In recent years, the use of kratom, a tropical plant native to Southeast Asia, has gained attention as a potential natural stimulant. But is it a proven energy booster? The answer is complex, as kratom’s effects are dose-dependent and its safety is still under scrutiny.
What is Kratom?
Kratom is derived from the leaves of a plant related to coffee trees. It contains a chemical called mitragynine, an alkaloid that interacts with brain opiate receptors, altering mood and producing stimulant-like effects at low doses.
The Stimulant Effects
At low doses, kratom acts as a stimulant, making users feel more energetic. This is similar to the effects of medications commonly used to treat ADHD. In Asia, where kratom use has long been widespread, people use it in small doses as an energy and mood booster, akin to how coffee is used in the West.
The Opioid Paradox
At higher doses, kratom functions as an opioid, producing effects similar to those of opioid medications. This dual nature—stimulant at low doses and opioid at high doses—makes kratom a subject of ongoing debate among medical professionals and regulatory agencies.
Is it Safe?
While kratom is legal and easily accessible, it’s not without risks. Reports have linked its use to hallucinations, seizures, and liver damage when combined with alcohol or other drugs. Moreover, kratom products are unregulated and nonstandardized, raising concerns about their safety.
The Addiction Risk
Kratom is addictive. High school and college students, who initially use kratom for its stimulant effects, are at risk of developing an addiction due to the euphoria produced by its opioid aspect.
To date, there have been no well-controlled scientific studies showing that kratom is effective for opioid abuse withdrawal or any other conditions in humans.4 The FDA has advised categorizing it as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no proven medical application and has a high risk of abuse.
Public and Expert Opinion
Public opinion and some experts suggest that kratom doesn’t belong in the category of a Schedule I drug because of its relatively low rate of abuse potential and possible medical applications, including as a treatment for pain and opioid use disorder.
While kratom does exhibit stimulant-like effects at low doses, it is not a proven natural stimulant. Its dual nature, potential for addiction, and lack of regulation make it a complex and controversial substance. More research is needed to fully understand its health and safety implications.