In case you hadn’t noticed, marijuana and magic mushrooms have been getting a lot of hype for their potential health benefits lately. As much of the world starts to embrace the power of these offerings from the ground, scientists and health professionals have been putting ample time into research and studies to learn more about these enigmatic plants and fungi. But there’s a lesser-known cousin of these controversial drugs that are starting to make some noise.

It’s called Mitragyna speciosa, better known as kratom. The herbal supplement has been used in South East Asia since at least the 19th century and has recently been sweeping across the United States to polarizing opinions. So, what exactly is it?

What is Kratom?

Mitragyna speciosa (kratom) comes from a tropical evergreen tree that is native to South East Asia. People use it widely for its therapeutic properties for centuries in countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The tree is in the coffee family and can grow up to 82 feet tall, producing large, shiny, dark green leaves. In low doses, proponents say that it acts as a stimulant and has pain-killing and sedative effects.

Powdered Kratom

What is it used for?

Natives of South East Asia have been using this herbal medicine for centuries for its various healing effects. The indigenous people of these countries use it as traditional medicine for chronic pain, decreased energy, and sexual dysfunction. The leaves of the plant are also used as an anesthetic to treat wounds. Moreover, kratom extracts are used to treat common illnesses such as cough, diarrhea, and intestinal problems. As it’s surged across the US, many Americans are lauding it for its ability to relieve pain and treat depression and anxiety. Some advocates also believe that it can do wonders in treating addiction.

How do you take it?

In indigenous countries, natives often chew kratom leaves throughout the day to enhance mood and energy. Many also brew it as a tea for medicinal purposes. The plant’s leaves and extracts are also rubbed on cuts and wounds for its perceived healing power in some cultures. In the United States, you can buy white horn kratom and others online. However, the most popular form of kratom comes in a powder format, mixed into a drink, or taken as a capsule.You can easily find the List of the Best Kratom Vendors online. A study of over 8,000 Americans found the majority use it for chronic pain and withdrawal symptoms from opioid use or other prescription drugs.

A person's hand holding a pill.

Are there any side effects?

Reports of side effects vary, with some people reporting none at all. As with any drug, it’s essential to listen to your body and see how it reacts to anything you ingest. Some of the most common side effects of kratom when taken orally include:

  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hallucination
  • Increased urination
  • Drowsiness
  • Agitation

Is it safe?

This is the million-dollar question. While advocates of kratom swear by its healing properties in low doses, it is still not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There have not been enough clinical studies in the US to green-light the use of this relatively unknown plant. The FDA claims that it affects the same opioid brain-receptors as heroin and has the possibility of leading to dependency.

Another concern was that some of the products sold in the United States contained heavy metals and traces of salmonella. In 2016 the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) temporarily listed kratom as a Schedule 1 drug but withdrew the decision after a public outcry swell. One can use it in most states as a dietary supplement.

A scientist looking through a microscope.

Is it legal?

Kratom is currently controlled in 16 countries and is also illegal or controlled in the following states:

  • Alabama: illegal
  • Arkansas: illegal
  • California: illegal in San Diego
  • Colorado: illegal in Denver if marketed for human consumption
  • Florida: illegal in Sarasota
  • Illinois: legal if 18 or older; illegal in Jerseyville
  • Indiana: illegal
  • Mississippi: legal, but illegal in various counties and towns
  • New York: legal if 18 or older
  • Rhode Island: illegal
  • Vermont: illegal
  • Wisconsin: illegal


Much like the plight of the demonized marijuana plant, kratom seems to be on the long, arduous path of worldwide legality. It comes down to research and clinical studies to provide the evidence needed for government approval. Only time will tell if kratom follows in the footsteps of cannabis and CBD. The plant’s advocacy is gaining steam and at some point, it may become too large for people to ignore, much like the way magic mushrooms are now being studied. Until then, those who find it beneficial for health will continue to use it to make their lives more enjoyable. So, if you wish to incorporate the plant into your lifestyle or diet, consult an expert or your doctor.