Kratom contains a compound called mitragynine that is able to bind to opioid receptors, mimicking the effects of an opioid. Another component of the plant, hydroxymitragynine, is found in smaller amounts within kratom, but is significantly more potent than morphine. Because of the intensity of these components, kratom is able to produce physical effects akin to opioids, but without the intensity of their harmful addictive properties.
Kratom has been utilized in Asia for hundreds of years among laborers for pain relief, though the plant’s introduction into modern medicine in the United States has been relatively very recent. The applications of kratom are diverse. Because it acts on opioid receptors in the nervous system, kratom is often used as an analgesic supplement. It also functions psychologically in treating mood disorders, such as anxiety, fatigue, boredom, depression, and general negativity. Recently, it has become more common in the self-treatment of opioid use disorder, and can aid in temporary relief of withdrawal symptoms as well. At higher doses, kratom appears to sedate a user, while lower doses produce stimulatory effects.
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- Smith, K. E., & Lawson, T. (2017). Prevalence and motivations for kratom use in a sample of substance users enrolled in a residential treatment program. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 180, 340–348.