Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tree in the coffee family, found in Thailand and other tropical countries. Traditionally, in Southeast Asia, people have chewed its leaves or made them into a tea that’s used to fight fatigue and improve work productivity. Kratom has also traditionally been used during religious ceremonies and to treat medical conditions such as pain and diarrhea, sometimes as a substitute for opium.
Two compounds in kratom leaves, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, interact with opioid receptors in the brain, producing sedation, pleasure, and decreased pain when taken in high doses. Lower doses cause alertness instead of sedation.
Some people in Western countries use kratom to try to treat pain or manage opioid withdrawal symptoms.
- Although people may use kratom to try to overcome opioid addiction, kratom itself may be addictive. People may build up a tolerance to it (they may need higher doses to achieve the same effect), and long-term users may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using it.
- Studies in experimental animals suggest that high doses of kratom may be less likely than high doses of opioids to be fatal. However, some deaths in people have been linked to kratom. Typically, they have involved the use of kratom in combination with opioids or various prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
- A variety of side effects of kratom have been reported. They include anxiety, irritability, and increased aggression, which may be related to the drug’s stimulant effects; and sedation, nausea, constipation, and itching, which may be related to its opioid-like effects. Increased pigmentation of the cheeks, tremor, loss of appetite, weight loss, and psychosis have been seen in long-term kratom users. Seizures have been reported in users of high doses of kratom.
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