Kratom is a plant that practitioners of Eastern medicine use to treat various ailments, including depression. While some research suggests that kratom may help relieve some of the symptoms of depression, scientists are not yet sure that it is effective.
It also carries some severe risks that a person should be aware of before using it.
Kratom is an herbal extract from an evergreen tree called Mitragyna speciosa. This tree grows in parts of Southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Thailand. The leaves of this tree contain the active ingredient in kratom, which is called mitragynine.
Read on to find out more about kratom's effectiveness and safety in treating depression.
Mitragynine is an alkaloid that works on the opioid receptors. Although it is not technically an opioid, it does have opioid-like effects because of its chemical structure.
In the United States, people were able to purchase kratom in supplement form until 2014, when restrictions on its sale came into force. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not consider kratom a controlled substance, so there are few regulations on it.
A person looking to buy kratom can still purchase it in the following forms:
Scientists have not conducted much research on kratom and its effects on mental health. However, a 2017 study on kratom use showed that people who used kratom to self-treat mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, reported a perceived reduction in symptoms.
A 2018 review on kratom use and mental health confirmed these findings, showing that some people found that kratom enhanced their mood and reduced anxiety symptoms. The authors noted that kratom has potential as an opioid substitute for people with opioid use disorder.
Scientists believe that certain compounds in kratom leaves interact with opioid receptors in the brain. Depending on how much kratom a person takes, this interaction may result in the following effects:
- lower perception of pain
Mitragynine, one of the active compounds in kratom, also works with other systems in the brain to cause a stimulant effect.
At low doses, kratom may act as a mild stimulant, giving users more energy, whereas at moderate doses, it may bring on feelings of euphoria. However, when a person takes very high doses of kratom, it may have a sedating effect.
Although the results of some studies suggest that kratom may have a positive effect on depression and other mood disorders, many scientists believe that the risk of harmful side effects outweighs any possible benefits of taking kratom.
Harmful side effects of kratom may include:
In addition to those harmful effects, kratom may have cognitive side effects, including:
- aggression and rage
- risk of dependency
In large doses, kratom can cause:
- difficulty breathing
- brain swelling
- liver damage and death
If a person becomes addicted to kratom, they may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it.
These symptoms can include:
- muscle and bone pain
- uncontrollable shaking
- mood swings
In some people, kratom withdrawal can increase feelings of depression and anxiety, making it difficult for a person to feel any pleasure at all.
As the FDA do not regulate kratom, it comes with other risks. Kratom is not subject to regulation, so its products may contain other harmful substances, such as heavy metals, or bacteria, such as Salmonella.
Additionally, a person buying kratom will never know its exact purity and potency.
A person seeking treatment for depression or another mood disorder has many treatment options aside from kratom.
Depression treatments include:
- prescription medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as sertraline (Zoloft)
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
There are also many self-care techniques that a person can use to relieve the symptoms of depression without risking the harmful side effects of kratom.
These self-care methods include:
- spending time outdoors each day
- going to a support group
- eating well
- getting enough sleep
- managing stress
A person living with depression should work with their doctor to create a treatment plan that is effective for them.
Kratom comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in Southeast Asia. People often use kratom to self-treat depression and anxiety, but the risks may outweigh any potential benefits.
A person who has depression should work with their doctor to create an effective treatment plan. A doctor can prescribe safer medications and may recommend therapy or other self-care measures that can help a person manage their depression and reduce symptoms.