Last updated: August 7, 2021

Mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as kratom, is a growing public health concern that has been associated with 44 deaths in the United States since 2011. M. speciosa is a tropical tree typically found in Southeast Asia with bitter tasting leaves that contain similar chemical properties as opioids. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers not to use any products containing kratom or its psychoactive compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Kratom is also found under common street names such as biak-biak, herbal speedball, itrhang, ketum, kahuam and thom.

Kratom, which is sold as a leaf, powder or extract, is marketed as an herbal supplement for pain, anxiety and depression, as well as for opioid withdrawal symptoms. In November 2017, the FDA issued an advisory to remind the public that kratom is NOT FDA-approved and there is no reliable evidence to support using it to treat opioid use disorders. In fact, kratom and other compounds that sometimes are added can lead to addiction, misuse, dependence and death.

In February 2018, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb released a statement that “Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids. There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use.”

Possible side effects: nausea, itching, sweating, increased sensitivity to sunburn, loss of appetite, psychotic symptoms, seizures, respiratory depression and death.

Long-lasting health effects: insomnia, frequent urination, darkening of the skin, dry mouth and anorexia.

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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