Most people are familiar with the popular cannabis compound cannabidiol (CBD). But it’s not the only natural pain relief option on the market these days. Kratom is another compound from natural botanical sources that can be used as a painkiller. You have questions about these two plant-based products, and we’re here to answer them.
What is kratom?
Kratom is a tropical shrub that grows in Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. The scientific name for the plant is Mitragyna speciosa, and it comes from the same family as the coffee plant.
Natives in the region where kratom trees grow traditionally brewed the leaves to make tea or chewed on them directly. In doses under 5 grams, kratom produces stimulating effects similar to drinking coffee. It can be used to increase productivity while working and boost energy levels.
In higher doses, between 5 and 15 grams, kratom produces effects similar to those of opiates. The alkaloids in the kratom leaves bind to opioid pain receptors in the body, alleviating pain and creating a euphoric feeling. Larger amounts of kratom can also act as a sedative, superseding the initial stimulating effects.
Today, kratom is available in retail stores as an herbal drug alternative. But over time, using it can lead to changes in appetite and skin condition, as well as insomnia, liver toxicity, and urinary issues. Some people also experience neurological and mental health changes, including psychosis and cognitive impairments. Long-term kratom use can eventually result in dependence and lead to withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing use.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, is a cannabinoid present in the Cannabis sativa plant. It’s one of the active ingredients in cannabis, but unlike the familiar cannabinoid THC, it does not produce psychoactive effects.
CBD does have other effects on the body via the cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system. In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a meta-analysis of cannabinoid research since 1999 showing that the strongest evidence for benefits from CBD is for pain reduction and help with spasticity due to its anti-inflammatory effects. While the evidence is much more mixed—or non-existent—for other conditions, many CBD users report improved sleep and reduced stress and anxiety.
In terms of side effects, CBD is generally very safe with a low risk of side effects, but some CBD users do report dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. The compound is not known to be addictive, and research indicates that short-term use is unlikely to lead to withdrawal symptoms.
How do these substances compare?
People use both CBD and kratom to address issues like insomnia and pain, but these two compounds don’t have much else in common.
Kratom comes from a plant unrelated to the cannabis plant that CBD is derived from. It has different active ingredients and interacts with the body in a distinct way. Unlike CBD, which targets the endocannabinoid system, kratom affects the opioid and adrenergic systems.
The two compounds also differ in terms of legal status. The legality of CBD in the United States depends on whether it’s derived from hemp or cannabis—and all 50 states have different rules based on the compound’s source and delivery method.
Kratom is not federally regulated, so there’s no agency guaranteeing its quality or safety. Currently, it is technically legal. And like CBD, kratom’s legality at the state level varies widely.
In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) proposed a ban on the chemicals in kratom. This was followed up by a 2018 letter by the Office of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommending that kratom be listed as a Schedule I substance. But the DEA declined to do so because this would make the substance extremely hard to get, limiting further scientific research.
Kratom and CBD also differ in their ideal uses. Kratom is considered more effective for acute pain, while CBD is often a better option for addressing chronic pain, especially pain caused by inflammation. These compounds will affect everyone slightly differently, so the right pain management option for one person may be different than for someone else.
People report using kratom to address drug withdrawal symptoms, particularly opioid withdrawal. That may be one option to help someone struggling with opioid use disorder (OUD) without rehab. More research is needed into kratom as an opioid use disorder treatment as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved kratom for this or any other purpose.
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When you or a loved one is struggling with OUD, there’s no sense in experimenting with unproven treatments. Ophelia’s at-home medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program is based on FDA-approved medications and comprehensive clinical and personal support. The initial consultation call is free, and the entire program takes place in the comfort and privacy of home.