There are all sorts of contradictions surrounding kratom. It's known as a sedative and a stimulant. It's banned in some countries, but legal in others. So what is it? And what does it do to you?

plant krakom

Kratom has similar effects to opium or heroin

The leaves of the kratom tree have been used as an opium substitute for hundreds of years. The tropical tree, also known as mitragyna speciosa, grows in marshy areas around Asia, especially Thailand and Malaysia. The leaves are fat and oval with a point, and contain the active chemicals mitragynine, mitraphylline and 7-hydroxymitragynine. They can be chewed, smoked or mixed into food and drink.

What are the effects of taking kratom?

  • An opiate-like sedation where users experience a tranquil, dream-like state.
  • A stimulating state with alertness, increased energy and mild euphoria.
  • Menial physical tasks, like cleaning or strenuous labour, can seem more interesting.
  • You can experience strobing when your eyes are open and visuals when your eyes are closed.
  • It can cause constipation and has been used as a treatment for diarrhoea.
  • Effects usually last between two and four hours, with the possibility of an ‘afterglow’ feeling the next day.

What are the risks of taking kratom?

  • High doses can trigger severe nausea and vomiting.
  • Regular use can lead to physical dependency, and some individuals may find it difficult to stop. Withdrawal symptoms can include irritability, yawning, diarrhoea, a runny nose and muscle pain.
  • Heavy use can cause constipation, darkening of the skin, insomnia, dry mouth and anorexia.

Kratom and the law:

Kratom is legal to buy and sell in the UK, despite being illegal in countries such as Australia and Thailand.

Kratom is also known as:

Ketum, mitragyna speciosa, kakuam, ithang, and thom.

If you are planning on taking kratom:

  • Do not drive or operate heavy machinery while under the influence of kratom.
  • Try not to mix it with other sedatives (including alcohol) or stimulants.
  • Do not take it if you are on antidepressants that contain MAO (Monoamine Oxidase) inhibitors.

Photo of kratom plant by Shutterstock

Next Steps

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015