In the last few years, Americans have become very interested in an herb that would previously have been considered exotic. Kratom has gained popularity as a substitute for narcotics that are increasingly more difficult to obtain. Does this make it a marvel or a menace?

What Is Kratom and What Is It Used For?

Q. What is kratom used for around the world? Here it is a supplement, but the DEA is planning to ban it and list it as a schedule 1 drug. Apparently, though, it has some beneficial effects. Can you help bring this kratom supplement into the light?

A. Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is native to southeast Asia, where people use its leaves as a mild stimulant and pain reliever. Many people report that this plant has a pleasant calming effect.

Recently, Americans have tried using it as a dietary supplement to manage chronic pain or to help overcome narcotic addiction. It has not been extensively studied, though, so the benefit/risk balance is not well established. The National Institute of Drug Abuse has identified this herb as an emerging drug of abuse (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July, 29, 2016). In some instances, exposure to kratom has resulted in seizures, psychosis or death.

The DEA Hopes to Make Kratom a Controlled Substance:

You are correct that the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) planned to classify kratom as a Schedule 1 drug, like LSD and heroin. Such compounds are considered very dangerous and without medicinal use. The agency fears that this plant could be abused.

The DEA is delaying this action for the time being, however, because it received so many messages from the American public asking that kratom not be banned. According to a report in Scientific American, a DEA spokesman said the agency is listening: “We don’t want the public to believe we are simply a group of government bureaucrats who don’t care about their safety and health.”

Tradition vs. the Internet:

In its traditional context, farm laborers chew on the leaves or make them into tea so they can work longer and harder. This is also how indigenous people in the Andes use coca leaves.

Turning a traditional botanical into a supplement divorced from the ethnopharmacological knowledge that people have about how to prepare it and utilize it could indeed set some people up for negative effects (BioMed Research International, online Nov. 10, 2015). Mitragyna speciosa might cause liver damage (Natural Product Communications, Oct., 2015). In addition, while some users experience benefits, others may have problems with cognitive function (Brain Research Bulletin, Sep., 2016).

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  1. Louise

    I’d like to know of anyones’ experience using Kratom to mitigate the symptoms of withdrawal from SSRIs as it seems possible; so I continue my search.

  2. susan k

    I have used Kratom for opiate withdrawal and it is wonderful. It even helps my pain better than the Percocets I was on. It is now January 1st 2018 and they are considering scheduling it again but the outcry from the public saying do not do this, it is helping too many people. I believe they need to keep it as it is.


    my doctor put me on fentanyl patches. at first, it was 25mc.and ended at 100 mc

    After 5 1/2 years I had to stop this awful drug.I tried but the withdrawals were horrible.a friend told me about the red strain kratom [used for narc withdrawl].i took one teaspoon in a cup of yourgert.twice a day. after 4 days I felt much better. and, was able to withdraw with little pain .

    I don’t use kratom anymore because with my addictive personality I did not want to trade one for the other.that was 2 years ago.I think it will be approved eventually after the drug companies and the gov figure how to tax it!!!

  4. Lynn

    I don’t think I would try it until more trials are performed because if you are taking other meds you don’t know what the effects would be. It could be harmful if taken with other meds or vitamins. If it can cause death (even a few people) you would wonder what else they were taking that may have caused a bad side effect.

  5. Dan
    Port Orchard

    The DEA’s plan to classify kratom as a Schedule 1 drug – on par with heroin and LSD- is patently absurd. It would subject anyone in possession to heavy criminal penalties, and prevent most scientific research into its properties. This is a substance that has been used for thousands of years in its home countries. (For heaven’s sake, Tramodol, an opiod pain med with known issues of abuse and addiction, is only a schedule 4.)

    “Turning a traditional botanical into a supplement divorced from the ethnopharmacological knowledge that people have about how to prepare it and utilize it could indeed set some people up for negative effects…” This is absolutely true. Is the answer then to ban it? Or would it make more sense to educate people in how to use it safely? The problem is there is no money in education. The money comes from banning it and letting the drug companies synthesize it.

  6. HoustonGal

    I have been drinking kratom tea for the past three years, in an off and on sporadic way. Different species have totally different effects. I found one variety, the white leaf, that it helps my chronic pain from a deteriorating spine like nothing else.

    It banishes suicidal thoughts, lifts the incredible heaviness I sometimes feel, gives me energy to do chores, cuts my appetite and gives me total pain relief sometimes lasting into the next day. I can totally ignore my pain meds and muscle relaxer when I drink it. It is not addictive and if you drink it more often than once or twice a week the effects wear off and it has no effect. Too much can cause nausea and upset stomach. It is very sad such a helpful herb will soon be banished.

  7. Cindy M. B.
    Seattle, WA

    The article was really too brief for a reader to assess pluses vs minuses re using Kratom. Sounds interesting, though. I read about this in the paper and I think they decided NOT to schedule it yet, as there was such an outcry from traditional users and also hints of various medicinal benefits that haven’t been adequately explored yet.

  8. Mert
    TN - Tennessee

    Well, I have done a lot of research on Keaton and I was hoping to gain some kind if pain relief from chronic osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis but I received not enough relief to even bother with it. Also I was suffering from pox like lesions s filled with fluid that was the color of the brewed tea form. And they took forever to heal. The genus and species name sorta makes me wonder about the possibility of migrating of sone parasite or infectioous disease from the plant leaves. Just speculation on my Pat but I have some deep pockets scars. Since it has cleared my body I haven’t had any more appear. But the expense with no relief and the rock-like scars really doesn’t make it worth the trouble of driving a long way to get it

  9. Cindy

    I have been taken kratom for about 6 months now. I have pinched nerves from L 4/5 down to S1. Along with neuropathy . This takes care of my pain with out feeling high.

  10. Ginny

    I have chronic back and leg pain from spinal stenosis and tingling, numb extremities. On days when I can’t take the pain and anxiety from it, I make a tea using 1 to 1 1/2 tsp powdered kratom with the red vein Bali variety which is best for pain and calm. I feel tremendous relief for about 5 hours. It also gives me a bit of energy without the jitters that coffee produces as well as improved focus.

    There is no pharmaceutical or over-the-counter medicine that relieves both the pain and anxiety like kratom. I’ve read research the NIH compiled based on numerous studies done in Europe. The only people who were sick or died from kratom were people who took cocktails of all kinds of drugs. It is complicated from worth reading if you want to try it. Kratom does not give a high. I have had my liver tested as well as many other blood tests and all is well. Kratom is strong in that it relieves nasty pain but it is also mild in that it doesn’t cause drowsiness, dizziness or constipation like narcotics. When pain is diminishes life is so much better.

  11. Dan
    Port Orchard, WA

    “In some instances, exposure to kratom has resulted in seizures, psychosis or death.” Do you have an original source for this? I can’t find one in the links you gave. I ask because I’ve seen this statement, or ones like it, being repeated in reports on kratom, but my searches are showing that serious reactions involving kratom, including death, have been the result of combinations of substances, not kratom by itself.

    I’m just beginning my own online research into the risks and benefits, but I can say with certainty that the DEA’s intention of making it a schedule 1 drug –on par with heroin and ecstasy — is patently absurd. Not only is it not nearly so dangerous, it would subject anyone in possession to heavy criminal penalties, and obstruct scientific research into its properties. (I sense the influence of big pharmaceutical companies in this. But that’s a subject for another time.)

    I’m neither a proponent nor opponent of its use yet, but there is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that there are real benefits to the use of kratom (as well as risks), and I believe that further *scientific* research is important.

    I trust you folks at The People’s Pharmacy, and I’d be delighted if you would do a “deep dive” into the subject.

  12. Mary Jane

    These herbs should not be separated from their ethnopharmacological knowledge (as stated above). When I lived in Bolivia, I once had a stomach ache, for which friends made me a tea from coca leaves. It took care of the ache, and I didn’t become addicted. Drugs are not the problem; addiction is!

  13. Jim

    It only takes a little web-surfing to learn that the DEA’s motive to outlaw natural Kratom has to do with plans by pharmaceutical companies to patent and market painkillers with alkaloids extracted from Kratom? Another natural remedy declared illegal to clear the way for Big Pharma to lock it down with patents and then charge a fortune for it.

    • Lisa D

      Amen! Another way to rip off the middle class and the poor.

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