Overdoses from kratom use increased over the past decade. Learn more about the health risks of kratom use and what the CDC found about kratom-related deaths.

Kratom is a growing problem in the United States. Poison control calls about kratom increased over the past decade, from 26 in 2010, to 263 in 2015. More than 33% of these calls reported kratom use alongside other drugs. In total, from 2011 to 2017, poison control centers received 1,807 phone calls regarding kratom exposure. About 65% of those phone calls took place during 2016 and 2017.

Because of those growing numbers, the CDC decided to investigate deaths linked to kratom use. They found that from July 2016 to December 2017, 152 overdose victims tested positive for kratom use. Of those 152 deaths, kratom use was deemed to be the cause of death in 91. About 80% of overdose victims have a history of substance abuse. In comparison, from 2011 to 2017, only 11 people died from an overdose linked to kratom.

The CDC found that most people who died from an overdose linked to kratom also had other drugs in their system. Only seven of the overdose victims had kratom and no other drugs in their bodies. The presence of other drugs may put kratom users at higher risk of overdose. Other drugs found in the overdose victims include:

What is Kratom?

Kratom, also known as Mitragyna speciosa, is a plant from Southeast Asia. It contains the chemical mitragynine, which can have different effects depending on how much of the plant is consumed. At low doses, kratom can be considered a stimulant. However, at higher doses, kratom acts like an opioid. Kratom is often used in Southeast Asia in place of opium.

Two of the main chemicals in kratom are mitragynine and 7-α-hydroxymitragynine. These chemicals are responsible for many of the effects of kratom. Both of these chemicals use the same opioid receptors in the brain as other opioid drugs do. For this reason, doctors think kratom may be addictive. At high doses, kratom has many of the same side effects of opioids like:

  • Feeling sleepy
  • Having less pain
  • Feeling euphoric

Is Kratom Illegal?

As of June 2019, kratom is not illegal in the United States federally, although some states and cities have banned it. Regardless of its legality, the United States government is concerned about kratom use. The Food and Drug Administration published a kratom warning for people to not use kratom and banned its importation. The Drug Enforcement Administration also lists kratom as a drug of concern.

What Are The Side Effects of Kratom Use?

Kratom use can cause many unpleasant side effects like:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Frequent urination
  • Itchiness
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth

Kratom overdose can be serious. From 2011 to 2017, almost one-third of poison control calls about kratom led to the person having to go to the hospital. More than half of calls about kratom led to a serious health issue. Serious health risks of kratom use include:

  • Liver problems
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Coma
  • Death

Kratom use remains a growing concern in the United States as its potential risks become more prevalent as more people become exposed to the drug. Kratom’s legal standing will likely be a hot topic of debate in the coming months and years.

Jessica Pyhtila
By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Sources

Olsen EM; et al. “Notes from the Field: Unintentional Drug Overdose Deaths with Kratom Detected — 27 States, July 2016–December 2017.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 12, 2019. Accessed June 22, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Kratom”. Accessed June 22, 2019.

Food and Drug Administration. “FDA and Kratom.” April 3, 2019. Accessed June 22, 2019.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “In the News: Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa).” June 29, 2018. Accessed June 22, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is Kratom?” April 2019. Accessed June 22, 2019.

Post, S; Spiller, H; Chounthirath, T; Smith, GA. “Kratom exposures reported to United States poison control centers: 2011-2017.” Clinical Toxicology, February 20, 2019. Accessed June 22, 2019.

Fluyau, D; Revadigar, N. “Biochemical Benefits, Diagnosis, and Clinical Risks Evaluation of Kratom.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, published April 24, 2017. Accessed June 22, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.