Found in smoke shops and some corners of the internet, this leafy natural remedy is growing in popularity to self-treat a host of conditions.
Kratom is a tropical tree native to South Asia. Its leaves or extract from its leaves are harvested and made into a variety of forms (think tablets or drinkable doses) to help with chronic pain, opioid dependence and withdrawal, and — since you’re here — symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Although some evidence exists about kratom’s effectiveness, there’s also plenty out there about the dark side of this natural remedy. More research is needed to really be sure, so take suggested benefits with a grain of salt, and try not to gloss over the risks.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t blessed kratom with approval just yet. It’s *technically* a dietary supplement (get the 411 on the FDA’s recommendations here).
While it’s not considered an illegal drug at the federal level, it has been banned in six states. So if you’re thinking about jumping on the kratom train, proceed with caution.
Let’s dive into the risks, supposed benefits, and multiple varieties of kratom.
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Here’s how kratom worksKratom is sometimes referred to as a “natural opioid.” Since actual opioids can become a problem real quick, it’s no wonder some people in pain turn to kratom to get the same pain relief.
The secret sauce here is called mitragynine. At low doses, mitragynine can have energizing properties. At higher doses, it can feel like a sedative. It binds to opioid receptors in your brain, relieving pain — which may explain the antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects.
TBH, there isn’t a ton of research on kratom’s effects on mood.
One 2017 review confirmed that among some users, kratom enhances mood and relieves anxiety. This review cites an older study in mice that showed a reduction in corticosterone (in humans, that’s your stress hormone, cortisol).
The same research also suggests kratom can have sedative effects. Researchers have yet to dive into whether side effects such as sedation interfere with the benefits.
What else can it do?Beyond depression and anxiety, kratom is said to help with:
Some research also describes an appetite-suppressing effect, but (once more for the people in the back) more research is needed to confirm any of these benefits.
But like, what is it?Kratom (scientific name Mitragyna speciosa) is a tree found in parts of Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Malaysia, and that sweet, sweet mitragynine nectar is in its leaves.
People in some parts of Southeast Asia have been using kratom for centuries. You might see it called:
In fact, the FDA has confiscated more than $5 million worth of kratom and kratom products since 2014.
Kratom’s many formsPlayer’s choice! Kratom comes in a bunch of different forms, including:
The method of ingestion may influence kratom’s effects. However, there’s currently no research identifying which method is preferable in treating depression and anxiety.
Kratom’s many strainsMuch like that other green plant stuff, kratom comes in a variety of strains. They’re named after where they came from, and each strain is said to produce a different vibe.
There really isn’t any research about the effects of different strains of kratom, so keep in mind these descriptions are based solely on anecdotal reports.
Another FYI: The effects of each strain might vary from one supplier to another.
Maeng daMaeng da is a blanket term for several strains of strong, long-lasting kratom.
This strain can be green, white, or red and is primarily from Thailand, but Indonesian and Malaysian maeng da strains exist too.
Some describe maeng da as a stimulant, giving you an energy boost while also reducing pain. Other effects: feeling talkative and increased feelings of well-being.
Green MalayThis strain of kratom comes from Malaysia and is characterized by its dark green color.
This is a strain commonly thought to help with anxiety. At low doses, it’s said to give a boost of energy and focus (along with the standard pain relief). Take a little more, and it may act more like a sedative.
IndoIndo kratom comes from — you guessed it — Indonesia. It can be red, white, or green and is known to be less stimulating than other strains.
Indo is known for relaxation, pain relief, and feeling good, happy vibes. With all that in mind, it’s no surprise, this is another common go-to for anxiety.
ThaiThere are three types of Thai kratom — red, green, and white vein — and each is said to have a different effect.
The green and white vein strains are thought to feel stimulating and create a euphoric “high,” while red vein Thai kratom is said to relieve pain. As the name suggests, this strain comes from Thailand.
MalaysianMalaysian strains are said to provide a balance between the sedative and stimulating natures of kratom. Users report pain relief, increased energy and focus, and a lift in mood from Malaysian strains, which come in green, red, and white vein varieties.
Bali/red veinThis Indonesia-born strain is said to be the most opiate-like of all the kratom strains. This reddish strain may help relieve pain-related conditions, including depression and chronic pain.
BorneoBorneo kratom, with its eponymous origins, is considered one of the more sedative strains of kratom. It comes in red, green, and white vein varieties, and may be used to treat anxiety and stress thanks to its mellow effects.
How much should you take?Honestly, there’s not a ton of solid kratom dosage info for depression and anxiety.
In a 2017 study based on a survey of 8,049 people who use kratom, most people reported that a dose of up to 5 grams of powder taken up to 3 times a day was enough to feel the effects, whether that be energizing, sedative, or somewhere in between.
Like most medications, the best dose depends on your age, sex, and general health. It’s recommended that you start with a low dose, gradually increasing the amount until you feel what (and how strongly) you want to feel.
Low to moderate1 to 5 gramsincreased energy and focus
High5 to 15 gramspain relief
increased risk of side effects
Use caution> 15 gramssedation
increased risk of serious side effectsFrom there, how you take kratom and which strain you go for can affect how much (or little) you feel it. For example, kratom extract is said to pack more punch than the powder form.
What to expect: The good, the bad, and the dangerousKratom can be a bit of a wild card — what you feel (and how much you feel) depends on how much you take, what kind you take, and possibly other factors. Research into this is ongoing, so keep your wits about you.
These effects are based on a mix of available research and feedback from online users, but know that this is likely not the complete list of potential ~feels~.
Emotional, mental, and behavioral effects include:
Although kratom seems to be simpatico with some people, like any drug it can have its share of side effects.
In a 2016 CDC report, out of 660 poison control center calls about kratom exposure, most reported side effects were minor or moderate.
Most kratom-related hospitalizations, adverse effects, and overdoses are linked to using kratom with other substances, according to various reports.
Mild side effects include:
Even if you get nothing but good vibes from kratom, you should know it may cause dependence and physical withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it. In fact, some report developing an addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The risks here are real. A 2017 review concluded that the potential side effects of using kratom may outweigh the benefits, and more researchers are hinting at the same. One 2019 article suggests putting kratom behind the pharmacy counter, at the very least.
Kratom has been shown to negatively interact with other substances and could create potentially life-threatening complications. Alcohol and kratom are a particularly bad duo, and the CDC reported a death related to a bad mix of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and kratom.
Yes, kratom use has been shown to contribute to multiple deaths. In 2018, the FDA identified 44 deaths, many finding kratom mixed with other substances.
Another 2019 paper using data from the National Poison Data System identified 11 deaths between 2011 and 2017, nine of which involved kratom plus other drugs.
tl;drIf you’re thinking about jumping on the kratom train for depression or anxiety, just take a minute to educate yourself on the risks.
Kratom may help quell certain symptoms like pain and anxiety. But for some, the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.
Smaller doses have been found less likely to trigger negative effects.
Don’t forget kratom can interact with medications, booze, and other substances. There have been several deaths reported involving kratom plus other substances, including antidepressants.
Don’t wreck yourself. If you’re having severe side effects, put the kratom down and seek medical attention — stat. Your mental health professional can work with you to find effective treatment options.