Dealing with mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, can be an uphill battle. When conventional therapy and prescription medication don’t seem to work, people may try other methods to boost their mood and improve their quality of life. While not legal or regulated, kratom – a herbal substance sometimes misused to replace drugs like opioids – has become increasingly popular with people who are desperate to relieve anxiety or pain.
On top of the fact that the research supporting kratom’s efficacy for treating mental health disorders is weak, this herbal substance can be highly addictive and might actually make your symptoms worse. Since it’s not as well-known as alternative treatments like CBD, many people use it without understanding its side effects. You deserve to know the truth. Below, we’ll explain this substance, what it’s used for, and what science says about kratom.
What is kratom?
Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. Indigenous populations traditionally used it as a mild stimulant to reduce fatigue and treat pain, usually by chewing the leaves, brewing them into tea, or smoking them in pipes. Its uses have evolved since then, expanding to an illegal dietary supplement, a self-administered treatment for opioid withdrawal, and an experimental treatment for depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. It is a low-dose stimulant, while high doses can have a sedative effect.
Today, kratom can also be bought in capsule, tablet, gum, extract, or powder form. Kratom is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although they warn consumers about its addictive properties and advise against its use. Some states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin, have completely banned kratom use, sale, and possession. Many other states have regulations in place.
Why do people take kratom?
Kratom has seen many uses. Here are some of its most common functions:
- Treating pain, fever, wounds, and diarrhea
- Alleviating fatigue
- Reducing drug dependence and easing withdrawal symptoms
- Suppressing appetite
- Treating anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and other mental health disorders
In the United States, kratom use has increased in recent years. Surveys estimate that approximately 10 to 16 million Americans use kratom. Of that number, 58 – 67% use it to self-manage mental health concerns. About 20% of those taking kratom use it solely to treat depression.
Does kratom have health benefits?
Potential kratom health benefits include increased energy, euphoria, and pain relief. In one 2016 study of 8,000 kratom users, individuals self-reported an improvement in acute and chronic pain and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. A 2018 review noted its potential as a substitute for opioids and a way to alleviate withdrawal symptoms however long-term effects are unclear and addiction is a very real risk.
It’s important to emphasize that these benefits are self-reported and that there’s currently no scientific evidence to back up these claims.
Are there any risks to taking kratom?
Now that you know the potential benefits, it’s important to understand the risks. Since the U.S. government does not regulate kratom, there is no quality control on its production and sale. You can’t be sure about the contents or dosages of the kratom products you buy.
So, what does that mean? Take this hypothetical situation: An online retailer could claim the capsules they sell contain a low dose, so someone with depression might purchase it as a stimulant. If the unregulated capsules contain much more than advertised, they could produce sedative effects rather than stimulating. Higher doses and long-term use also increase the risk of dependency and withdrawal.
There aren’t many clinical studies about the addictive properties of kratom, but the concerns come from its primary compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. These compounds structurally look the same as opioids and interact with opioid receptors. Although the risks aren’t fully understood, there have now been many severe cases of kratom dependence, particularly among individuals with a history of opioid use disorder (OUD) and mental health disorders.
In treating mental health issues, evidence is lacking outside of self-reports. Some scientists have even reported the possibility that kratom use could worsen the symptoms of mental health disorders. With the added possibility of addiction and withdrawal, the risks of kratom generally outweigh the potential benefits.
There are some known side effects of kratom use:
- Chills, nausea, and vomiting
- Weight loss
- Dry mouth
- Aggression and agitation
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Liver damage
Given the lack of regulation and the results of the limited research into kratom, the risks seem to outweigh the benefits. Why gamble with your health?
Real treatments backed by real science
With many uncertainties about kratom’s health benefits and risks, seeking safe, scientifically proven treatments is always recommended. Ophelia offers evidence-based virtual clinical support, providing FDA-approved medications for addiction treatment (MAT). Our care plans also include diagnosing and treating behavioral, psychological, and psychosocial disorders that often go hand-and-hand with opioid dependence, such as depression and anxiety. See if Ophelia is the right fit for you with a quick questionnaire and free consultation call.