Combatting chronic pain is an ongoing battle. As the interest in natural options continues to grow, so does the popularity of kratom. Kratom for chronic pain is sold in health and vitamin stores as a herbal extract that boosts energy, enhances moods, provides relief and even serves as an antidote for opiate withdrawal. We want to be help you be informed next time you see kratom on the shelves. Let’s explore current perspectives on kratom strains for pain management. 

Kratom for pain as a natural alternative 

There are many treatment options for chronic pain, but many of them can come with strings attached and/or unpleasant side effects. Opioids carry the risk of addiction and don’t treat the source of your chronic pain. Drugs like Lyrica and Cymbalta have many possible negative side effects. They can also be expensive.

Over-the-counter pain relievers are easy to access and affordable and are often used to treat chronic pain symptoms. However, they are not recommended for long-term use. Treatments like massage or acupuncture may not be covered by insurance.

It makes sense that chronic pain sufferers would seek out alternative options, especially those that are marketed as natural. 

senior man with back pain

Kratom 101

Kratom (mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical tree that is native to Thailand and Southeast Asia. Its leaves have been used for centuries to treat pain. They can be eaten raw, but are more often crushed and brewed as a tea or consumed as capsules, tablets or liquids.

Kratom can be used in a number of different ways. Advocates claim that kratom can manage chronic pain caused by conditions such as fibromyalgia. Others say they use it to boost energyreduce stress and help manage symptoms from opioid withdrawal. Its believed by some that kratom could potentially help people to transition off of opioids.

But regulators do not agree and are “clamping down on the substance.” The FDA believes kratom “has similar effects to narcotics such as opioids and has resulted in dozens of deaths.” 

kratom leaves

Concerns of legality

It’s certainly not without risk. While currently legal in many states in the United States, kratom is listed as drug of concern by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This stems from concerns over abuse potential and little research on therapeutic uses and toxic effects. But many still believe that kratom shows promise in treating chronic pain.

The DEA had initially set out to label kratom as a Schedule 1 drug, which would place it in the same category as heroin, LSD, marijuana and ecstasy. The DEA received “numerous comments from members of the public challenging the scheduling action,” said Chuck Rosenberg, acting administrator. He notes that those challenges requested “that the agency consider those comments and accompanying information before taking further action.” The agency delayed the ban.

FDA logo under a microscope

The future legality of kratom remains a gray area. It is currently legal to use in the United States.

How does kratom work?

Researchers have found that kratom works by attaching to proteins, which are called opioid receptors, and then changing the way that the body perceives pain. Kratom affects the same part of the brain that responds to drugs such as morphine, codeine and fentanyl.

However, it does not seem to come with some of the typical negative side effects of those drugs, including:

  • slowed breathing (respiratory depression)
  • constipation
  • and physical dependence

Most deaths caused by opioid overdose are a result of respiratory depression, so it is particularly noteworthy that kratom does not seem to cause this side effect. When taken at smaller doses, kratom can act as a mild stimulant. But when taken in higher doses, it acts as a sedative.

kratom pills on a counter

The body of peer reviewed research about using kratom for chronic pain is still growing. A 2010 International Journal on Drug Policy report surveyed 136 kratom users. Survey participants described kratom as being “affordable, easily available, and having no serious side effects despite prolonged use.” There was no mention of or focus on the health effects or potential risks of using kratom for pain relief.

Research published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence was based on a larger survey of 293 kratom users. More than half of the survey participants noted that they had developed dependence problems with kratom withdrawal symptoms including sleep disruption, muscle spams, anger and tension.

We still have limited knowledge about just how it affects humans and the specific risks it may carry. Case reports have included kratom side effects such as:

It’s also possible that some of these symptoms were caused by health conditions or medications other than kratom. It does seem that there’s an increased risk of experiencing these side effects when taking kratom in conjunction with drugs, alcohol, or with certain health conditions.

Taking kratom in concentrated extracts with a higher potency also increases the risk of side effects.

What is the future of kratom?

Kratom is currently unregulated as an herbal supplement. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t review herbal products. This means that an herbal supplement is not guaranteed to contain the substance listed on the label. It also may not contain the indicated potency of that substance.

This means that the kratom supplement you purchase may vary in quality and potency, and could even contain other substances, such as other herbs or drugs.

kratom leaves in test tube

Some organizations consider kratom to be a legal high. Many people are calling for more regulation of kratom, but not a full-on ban. However, the DEA has stated that kratom can lead to psychotic symptoms and psychological addiction. While the DEA has made no action toward regulating kratom, the potential to do so remains. 

Some doctors may or may not recommend kratom to patients any time in the near future. However, many scientists are calling for more research (and regulation). This is particularly important in light of the nation’s opioid addiction crisis. Kratom contains compounds that could even be used to develop better drugs. They could serve as an alternative to opioids and help fight against drug abuse. 

Have you used kratom for chronic pain? 

Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

What topics related to natural pain medications would you like to see us research?

Email us at info@painresource.com with your ideas!

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The team here at Pain Resource updated this post in January 2019 with new information and resources. 

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