Kratom Review: Plant-Based Pain Relief or Harmful?

Kratom Review: Plant-Based Pain Relief or Harmful?


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Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to kratom use.

Kratom is a psychoactive plant compound that's used to treat a wide range of conditions including anxiety, pain and opioid withdrawals. It’s legal in many U.S. states, but there’s a push to make it federally illegal.

But is kratom actually proven in research studies to have benefits on anxiety, pain and depression? Does the compound cause dangerous side effects? Does it cause withdrawal symptoms? And how do real kratom users describe their effects taking the drug?

In this article we’ll answer all of these questions and more as we analyze medical studies on kratom to determine if it's proven to be effective for pain and mental health or if it's all hype.

We'll discuss side effects, the legal status of the drug in the US, whether or not it causes withdrawal symptoms and feature real kratom user reviews.

Is Kratom Proven to Work?

There have been an increasing number of medical studies on kratom given its relative popularity.

According to a 2020 medical review, kratom is primarily used to relieve pain (91% of users indicating that as a reason for use), anxiety (67%) and depression (65%).

We can't find a single medical study showing kratom to be effective for pain relief.

A 2022 medical review analyzed data from eight clinical trials on kratom and pain, and reported no benefit. The study authors concluded:

"There are currently no evidence-based reasons to recommend the use of kratom as an analgesic." An analgesic is the medical term for a pain-relieving compound.

medical study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found that regular kratom users actually experienced more pain upon quitting.

The early research on kratom for anxiety and depression appears more promising.

A 2023 medical study reported that "For all psychiatric conditions, [kratom] reported decreased depressive and anxious moods than before kratom use."

This was a study based on online self-reporting which is a weak standard of evidence.

An animal study found a strong antidepressant effect from one of the main chemical compounds in kratom.

Based on the available research, we believe it's far too early to consider kratom effective for pain relief or any mental health condition. 

But how do real users rate and describe the effects of kratom? We'll review in the next section.

Real People Try Kratom

A YouTube creator named Eric B Zink shared his experience using kratom for depression:

A YouTube creator named Bret Dallas explains how he was instructed by his doctor to quit kratom use after some scary symptoms:

Does Kratom Cause Side Effects?

Kratom can cause side effects, and one of the most concerning appears to be its ability to increase the potency of pharmaceutical drugs.

A 2019 case report describes a man who died after taking an antidepressant medication called quetiapine and kratom concurrently.

Because many kratom-drug interactions are yet unknown, it’s incredibly important for patients considering kratom use to speak with their doctor first about any medications they’re on, and about the potential for negative interactions.

A medical review published in the Pharmacotherapy journal documented the most common side effects of kratom use: agitation (18.6% of patients experienced this effect), increased heart rate (16.9%), and drowsiness (13.6%). There was also a report of kratom being a causative or contributing factor in the death of four patients.

review published in the Drugs journal in 2020 analyzed human case reports, FDA data and animal studies on kratom. The study authors concluded that “Kratom likely causes liver injury.”

The side effect profile of kratom is concerning in our opinion.

Kratom in the Media

A segment on "The Doctors" TV show discusses kratom and has nearly one million views:

Joe Rogan discusses kratom on the popular "Joe Rogan Experience" show:

Does Kratom Cause Withdrawals?

A 2019 meta-analysis found that kratom withdrawal symptoms are similar to opioid withdrawal symptoms. The onset of symptoms typically begins between 12 and 24 hours after the last use, and continues for up to 7 days.

Nausea, sweating and chills, muscle and body aches, diarrhea, insomnia and mood disturbances are just some of the withdrawal symptoms noted in the above-linked medical review.

Withdrawal symptoms of kratom can be severe, even though this is a drug that’s legal in some states. We recommend that patients considering stopping use of kratom speak with their doctor first and see if they can visit a treatment facility or hospital to help manage the process.

The linked medical review notes that high doses of alpha-2 agonist medications can help manage the kratom withdrawal process, and it’s unlikely that patients would be able to access these medications if experiencing withdrawal at home. 

Kratom Dosage

Because of the lack of FDA approval or clear regulatory guidance on kratom, dosage information is lacking.

A medical review on kratom that we linked to previously in this article reported that the risk of kratom toxicity increased significantly at daily doses higher than 8 grams (g). The same review found that kratom overdose symptoms were similar to opioid overdose symptoms at a dose of 15 g.

A separate medical study categorized low doses as 1-5 g, and higher doses as 5-15 g.

Given the lack of a clearly outlined safe dosing range, we recommend that patients ask their doctor about safe dosing recommendations for kratom if they're planning on using the drug.

Is Kratom Legal in the US?

Kratom is legal on the federal level in the US, as indicated by the Drug and Enforcement Agency (DEA), although it's currently categorized as a Drug and Chemical of Concern.

According to the American Kratom Association, kratom is also legislated at the state level, and is illegal in the following U.S. states: Arkansas, Wisconsin, Alabama, Indiana and Rhode Island.

This organization, which advocates for kratom legislative reform, maintains a useful updated map with the current state of kratom legality in the U.S. According to the map, kratom is legal with restrictions in some states like California and North Carolina.

Kratom is illegal in Australia as well as many European Union (E.U.) countries including France and Sweden.

Clearly the legality of kratom is highly contested across the world, and it’s important for users to remain up-to-date on their local laws to ensure compliance and avoid risk of unknowingly committing a crime.

Our Clean Anti-Inflammatory Picks

There are natural compounds which have been shown in clinical studies to support optimal joint health and relieve pain.

Collagen is the core structural protein in joints, and has been clinically shown to reduce arthritic pain.

Momentous Collagen Powder is our top collagen pick, because it's sourced from grass- fed animals.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is clinically shown to be effectively absorbed through the skin, and CBD caused "significant improvements in pain" when applied topically in a 2020 clinical trial.

Cornbread CBD Lotion is our top CBD lotion pick, because it also contains menthol, which was shown in a 2022 clinical trial to reduce pain scores.

Cinnamon was shown to reduce inflammatory markers in a 2020 clinical trialThe study authors concluded that “Cinnamon could be regarded as a safe supplement to relieve pain.”

Illuminate Labs Ceylon Cinnamon Extract is our standardized cinnamon supplement, which is third-party tested for purity and potency and costs only $15 at a subscription price.

All of the products recommended in this section are entirely free of ingredients that we consider to be unhealthy or unsafe.

Stay up-to-date on our research reviews

Conclusion

Kratom may be a promising natural compound, but the research on it at this stage is not very convincing.

A meta-study cited in this article found kratom to have no effect on pain, and while there are more promising early results in regard to anxiety and depression, we cannot find a single clinical trial showing kratom to be effective at improving symptoms of either condition.

Kratom can cause severe side effects including increased heart rate, liver damage and even death if combined with prescription medications.

Given the ability of kratom to increase bioavailability of some medications, it's extremely important for users to speak with their doctor about their existing medications and ensure there are no potentially dangerous interactions.

Kratom can cause withdrawals, and withdrawals can be severe, so we recommend working with a medical practitioner rather than trying to quit kratom at home.

At the time of updating this article, kratom is legal in the US on the federal level but is illegal in five states.