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Kratom is a tree that grows in Southeast Asia, primarily in Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar. Its scientific name is Mitragyna speciosa. Although the name kratom technically refers to the tree, the term is commonly used to refer to its leaves, which have mild-to-moderate psychoactive properties. Its use has been illegal or controlled in some countries but legal in others.
Kratom is usually chewed; however, its leaves are also steeped to make tea. Another common delivery method involves crushing the leaves into a fine powder and ingesting it, usually after the powder is mixed with juice or another beverage. The powder also may be added to capsules, and the leaves can also be smoked. The historic timeline for kratom use is unknown, although it's believed to have been used for at least a few hundred years.
Though now better known for its intoxicating effects, kratom has traditionally been used as a painkiller and treatment for diarrhea and opium dependence in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands. It is still a popular herbal medicine in some regions.
The intoxicating effects of kratom vary depending on dosage, but the drug tends to function either as a stimulant or a sedative. The effects can be similar to the effects of marijuana. The high usually comes on within 10 minutes and may last for several hours. Users report feeling euphoric and calm.
Kratom does have side effects, though they are uncommon with lighter use. Long-term use can lead to weight loss, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, and a darkening of the skin. Use can also lead to addiction, though again, this is less common with light use. Typical withdrawal symptoms include hostility, loss of control over muscles and bones, runny nose, and the inability to control tears. The drug may have dangerous side effects when used in conjunction with MAO inhibitors such as anti-depressants.
Kratom has purported medicinal uses as well. In low doses, it's been reported that it is effective in combating diarrhea. In 1897, H. Ridley reported that kratom was effective in weaning users off opiates.