The Pros and Cons of Kratom: Opiate Or Herbal Medicine?

January 25, 2018 • By Benjamin Wilson
The estimated reading time is 4 minutes

More popularly known as kratom, Mitragyna speciosa is a plant under the coffee family that has gained a lot of attention over the years because of a debate about whether its effects are similar to that of the controlled substance opium.

The Kratom Debate

Authorities like American government agencies including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have weighed in on the debate.

In 2016, the DEA released a statement about its intent to rank the herb alongside controlled substances like ecstasy, marijuana, LSD, and heroin due to reports of kratom addiction. The decision was delayed, however, after numerous groups vouched for the benefits of the plant and called for further testing.

Less than two years later, the FDA declared that kratom indeed has "opioid properties" and linked the herb to the death of 44 people from April 2011 to December 2017. Agency commissioner Scott Gottlieb also released a statement explaining that they conducted research that concluded the plant’s potential for abuse.

However, several scientists have contested this claim, saying that the FDA’s report was erroneous as kratom was allegedly added to other substances in the fatal cases they cited. They also suggested that further studies need to be done to avoid ruling out what could be a beneficial herb.

Kratom: Pros and Cons

Because of the ensuing debate, many have started to wonder whether the FDA and DEA’s points of view were the results of drug hysteria. But do the disadvantages of this herb outweigh the benefits?


One of the well-known benefits of kratom is its use in overcoming addiction to opium. People who want to be rehabilitated from addiction to this drug often find themselves with very unpleasant symptoms like cramps, nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, and pain. Because of this, rehab specialists have been trying something new by including kratom in their treatment.

This is because the herb activates opiate receptors in the human brain, tricking it into alleviating withdrawal from the abused substance without risking dependency. It has also been known to be an effective aid in rehabilitation from alcohol and heroin addiction. Kratom’s mood-elevating properties also work to ease the patient from experiencing depression and anxiety.

Moreover, kratom has been used in Southeast Asia to improve focus and enhance mental clarity, because it triggers the release of “feel-good” hormones like serotonin and dopamine. When taken at a higher dose, users have reported feeling relaxed. Manual laborers take it to help them work longer without feeling fatigued while men use the herb to improve their sex drive.


People who used kratom reported several side effects such as decreased appetite, constipation, and dehydration due to frequent urination. Some have also attested that they experienced signs of withdrawal when they suddenly stopped consuming the herb after using it for a long time.

Other adverse effects that have been reported include nausea, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and weight loss to the point of anorexia. However, experts revealed that these reactions to herb rely on the dosage of kratom taken, with the recommended dose pegged at between 1 and 3 grams at a time.

Since it is from the same family as coffee, it is possible that taking too much of this herb can be detrimental to health. Consuming kratom for longer periods may also cause addiction, but only if there is already an underlying condition based on some studies.


Centuries of experience with kratom caused Southeast Asians to lean more in support of kratom and its benefits rather than its side effects. Even so, it is still worth noting that studies about its long-term use have yet to conclude, so there isn’t any way to determine whether the pros outweigh the cons.

Benjamin Wilson

He is a fitness trainer and part-time blogger interested in nutrition and in leading a healthy lifestyle. He writes smart and inspirational articles on nutrition supported by scientific research and his own personal experience in the healthcare industry.
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