What Is Kratom? Uses, Side Effects, and Legality

Last Updated on October 12, 2021

Updated on October 8th, 2020

kratom addiction

Kratom is a highly controversial substance that has gained popularity in the U.S. over the last several years. Many questions about kratom remain unanswered and more research needs to be done to determine the dangers of kratom, as well as the long-term effects of the drug on the body.

In this blog, we will clear up some of the false information you may have heard about kratom and provide a few more details on its physical effects and potential for dependence and addiction.

What is Kratom?

Kratom tree leaves have been used for centuries as an herbal drug by farmers and laborers. Native to Southeast Asia, the “dietary supplement” is sold over the counter in smoke shops across the nation in powder and pill form. In the United States, it’s most commonly abused or ingested in tablet form, capsule, or extract. The leaves are also frequently dried and powdered and made into a tea. Users may also chew the leaves.

When taken in high doses, kratom can act as an opioid-like sedative, producing effects that dull pain. Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine are the main ingredient in Kratom and are the substances being strictly forbidden on the list of Schedule 1 substances.

Slang names for kratom include:

  • Biak
  • Ketum
  • Kakuam
  • Ithang
  • Thom

What Are Kratom Uses?

Kratom has been used in Southeast Asia for a long time but has recently gained popularity in the U.S. People use kratom to ease symptoms of fibromyalgia, to treat or manage pain, to enhance concentration, to boost energy, or to reduce uncomfortable symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Using kratom at home for pain management or opioid withdrawal is not safe and using the substance regularly may result in physical dependence, tolerance, or addiction.

Why Do Some People Use Kratom in Recovery?

Some people use kratom in recovery because they claim it helps individuals overcome heroin or opioid addiction. However, health experts do not recommend using kratom to stop addiction and the FDA says there is no reliable evidence to support that claim.1 

In fact, using kratom in recovery may be riskier than it is helpful due to the negative side effects and its ability to produce a euphoric high. Someone in recovery could easily develop kratom dependence or addiction even if their intentions were good.

If you are considering using kratom in recovery, a better option might be to seek out additional recovery support by enrolling in IOP, sober living, or attending community support groups.

Kratom vs. Heroin

Many people may find themselves wondering, “Is kratom synthetic heroin?” Although kratom does contain opioid substances, kratom and heroin are not the same things. The chart below compares kratom and heroin based on their composition, uses, side effects, the risk for dependence and addiction, and legal status.

What is it made of?Kratom is a tropical tree that is native to Southeast Asia. It produces leaves that contain compounds that produce mind-altering effects.Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, which is a natural substance found in the seed pod of the opium poppy plant.
In what form is it produced?Pill, capsule, extract, gum, food additive, or teaWhite or brown powder, black sticky substance (black tar heroin) 
Why do people use it?People use kratom as a recreational drug to get high, to treat or manage physical pain, to enhance concentration and energy, or to reduce symptoms of opioid withdrawal.People use heroin as a recreational drug to get high.
What are its short-term harmful side effects?NauseaItchingDry mouthSweatingConstipationIncreased urinationLoss of appetiteSeizuresHallucinations Nausea and vomitingItchingDry mouthClouded mental functioningGoing back and forth from a state of consciousness to semi-consciousness
What is the risk of dependence and addiction?More research is needed to fully understand kratom, but researchers generally agree that using kratom can lead to dependence and addiction.Heroin is a highly addictive drug.
It is legal in the United States?Kratom is listed as a “drug of concern” in the U.S. but it is federally legal. However, some states have banned it, including Wyoming, Indiana, Tennessee, and Vermont.Heroin is illegal in the U.S. and is classified as a Schedule I drug.

Kratom is currently legal in some states but illegal in others. Several states have classified it as a synthetic drug or a controlled substance and may have banned any use of it. Certain areas in the following states may not allow for the legal use of kratom, but state laws regarding the drug are changing frequently.

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • New Hampshire
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

In August of 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that Kratom would be classed with heroin, LSD, and marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, but in October, the DEA withdrew its decision. As of August 2018, Kratom is considered a supplement by the FDA and the DEA classifies it as a “Drug of Concern.”2,3

If you live in Texas, you may be wondering, “Is Kratom legal in Texas?” Right now, the answer is yes. As of September 2020, there is no legislation restricting, prohibiting, or regulating the use, possession, or sale of kratom in the state of Texas or any of its metropolitan areas like Austin, Houston, or Dallas, among others.

How Kratom Works In the Brain

The compounds in kratom leaves (mitragynine and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine) stimulate opioid receptors in the brain, which is why some of the effects are similar to those of opioids and stimulants. The compounds also interact with other receptors in the brain to produce a stimulant effect.4

There is so much that researchers still don’t know about how kratom works, and some claims of kratom brain damage may have legitimate merit.5 According to the Mayo Clinic, research studies have found that kratom can cause abnormal brain function when it’s taken with prescription drugs as well as recurrent seizures.6,7 

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Kratom?

As of right now, scientists don’t really know what kratom does to your body when it is abused over a long period of time. However, it is known that small doses of kratom can produce a stimulant effect, resulting in effects like:8

  • Increased sociability
  • Extreme happiness
  • Reduced coordination
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased talkativeness

Larger doses of dried leaves can cause sedative effects that last several hours. This often includes feelings of euphoria and calmness.

What Are Kratom Long-Term Effects?

According to the DEA, chronic, long-term use of kratom may lead to several harmful side effects, such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia 
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Skin discoloration on the face
  • Insomnia
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Muscle aches
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia 
  • Trouble feeling pleasure
  • Reduced cognition
Photo by Laryssa Suaid from Pexels

Is Kratom Safe?

There are several major risks associated with kratom use. Some people believe kratom is just a harmless plant. However, many kratom drug interactions are currently unknown and there is also some evidence that it may trigger psychosis. Kratom has a high potential for abuse, has no accepted medical use in treatment, and lacks safety due to its harmful side effects.

According to the DEA, there were also 660 kratom exposure calls to U.S. poison control centers between January 2010 and December 2015.9 The CDC reports that 42 percent of kratom cases reported between 2010 and 2015 involved symptoms that were not life-threatening but required some treatment. Seven percent of kratom exposures were life-threatening.10

There are also currently no FDA regulations to monitor the purity of kratom or any safety regulations for producing it, which means kratom products may contain harmful chemicals and ingredients. More studies are needed to determine the safety of its use, its harmful effects on the body, and the state of its interactions with other drugs.

Is Kratom Addictive?

With long-term and regular use, all the evidence points to kratom being addictive, and it has a very high potential for abuse and tolerance. Although some people believe kratom is not addictive, there is a major lack of research on kratom and its addictive qualities. Since its effects on the body are very similar to that of opioids, many researchers believe that kratom dependence and addiction are very likely among those who use it regularly. 

Kratom Addiction Symptoms and Side Effects

The long-term and short-term side effects of kratom are still being studied, but it is well known that abuse of the drug can be dangerous and life-threatening. Since 2014, 15 people have died from the effects of the kratom plant. The CDC also claims that between 2016 and 2017 alone, there were 91 deaths due to kratom. However, seven of the casualties also had other drugs in their system at the time of death, so it’s impossible to attribute all of these deaths solely to kratom.11 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that kratom abuse symptoms typically include:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Tachycardia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Hypertension
  • Kratom hepatotoxicity (liver damage)
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Poor concentration
  • Hallucinations
  • Death

Some kratom addiction symptoms may also include:

  • Failing to maintain personal responsibilities due to kratom use
  • Using kratom instead of engaging in other hobbies or activities
  • Trying to stop using kratom but being unable to
  • Continuing to abuse kratom despite the life problems it’s causing
  • Using greater amounts of kratom over time and using it more frequently
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit kratom
  • Having strong cravings for kratom

Kratom Addiction Withdrawal: What to Expect

Kratom affects the pleasure and reward systems in the brain, so when it is abused regularly for a long period of time and then the use suddenly stops, withdrawal symptoms may occur. These physical symptoms can be very uncomfortable and may resemble opioid withdrawal. Common kratom withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Emotional issues/mood swings

If you need kratom withdrawal help, you’re not alone. Many people find themselves unable to quit this addictive drug without professional help and medical treatment. A kratom detox center can provide the structured environment and treatment you need to get sober.

During kratom medical detox, you’ll receive medical and clinical care to treat the physical and psychological symptoms of kratom withdrawal. This will help you push through withdrawal without giving in to cravings or experiencing extreme discomfort. A kratom detox program is designed to keep you comfortable while addressing your individual treatment needs so you can have the greatest chance of achieving sustained sobriety long after detox is over.

How Long Is Kratom Withdrawal?

According to user surveys, kratom withdrawal is much like opioid withdrawal, except it doesn’t last as long. When it comes to kratom withdrawal duration, every person’s experience is different, however, studies show symptoms of kratom withdrawal typically appear within 12 to 48 hours of the last dose and typically disappear within three days.12 

Find Kratom Addiction Treatment Today

If you are addicted to kratom, you’re not alone. Overcoming your addiction to kratom will likely be one of the greatest challenges you’ll ever face, but it’s not impossible. Addiction is a devastating, debilitating disease. Its fallout can be far-reaching and long-lasting, with negative impacts on your life and the lives of everyone around you. Fortunately, finding kratom addiction help may be easier than you think.

If you are physically dependent, kratom addiction treatment may need to begin at a kratom detox center. Although there is currently no specific medical treatment for kratom addiction, kratom rehab can help you overcome your substance use disorder with evidence-based therapies and professional support.

Upon the completion of detox, a kratom addiction treatment center will provide behavioral therapy, 12-step group therapy, and other types of specialized therapies to help you overcome all aspects of your addiction.

Nova Recovery Center, a residential drug and alcohol treatment center, understands recovery is a continuous process. Our continuum of care is specifically designed for the highest possible outcomes for long-term sobriety. Contacting Nova Recovery residential drug and alcohol treatment center is the first step to changing lives.

If you’re looking for a kratom addiction treatment center, call us today. You can recover!


  1. https://www.foxnews.com/health/kratom-the-latest-legal-plant-based-high
  2. https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/publichealthfocus/ucm584952.htm
  3. https://www.dea.gov/pr/multimedia-library/publications/drug_of_abuse.pdf
  4. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/is-kratom-safe#use
  5. https://www.foxnews.com/health/kratom-tea-left-teen-with-brain-damage-moms-lawsuit-claims
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/kratom/art-20402171
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213323218300306
  8. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/kratom
  9. https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/the-dea-changes-its-mind-on-kratom
  10. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/kratom-fear-worthy-foliage-or-beneficial-botanical-2019080717466
  11. https://www.dovepress.com/current-perspectives-on-the-impact-of-kratom-use-peer-reviewed-article-SAR
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