Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tree that grows mainly in Southeast Asia, and its leaves have impressive medicinal and psychoactive effects.
People all over the world have started using kratom as a replacement for alcohol, prescription medicine, or other psychoactive plants.
As well as helping to increase focus, reduce anxiety, and improve sex, kratom is used all over the world as a powerful painkiller! It is used as a treatment for debilitating chronic pain, as well as relief from transient issues like headaches or menstrual cramps.
Here we’ll cover the basics of kratom, and how it can be used to address a wide range of pain issues.
The Basics of Kratom
Kratom leaves are usually brewed into a tea or chewed fresh, in the countries where kratom grows naturally. With lower doses, kratom can be stimulating; used by workers as a replacement for amphetamines or coffee. Kratom can be sedative at higher doses, sometimes with euphoric and analgesic (painkilling) effects too.
Kratom contains a number of alkaloids, including the most common one mitragynine. These alkaloids activate opioid receptors; although unlike most other opiates, they also activate serotonergic and adrenergic receptors.
It’s thought that kratom’s unusual mix of sedative/painkilling and stimulating effects is because it strongly activates opioid receptors associated with euphoria and analgesia, while also exciting the motor areas of the brain (Rätsch, 2005).
Outside of traditional usage in Southeast Asia, kratom is usually ingested in the form of dried powder, which can be made into a tea, packed into capsules, or even swallowed raw. Its effects begin to be felt about half an hour to an hour after ingesting, and they can last for up to six hours.
Kratom and Pain Relief
Since kratom activates opioid receptors, it’s no surprise it can be used as effective pain relief! One large survey of nearly 3000 kratom users across the world found that 91% of them used it, at least in part, to treat pain. 98% of these people would recommend kratom as an effective painkiller!
40% of people surveyed were using kratom as a replacement for other opioids, like prescription painkillers. Over 80% of these people said that kratom was effective at reducing opioid withdrawals, and reducing opioid cravings. 99% recommended kratom as a good way of withdrawing from opioids.
Less than 1% of people in the survey reported anything more than mild side-effects, including things like nausea, sleeplessness, or dizziness. Although heavy kratom use can have its own unpleasant withdrawal effects, only 3% of people qualify as having ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’ substance dependence symptoms after withdrawing from kratom.
Kratom for Chronic Pain
The most positive reports of kratom’s usage in pain treatment comes from people suffering from chronic pain. The internet is full of stories of people who’ve experienced chronic pain for decades – and either found no relief from pharmaceuticals or had terrible side-effects from them – discovering kratom and transforming their lives:
“I am 38 years old and for 30 of those years I was on many many meds. At 10 years old I was taking 6-9 10mg hydros [hydrocodone]. Since I started taking kratom regularly about a year ago and I don’t take anything else at all and I’m so thankful!!”
“Kratom really handled many things for me. Neuropathy, back and joint pain, IBS-D that for decades responded to nothing. All wiped out the first two days.”
“I’ve been using Kratom for about 3 months now, and it is the first time in 5+ years I’ve felt good since my chronic pain issues started.”
Kratom appears to be effective at treating all kinds of chronic pain; from arthritis, to back pain, to IBS:
“Disc degeneration – L4 & L5. I was on Percocet 10s every 6 hours. Started Bali Red [kratom] and never looked back.”
“Finally, pain relief! I took 1 1/2 teaspoons (? 6 grams) for the first time today, as soon as I got it in the mail (green indo). I can’t believe that I am free of my terrible arthritic pain, which has ruined my life for the past several years. I just can’t believe it!”
“If not for my Kratom, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed most days. It’s a miracle plant. Also does wonders for my depression. And no more pain pills!”
Despite these glowing reviews, don’t forget that there’s no such thing as a miracle plant, and kratom may not be enough for some:
“It is hit or miss sometimes. It is not the same as prescription opioids in a number of ways, namely how it just doesn’t touch severe pain like high doses of traditional opioids can.”
Many of the testimonials online speak about people being able to replace their powerful prescription opioids with kratom, and help people get through withdrawal more comfortably. Although kratom has its own addiction potential (see more below), it seems to be much less harmful and addictive than most prescription painkillers.
Is Kratom Safe to Use For Pain Treatment?
Kratom is relatively a very safe plant. However, any plant that activates opioid receptors can lead to addiction if used too frequently, and you can build up tolerance if you take it every day.
If you’re using it to treat chronic pain, keep in mind that you may quickly find yourself taking large doses quite often. Most people advise that you should avoid this so you don’t become tolerant and dangerously dependent. Here’s some good advice:
- Your goal is to manage the pain, not eliminate it entirely.
- Have a set maximum dose that you will never go above.
- Try to avoid dosing every single day.
- Have a set weekly amount that you will never exceed.
- Try using different varieties of kratom so your body doesn’t become used to one particular blend of alkaloids.
- Use other pain management like paracetamol or aspirin in between kratom.
- Stay healthy to minimize pain; eat well, exercise, take physical therapy, explore mindfulness practices.
- See this as a balancing act – you don’t want to suffer so much pain that you end up overdosing in desperation, but you want to endure a certain amount of pain so you don’t experience unpleasant tolerance, dependence and withdrawal from kratom.
There are limited investigations into the toxicity of kratom in humans, but studies in mice suggest you’d have to ingest more than 50g of kratom at once before it started to have any serious harm in a single session. This is about 10 times a typical dose, and you’d likely throw it back up before it could do any damage.
The biggest immediate danger of kratom is combining it with other sedatives or depressants, because the compounded relaxant effects can knock you unconscious. If that happens, there’s a danger of you vomiting while unconscious – due to the nauseating effects of kratom at higher doses.
So to be safe when using kratom, don’t mix it with:
- Other sedatives, like alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines. It’s also best to avoid stimulants, because there’s a chance the stimulants and kratom will fight against each other and mask their effects – and when one wears off before the other you could become overwhelmed.
- Anything that will increase your risk of vomiting or unconsciousness, like ketamine or nitrous.
- Certain types of MAOIs react badly with opiates and can cause fatal seizures, so check with your doctor about kratom.
- Tramadol has been known to cause seizures when mixed with opiates.
Which Kratom is Best to Use for Pain Relief?
Popular knowledge suggests that different kratom strains have different painkilling effects. People report that some strains of kratom are more euphoric and stimulating, while others have more powerful analgesic and sedative properties.
Kratom varieties are often divided into groups based on the color of their stems. As a kratom tree matures, the stems and veins will change from red, to green, to white; and traditional wisdom is that at each of these stages, the composition of alkaloids in the leaves is slightly different.
It’s commonly said that Red Vein kratom has the most painkilling characteristics, while White Vein kratom is more euphoric and stimulating, and Green Vein kratom is said to be in a comfortable midground between sedation and energy.
There is, unfortunately, no real evidence to back this up yet. But it’s certainly true that different variations of kratom will have different qualities! So try experimenting with different strains (Bali, Maeng Da, Thai and Indo are popular varieties) as well as red, white and green versions.
How to Take Kratom
People have developed many different ways to take kratom, depending on your tastes and preferences. Read our full guide on the best ways to take kratom here!
This advice on kratom dosage is for dried kratom powder, rather than fresh leaves, as this is the usual way for kratom to be delivered online.
For a starter dose, ask yourself how sensitive you are to other opioids. If you don’t have experience with opioids, think about how sensitive you are to coffee; if coffee affects you greatly, you’re also likely to be sensitive to kratom, so start with a lower dose.
A good starter dose is two grams of dried kratom powder. If you’re using the capsule method, with size 00 capsules, this will be roughly 4 or 5 capsules.
The first effects may not appear for up to an hour, so be patient before redosing yourself.
If you’ve tried two grams and it didn’t do it for you, try again after a couple of days of rest, with a slightly higher dose – a gram in addition at a time is a good guideline.
Repeated use (i.e. every day) of kratom will build up an unhealthy tolerance, so try to space out your kratom sessions. This may be especially difficult for people suffering from chronic pain, but try to employ other strategies (like interspersing kratom with other painkillers, or exploring mindfulness practices) so you don’t develop an unhealthy dependence.
Is Kratom Legal?
Kratom is illegal in some countries, including Denmark, the UK, New Zealand, Poland, and Sweden. However it is legal in the US (except for the states of Tennessee, Vermont, Indiana, Iowa, Arkansas and Wisconsin), and legal in Canada as long as it’s not intended for human consumption.
Always check your local laws; never just assume something is legal where you live because it’s legal in most places. This information may be out of date.
If you want to get your hands on some, you can buy kratom from reputable online retailers.
Raätsch (2005) The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants.