With the increasing concern over opioids, it’s not just drug makers who are receiving closer scrutiny from medical regulators. Even natural substances are being reexamined. Kratom is a herbal drug that grows in Southeast Asia, and has been sold as a dietary supplement for pain management and energy building reasons. But the Federal Drug Administration says its investigation into this natural substance shows kratom triggers opioid receptors in the human brain, the same as other opioid medications. Because of this, the FDA says when it’s taken it has the same effects on those using it as if they were using something like morphine or other opioid medications.

The data, however, might not be black and white. Some sources claim kratom doesn’t bind to opioid receptors in the same way. They say it is only a partial trigger for opioid responses. For this reason, some doctors and medical researchers are pointing out it’s not quite the same as a regular opioid, and might even offer benefits for patients who are having problems with addictive opioids. They suggest that, much as many people in Southeast Asia have used kratom for, it might be something that could be a part of treating addicts as they detox and withdraw from opioid use.

Doctors and medical researchers are still looking at the available data, as is the FDA.

Key Points:

  • 1It has a great ability to give people a drug that isn’t addictive but still helps with pain.
  • 2The FDA still categorizes it as an opioid so it is illegal in most places.
  • 3Because it isn’t legal, unscrupulous vendors sold a batch containing salmonella.


But just because kratom activates opioid receptors does not mean that the herb is as powerful or addictive as heroin or oxycodone, researchers argue.

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