Psychoactive, Sedative, and Hedonic: The New Drug Kratom and How it Fares in American States

4 min read

Faith Monahan ‘24

News Editor

Kratom, a plant originating from Southeast Asia consumed for its psychoactive effects, has continued to receive increased legal attention over the past decade. The plant’s leaves can produce both sedative, opioid-like effects in large doses and stimulative effects in small doses. Symptoms of psychosis have also been reported while under its influence. The substance has been used to self-medicate for weight loss, substance withdrawal symptoms, and even depression, but it may also be addicting and have dangerous health effects. Although Kratom remains unregulated federally, state governments have begun to take steps towards regulating or banning it. 

Kratom was first introduced in the United States following the Vietnam War, but its use has increased over the past 15 years. Kratom is typically consumed in the United States as a pill, capsule, or in tea. The effects of Kratom are produced by two difference compounds in the plant’s leaves which interact with both opioid receptors and adrenergic receptors. Although it can decrease pain and produce serotonin in the brain, negative health effects can include seizures and hallucinations. The opioid-like effects that are caused by Kratom are potentially addictive, but it has also been reported by users to have medical benefits. There have also been deaths reported from ingesting the drug. More research is needed to determine if there is any health benefit to Kratom or if it should be a federally-scheduled drug. 

Six states have passed legislation that make Kratom illegal in that state: Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, Indiana, Vermont, and Rhode Island. A few other states have legislation currently pending. Regulation of Kratom would allow restricted access to the substance rather than an outright ban, and several states have proposed bills to limit underage sales and ensure safety. Earlier this month, the CT General Assembly introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale of Kratom products to individuals under twenty-one years of age, parallel to the age-specific bans on alcohol and recreational marijuana. A similar bill was proposed in 2021, but it died in committee.  Other states that have passed bills regulating Kratom into law include Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Georgia.  

At the federal level, there is no ban or regulation of the substance despite a push to do so in 2016 that was later reversed. The Drug Enforcement Administration has not placed Kratom under the Controlled Substances Act, so it does not fall under any of the five schedules that categorize controlled substances in the US. 

There are also no FDA-approved uses for Kratom.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also issued statements cautioning users about the unproven medical claims attributed to Kratom, the contamination of Kratom products, and the adulterated dietary supplements containing Kratom. In 2018, the FDA found that several products contained salmonella. The US Marshalls have seized large amounts of Kratom indented for distribution or suspected of contamination under the FDA’s request. 

The American Kratom Association (AKA) has advocated for the legislative regulation of Kratom in the United States rather than its outright ban. The non-profit organization has developed manufacturing practices to make the substance safer for its consumers. The AKA also states that the FDA has not considered the role that other drugs play when combined with Kratom that may lead to the harmful effects reported by some users.   

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that rare but severe cardiovascular, psychiatric, and other health problems have been reported due to its use. An estimated 0.6% of Americans aged 12 or older reported using Kratom in the past 12 months in 2021. Deaths from ingesting Kratom have been very small compared to other substances, but they do occur. Most reported deaths involved a combination of Kratom with drugs or contaminants. Evidence and research regarding whether there are any health benefits or harmful impacts of Kratom as an alternative to other treatments are still emerging. 

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  1. 1
    Ryan Socratic

    There have been a total of zero cases in which it was shown conclusively that unadulterated kratom leaf alone has lead to a death. There have been a handful of reports involving lethal blood levels of mitragynine, kratom’s most significant alkaloid, but these have all been linked to kratom extract products rather than natural kratom leaf powders, capsules, or teas. In all but one of these cases, as far as I am aware, the products were advertised as high concentration extracts and ample warning was provided on the product packaging or at the point of sale. It was ultimately their choice to ignore the advice, but grown adults should be able to make those decisions for themselves. Regarding addiction – yes, kratom can eventually become habit forming over a period of time that varies based on usage patterns and individual bodies. I took it daily for a little over a year and one day just decided I didn’t need it anymore. I didn’t experience any withdrawal symptoms, but I have also known people who have developed a bit of a dependence after a couple of months of heavy use. That said, the process of addiction as it pertains to kratom is not an overnight thing and there are plenty of signs that help indicate it may be a good time to take a break. Many people avoid this by simply taking every other day or every third day off, or only using it on days it is actually needed rather than as a prophylactic of sorts. The FDA takes their position because a vast amount of people are using kratom in place of prescription drugs, which negatively effects the pharmaceutical industry which completed their regulatory capture of the US health agencies quite some time ago. If you spend enough time looking through the publicly available data and reading some of the pharmacological potential of mitragynine and some of kratom’s other 50+ alkaloids, you can begin to see how the money clearly drives this negative propaganda surrounding the kratom leaf.

  2. 2
    John magiano

    Hedonism!?!? Really!!! I think you better do more research. Hedonism is mostly connected to amphetamines and nitrites; kratom is not a “Chem sex drug”, and portraying it that way is not helpful to anyone; although I bet it’s a “buzz word” that keeps certain journalists employed… you can do better.

  3. 3

    Yeah, what he said. Please visit and educate yourself about this beautiful plant that is helping millions. Report it how NIDA reported it. Look up United States Department of Health and Human Services. Look up what frontiers says about it, Johns Hopkins, WHO, and many others. It sounds like you’re regurgitating what you read from the Mayo Clinic

  4. 4

    This would be the most uninformed article I have ever read. How do people get this stuff published? Psychoactive, Sedative, and Hedonic??? Lol good god

  5. 5

    Every thing is the US has been politicized at this point. They legalized alcohol and are legalizing marijuana while banning flavored nicotine and Kratom. It seems that Kratom helped millions of people to self medicate without any real side effects. Anything can be addictive if taken daily; even sugar, so that’s not a breakthrough or new information. The bottom line is this article is “follow the money”. Basically pharmaceutical companies, supported by the industry-funded FDA are misleading the public to ban Kratom because it reduces their profit and prescription drugs where given up by many people in exchange of this plant. This is disgusting.. no one single death is linked to pure Kratom intake. If that was the case, they would’ve banned long time ago as an excuse. Leave peope alone you stupid politicians.

  6. 6

    So my ex-boyfriend took kratom pretty much as a substitute for heroin. I, on the other hand, have a healthy fear of medications and drugs. I don’t even like to take over the counter medications. However, I am also an alcoholic in recovery and after throwing caution to the wind I tried kratom and it actually gave me a substantial relief to my daily anxiety and hyper manic baseline personality. I do not binge on kratom I take it once a day in the afternoon. It has done wonders for my sobriety. I guess I can understand how people could possibly abuse it but the effects I have personally experienced are nothing even comparable to a prescription opiate such as hydrocodone(which I avoid). So, I feel like kratom has gotten a bad rap and I do believe that the FDA wants to regulate it because the effects of kratom can be quite beneficial. I believe the FDA probably wants the financial benefit from being the only legal producers of a substance with the chemical compounds as kratom. It’s a shame we can’t all get on the same page here.

  7. 7
    Gloria A McCartney

    I am 66 y/o . I have severe scoliosis. The pain I experience is undescribable. I have taken opiates with some relief. Kratom has changed my life with it’s pain controlling properties. It helps more than any controlled prescription drug I’ve tried. Along with Ibuprofen I’ve recieved such welcome help to control this hideous pain that was wrecking my quality of life.
    Please stop this attack on a way for millions of people to actually get their lives back.

  8. 8

    The demonization of kratom is absurd and flies in the face of science. Kratom tea has been safely consumed for hundreds, if not thousands of years in Southeast Asia. It needs to be regulated to get contaminated products off the market, not banned. It is over 1000 times safer than opioids that the FDA itself approved, and no deaths have been proven to be from kratom, especially not in its untampered form. Pure kratom, which is in the coffee family, is no more addictive than an espresso drink.

    Frustratingly, the majority of legislators pushing for its ban known next to nothing about the plant. Furthermore, rehab centers and sheriffs have ulterior motives for using fear-mongering to rally against the plant. Many rehab centers profit from the pharmaceutical companies whose drugs they get their members to take instead of heroin and other street drugs.

    If anyone is misrepresenting kratom, it’s the FDA itself, the DEA, Big Pharma companies, and ignorant legislators on puppet strings. The FDA literally manipulated “kratom death” data to include not only deaths from illicit substances used in conjunction but also homicides. Yes, that’s right, one of the deaths “from kratom overdose” was a man who was shot by a gun, fell out of a window, and refused medical treatment. How on Earth is that a “kratom death?” There’s no way the FDA, a federal agency for crying out loud, didn’t know what they were doing, and that’s fear-mongering and manipulating the public to fly in the face of science and even basic data.

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