and it is illegal to plant kratom. While the government has considering legalizing kratom, it has yet to do so.
In Malaysia, possession of kratom leaves is prohibited.
In Canada, kratom can not be marketed for ingestion, but can be marketed for other uses, such as burning as incense.
The plant is controlled in Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Sweden, and is prohibited in the UK. In Ireland, it is the highest schedule of drugs.
It is also controlled in Australia and New Zealand.
Kratom, taken alone and in moderation, is safe. Kratom is a naturally occurring substance, but that does not make it inherently safe. It’s important to be careful when using kratom for any reason. As mentioned, combining kratom with other drugs or while using other drugs, can have toxic effects. Likewise, it is important for kratom users to have pure, high-quality product that contains no additives, preservatives, or fillers. Use it in moderation, and discuss dosages and how to brew tea with kratom with your doctor.
There is also some potential for side effects including nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, increased urination, loss of appetite, seizures, hallucinations, and even psychosis.
Existing studies have also not definitively proven that kratom has any medical properties or uses. Choosing to use kratom is a personal decision that can only be made at the individual level, and potential users should be sure to talk with their doctors before doing so. Make sure it will not interact negatively with any other drugs or prescription medication you are currently taking.