Kratom Guides

Is Kratom an Opioid? Sort Of, But With Some Key Differences

Many people mistakenly assume that kratom is an opioid since it shares many properties with common opiate painkillers. 

This article aims to set the record straight, explaining why kratom is not an opioid and how the two substances are alike. 

We’ll highlight the important differences between them, including the safety of both.

Last updated 6 months ago by Wade Paul

Is Kratom an Opioid? Sort Of, But With Some Key Differences

What Is Kratom?

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is an herb that grows naturally in Southeast Asia with powerful analgesic properties. It’s found mostly in Indonesia and Thailand, where it’s been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years.

Kratom comes in three main varieties: white-vein, red-vein, and green-vein. 

White-vein kratom is mostly energizing, red-vein kratom is good for relieving pain, and green-vein kratom offers a bit of both. Which strain you choose has a dramatic impact on the effects you experience.

Different doses of kratom offer different effects, with lower doses providing more energy and higher doses inducing more relaxation. Having a good experience with kratom is all about finding the right dose and strain that best suits your needs.

Suggested Reading: Top Traditional Uses for Kratom

Why Do People Think Kratom is an Opioid?

Kratom acts on opioid receptors, making them similar to prescription painkillers. Its pain relief comes primarily from its two main alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Both contribute, but 7-hydroxymitragynine is the more potent of the two. In fact, a few studies suggest it’s even more powerful than morphine [1].

Some red and green kratom strains create intense relaxation and moderate opioid-like euphoria, making the experience of taking kratom feel a lot like taking opioids even though they belong to separate substance classes.

Kratom is also commonly used to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms because it mimics the actions of stronger opioids like morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and methadone. It can help addicts get through the first few weeks of withdrawal by acting as an intermediary between opioid addiction and complete sobriety. 

Because of these effects, many people assume that kratom is just a less powerful opioid.

Suggested Reading: What Kratom Strains Work Best for Pain Relief?

Is Kratom an Opioid?

Kratom is not an opioid. 

While kratom has the capacity to interact with the opioid receptors, its active alkaloids are entirely different from a structural aspect. This allows kratom alkaloids to interact with other non-opioid systems as well (such as the adrenergic system).

Opioids and kratom share a similar mechanism for relieving pain. They both block nerve signals before they can be transmitted to the brain by activating the opiate receptors in the spinal cord and brain. This action suppresses the central nervous system and alleviates pain.

While kratom interacts with the opioid receptors to allow this pain-relieving effect, it isn’t categorized as an opioid.

Kratom also interacts with dopamine, serotonin, and adrenergic receptors [2]. 

Kratom is believed to have dopaminergic presynaptic activity, while drugs like prescription painkillers have dopaminergic, GABAergic, and glutamatergic presynaptic and postsynaptic activity [3,4].

Some strains of kratom — especially red-vein and green-vein strains — also have a muscle-relaxing effect which distinguishes them from opioids. Relieving muscle tension helps reduce pain caused by spasms and tight muscles, something opioids don’t provide.

Is Kratom a Safe Alternative for Opioids?

Kratom offers an alternative to opioids, but is it safe to use? Maybe, or, more specifically, probably, as long as you use it responsibly. 

Here are a few main points to consider.

1. Kratom Addiction Isn’t as Severe as Opioid Addiction

Even though kratom is not an opioid, it’s still addictive. However, it doesn’t seem to have the same affinity for causing addiction as opiates and has far less potential for overdose [5]. 

To reduce the likelihood of becoming dependent on kratom, most experts recommend taking a break from kratom 1-2 days off per week without any kratom use and taking longer breaks every 1-2 months.

2. Kratom Isn’t Likely to Cause Overdose or Respiratory Depression

Opioid deaths are usually due to respiratory depression from activation of the mu-opioid receptors; these receptors show strong inhibitory effects on the respiratory system [6]. Kratom activates these receptors, but only mildly, and is not likely to cause overdose or respiratory depression.

3. Kratom is Generally Considered Safe

As with anything, kratom can be dangerous; adverse reactions usually come with misuse or adulterated products. Most people tolerate kratom well — it does have side effects, but they tend to be minor and usually come with higher doses.

If you follow these tips, you should be safe:

  1. Never mix kratom with other medications, drugs, or alcohol.
  2. Only buy from reputable vendors.
  3. Use kratom responsibly — keep the doses low, take breaks, and only use it when necessary.

Is Kratom Useful for Treating Opioid Addiction?

In short, yes. Kratom has gained some traction for treating opioid addiction and withdrawal, with many people using it to wean themselves off opioids without experiencing the hellacious withdrawal symptoms. 

Studies show that kratom’s pain-relieving properties and similarity to opioids make the withdrawal symptoms much easier to manage [7].

However, kratom isn’t the perfect solution for beating opioid addiction since it is addictive. Some people view switching to kratom as a lateral move since opioid users would simply be swapping their opioid addiction for kratom addiction. Others argue that opioids are more addicting than kratom and that it is, therefore, less likely for opioid users to become addicted to kratom.

The bottom line is that there are numerous success stories of people using kratom to manage opioid withdrawal. Many agree that kratom can be a great option for people who are otherwise unable to beat their addiction.

Wrapping Up: Is Kratom an Opioid?

Kratom is not an opioid despite bearing a striking resemblance to common opioids like morphine and codeine. Opioids and kratom both treat chronic pain by suppressing central nervous system activity, and both also provide a mild to moderate euphoria in most users. 

A key difference between kratom and most opioids is that kratom helps relieve muscle tension, making it more useful for treating a wider range of chronic pain conditions.

One of the most common uses for kratom is treating opioid withdrawal. The intense withdrawal symptoms experienced by people when they stop taking opioids are nearly impossible to withstand without external intervention. Kratom offers opioid abusers an alternative to relapse by helping relieve the worst symptoms and has helped countless people beat their addiction.

Despite the numerous success stories, kratom can also be abused since it is addicting in its own right. Managing weekly and monthly use and taking regular breaks is essential.

References

  1. Matsumoto, K., Horie, S., Ishikawa, H., Takayama, H., Aimi, N., Ponglux, D., & Watanabe, K. (2004). Antinociceptive effect of 7-hydroxymitragynine in mice: Discovery of an orally active opioid analgesic from the Thai medicinal herb Mitragyna speciosa. Life sciences, 74(17), 2143-2155.
  2. Johnson, L. E., Balyan, L., Magdalany, A., Saeed, F., Salinas, R., Wallace, S., … & Grundmann, O. (2020). Focus: Plant-based Medicine and Pharmacology: The Potential for Kratom as an Antidepressant and Antipsychotic. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 93(2), 283.
  3. Stolt, A. C., Schröder, H., Neurath, H., Grecksch, G., Höllt, V., Meyer, M. R., … & Becker, A. (2014). Behavioral and neurochemical characterization of kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) extract. Psychopharmacology, 231(1), 13-25.
  4. Britt, J. P., & McGehee, D. S. (2008). Presynaptic opioid and nicotinic receptor modulation of dopamine overflow in the nucleus accumbens. Journal of Neuroscience, 28(7), 1672-1681.
  5. Behnood-Rod, A., Chellian, R., Wilson, R., Hiranita, T., Sharma, A., Leon, F., … & Bruijnzeel, A. W. (2020). Evaluation of the rewarding effects of mitragynine and 7‐hydroxymitragynine in an intracranial self-stimulation procedure in male and female rats. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 215, 108235.
  6. Shook, J. E., Watkins, W. D., & Camporesi, E. M. (1990). Differential roles of opioid receptors in respiration, respiratory disease, and opiate-induced respiratory depression. Am Rev Respir Dis, 142(4), 895-909.
  7. Wilson, L. L., Harris, H. M., Eans, S. O., Brice-Tutt, A. C., Cirino, T. J., Stacy, H. M., … & McCurdy, C. R. (2020). Lyophilized kratom tea as a therapeutic option for opioid dependence. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 216, 108310.

Further Reading