You may have heard of kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), an herbal supplement traditionally used in Southeast Asia for energy and to help relieve aches and pains. Derived from a type of tree, kratom contains alkaloid compounds called mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.

How to recognize kratom

Kratom looks like fresh or dried leaves and can be made into a green powder, liquid extract, gum or pill. Click here for more information Packages are often labelled "not for human consumption". People chew the kratom leaves, brew the dried or powdered leaves into tea, eat them in food or smoke them.

What does kratom do?

According to FDA research, kratom is an agonist that binds to mu-opioid receptors in the brain. These are the same receptors that are activated when you take opioids, like prescription painkillers or heroin. Kratom is essentially a natural opioid. Like all opioids, it carries a risk of tolerance, dependence and withdrawal. It is thought that mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine may help control pain by binding to these opioid receptors, which in turn reduce the perception of pain. Kratom has gained popularity as an alternative to opioid analgesics. In many cases, kratom is used to manage chronic pain associated with conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.

What the experts say

Proponents of kratom suggest the herb could serve as a solution to the opioid crisis, both by providing another option for pain relief and by helping those struggling to overcome opioid addiction. Other experts say that it is not the magic solution that some people claim it is. Published research on the possible benefits of kratom as an analgesic and alternative to opioids is very scarce. A 2019 review concluded that kratom offers some potential benefits but has a high potential for abuse, interactions and adverse side effects.