Kratom tea has become a popular ‘legal high’ in the United States and Europe over the last decade. The kratom plant is an evergreen tree in the coffee family, native to Southeast Asia.

Traditionally used by Southeast Asian farming communities to help combat fatigue, increase work productivity, to treat different health conditions and appearing in ceremonial situations, kratom has a spectrum of effects that range from a stimulant to a sedative, depending on the dosage. However, there is not enough peer-reviewed research into the plant to understand whether there are any real benefits to using it as a therapeutic drug, even though it has been claimed that the leaves, when prepared in tea, chewed or smoked, can help in different ways.

What is Kratom Tea Good For?

Kratom tea is sold as a natural, plant-based dietary supplement. It has been described as effective in helping with a number of different problems, illnesses and ailments, including:

  • energy boosting
  • mood enhancing
  • pain relief
  • appetite suppression
  • stop cramps and diarrhea
  • treatment for panic attacks and low mood.

In traditional Asian medicine, kratom leaves are chewed by farmers who can work more productively thanks to the boost in physical and mental energy that the leaves produce.

In low doses, users describe experiencing increased alertness, euphoria and even sexual arousal, while in higher doses the pain relief and sedative effects are calming.

Types of Kratom Extracts

Users can purchase kratom as a liquid extract or in powder form from a constantly growing unregulated market.

But what is liquid kratom? How does it compare with the powdered variety? Liquid kratom is extracted from kratom leaves, while powdered kratom is a finely ground powder made from dried kratom leaves. Because of differences in concentration, the dosages of liquid kratom and powdered kratom may vary.

Liquid kratom is more concentrated and may require smaller doses compared to powdered kratom. Among the most popular forms of kratom supplements are capsules filled with the powder form of the drug.

Is Kratom Legal?

Kratom is not currently controlled under the Controlled Substances Act, and is not FDA approved for any medical use.

The legal status of kratom does make it difficult to assess how much of a problem it really is — in CDC figures for drug overdoses, findings for kratom depended on whether the mass spectrometry and other tests used were set up to recognize the chemical composition of kratom tea. The latest relevant figures from the CDC are from back in 2017, and show that kratom was a factor in 0.56% of drug overdoses from July 2016 to December 2017.

Of the reported deaths where kratom was found in the toxicology reports, 59.9% of deaths were caused by kratom, although the decedents had a known history of substance misuse and evidence of other drugs used as well.

This is part of the problem with kratom use. As an uncontrolled substance, preparations have differing levels of psychoactive ingredients. This erratic pharmacology makes it difficult to assess how much you will be taking, and even harder to assess how much it can take to overdose. Even without taking too much, the harmful side effects of kratom are unpredictable and problematic.

Official Warnings About Kratom Safety

For years, federal agencies such as the CDC, the DEA and the FDA have been voicing concerns about the dangers posed by kratom products. While available research is limited, the use of kratom has been linked to fatal overdoses, addiction, withdrawal symptoms and liver failure.

The FDA issued its most recent official warning in April 2022, urging the public to stay clear of kratom. “There are no FDA-approved uses for kratom, and the agency has received concerning reports about the safety of kratom,” the warning reads. “FDA is actively evaluating all available scientific information on this issue and continues to warn consumers not to use any products labeled as containing the botanical substance kratom or its psychoactive compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.”

The agency “encourages more research to better understand kratom’s safety profile, including the use of kratom combined with other drugs.” Other potentially dangerous substances include prescription medications, herbal products and caffeine, which, while not illegal, can pose a threat to cognitive and physical well-being when combined.

In 2018, the FDA and the CDC jointly investigated a salmonella outbreak that led to a mandatory recall of kratom supplements. According to the CDC, 199 people fell ill and more than a third of them needed hospitalization, though there were no fatalities. In addition to recalling the specific products containing salmonella, the FDA warned the public to stay away from kratom, while the CDC notes the difficulty of identifying and recalling all contaminated products.

According to the CDC, using kratom with alcohol and other drugs can potentially cause severe side effects such as increased heart rate, nausea, liver damage, seizures and even death.

While kratom isn’t a federally controlled substance, the DEA has classified it as a Drug of Concern. An increasing number of states, including Alabama, Indiana and Tennessee, have banned the sale and use of kratom supplements. On a local level, kratom is banned in several cities and counties, including Sarasota Country in Florida, Union County in Mississippi and Jerseyville in Illinois.

How Does Kratom Tea Work?

One of the main phytochemicals in kratom is the alkaloid mitragymine. This is a psychoactive ingredient that interacts with the opioid receptors in the brain, working in a similar way to drugs like morphine, heroin and opium.

Small doses (1–5g) are used in recreational circumstances, with a similar effect on social engagement as cocaine — users feel confident and energetic, often reporting that they have a feeling of empathy and sometimes euphoria. Larger doses (5–15g) are associated with strong pain relief and sedative effects, with some people finding that they are completely relaxed. Whether chewed or brewed with tea, kratom begins to work in five to ten minutes, and the effects can last between two and five hours.

In the United States, kratom users are usually self-medicating with preparations of varying strengths for different things. A number of users administer kratom to help them when they are experiencing withdrawal from heroin or other opioid addictions. The sedative, euphoric and pain-relieving attributes of the plant are similar to other opioids, and for kratom users, the idea that this substance is natural and plant-based can make them think it is a safer option to take.

However, the limited research conducted into kratom does not support the idea that it is safe. The DEA lists it as a Drug and Chemical of Concern, and many scientists label it a novel psychoactive substance.

Side Effects of Kratom

Like many substances that are claimed to have positive benefits, there are recognizable side effects that have been reported, usually through calls to Poison Control. In a report by the National Poison Data System, calls relating to kratom increased from 26 on 2010 to 263 in 2015, with the following effects:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • drowsiness
  • itching
  • increased urination
  • dry mouth
  • constipation
  • sweating
  • loss of appetite
  • anorexia and weight loss
  • insomnia
  • seizures
  • coma
  • death

The risks of these side effects are heightened when they are consumed with other drugs or alcohol, which makes it much more difficult to manage the dosage effectively. As the leaves themselves are bitter and unpleasant in flavor, they are often consumed as a tea, with alcohol as a drink or taken as a pill. There is no noticeable difference in the ways it is consumed so when it comes to kratom tea vs pill, the substance works the same.

Is Kratom Good For Opioid Withdrawal?

The use of kratom as a self-medication for opioid withdrawal is well-documented. It is much easier to get kratom tea or pills online than it is to arrange a prescription from a physician.

However, the effects of kratom tea can be similar to heroin, opium and morphine in terms of addictive qualities. Kratom users build tolerance to the substance through use, which means that they will need more and more of the plant to feel the same effects over time. Long-term users have reported withdrawal symptoms that are as difficult to deal with as controlled opioids.

Regular use of kratom, whether for recreation or to help with the symptoms of withdrawal, can lead to impairment of brain function, confusion, seizures, coma and ultimately death. Even though kratom is not a controlled substance or a recognized drug of abuse, kratom is not the answer for opioid withdrawal because it can cause more problems than it solves.

Sunlight Recovery Can Help With Addiction

If you are struggling with opioid withdrawal and considering using kratom to help, there are other options. The team at Sunlight Recovery are here to help you make the right decisions about your health, with all the relevant information to make your recovery work for you. Contact us today to start your journey.