Kratom: effect, origin and use

Written by: Marvin Benthien



Time to read 5 min

While alcohol, LSD and cocaine are very famous representatives of psychoactive substances, the effects of kratom are less well known. The plant, which originates from Southeast Asia, has long been used in traditional medicine and as an opium substitute, particularly in Thailand. In recent years, the active ingredient in kratom has also become increasingly popular in Germany and the USA, mainly due to its analgesic effect. However, kratom is seen as a "questionable substance" in both the USA and Germany and the substance is already banned in many other countries around the world. But what is kratom actually, what forms of intake and side effects are there and how does the effect of kratom manifest itself? We will address these and other questions in this report!

What is kratom?

Before we take a closer look at the effects of kratom, let's first take a closer look at what kratom actually is. Kratom basically refers to products from the kratom tree, usually only the leaves are used. The tree grows mainly in the Philippines and New Guinea and can grow up to 16 meters high. The leaves are quite large and dark green in color, with either greenish, white or reddish veins running through them. The effect of kratom is slightly different for all subspecies of the plant, but we will discuss this later in this article.

Although natural populations of the kratom tree are mainly found in the Philippines and New Guinea, it is now cultivated throughout Southeast Asia. Most of the kratom products found in Western countries probably come from Indonesia, as the cultivation and sale of kratom is not controlled there.

Kratom plant
The image "Kratom tree" by ThorPorre is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Kratom in Germany and the USA

In traditional Asian medicine, kratom is often used for ailments such as diarrhea, coughs and to treat heroin addiction, but it is not approved for use in modern medicine. Official authorities such as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the USA also warn against its use and in the USA in particular, kratom is banned both as a stand-alone supplement and as an additive in medicines and food. However, private possession and sale are not punishable by law and the substance is not yet subject to the Narcotics Act in either Germany or the USA. It is important to mention that kratom is not officially considered a drug, but is merely declared as questionable.

Kratom strains: Effect and intake

In its original form, the leaves of the kratom tree are either chewed fresh or dried or prepared as tea; it is only very rarely smoked. However, the active ingredient is also available in the form of kratom capsules, powder, paste, tincture, extract or tablets.

But how exactly does kratom work? The form of intake does not appear to influence the effect of kratom; the effect of kratom powder, for example, is exactly the same as the effect of kratom tea. Only the dosage and subspecies of the plant play a major role here.

At lower doses, kratom tends to have a stimulating effect similar to cocaine, while at higher doses it seems to have a numbing and calming effect similar to that of opioids. This special effect of kratom is triggered by the active ingredients mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine in the leaves, which act on the opioid receptors in the body. The different effects of the kratom varieties already mentioned should be noted here. The individual varieties can be easily distinguished by the fine veins on the leaves:

  • red veins: sedative and pain-relieving effect
  • white veins: stimulating effect, increases alertness
  • green veins: partly stimulating, partly sedating - overall, however, the intensity is weaker than that of leaves with white and red veins

Due to the overall pain-relieving effect of kratom, it is increasingly being used by private individuals to relieve chronic pain - as it is legal, it can also be purchased very easily via the internet or in headshops. The kratom available on the internet is often named after colors, for example "red kratom" (sedative effect). The substance is also frequently used for self-treatment of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. As an increasing number of intoxications in connection with kratom have been recorded in recent years, it is assumed that the frequency of kratom use is also increasing.

Unfortunately, however, there is insufficient evidence as to which of the consequences in the body kratom itself is actually responsible for, as mixed consumption is often practiced and negative effects cannot always be clearly attributed to a single substance. Even products available for purchase are often mixed with other substances that can enhance the effects of kratom. As with all psychoactive substances, mixed consumption is not advisable due to interactions.

There are different types and forms of consumption of kratom

Kratom: duration of effect

How long does kratom last? There is no general answer to this question, as both the effect and duration are heavily dependent on the dosage. At a low kratom dosage, the stimulating effect of kratom is already noticeable after around ten minutes and then lasts for up to two hours. With higher doses of kratom, the duration of effect can be up to six hours.

Kratom side effects

The assumption that kratom is a harmless substance, as it is still legal in many countries, is a fallacy. Taking it over a longer period of time can cause a number of unpleasant side effects. These include loss of appetite and weight loss, tremors and vomiting, and liver damage has been reported in some patients. However, whether these are long-term effects of kratom has not been clearly established. In addition, there is a risk of dependence due to the fact that the substance binds to the opioid receptors in the brain. The risk does not appear to be as high as with opioids themselves, but should nevertheless be taken into account. Withdrawal symptoms can occur after prolonged use, which are similar to those after prolonged opiate use. Both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms occur, but both appear to be less pronounced than with opiate withdrawal. Common withdrawal symptoms are

  • increased pain
  • fever
  • cramps
  • sleep problems
  • sweating
  • diarrhea
  • Inner restlessness and anxiety
  • tension

Although some sources on the internet state that the addictive potential is "only" similar to that of caffeine and nicotine, there are no official studies that could prove this. As there are generally hardly any clinical studies on kratom, all information that can be found on the effects of kratom should be questioned. Most of it is based on private reports or isolated studies on animals.

Kratom extract

The effect of kratom: Conclusion

As kratom is not a synthetic but a herbal remedy, many people are hoping for a natural alternative to conventional painkillers. Patients with chronic pain in particular, who do not want to resort to opiates, often come across the effects of kratom in their search for other options. As the plant's pure active ingredients are potentially promising as a painkiller, it could be a valuable substitute or supplement in the future. However, further studies and scientific research are needed to minimize and better assess the risks.

Hardly any reliable sources, the poorly researched effects of kratom and a potentially high risk of addiction: there is currently simply too little official information on the effects of kratom and how long-term use affects the body and mind. Its use is therefore not recommended and doctors are also advised to explore other options with their patients.