Helpful or Harmful? Taking a Closer Look at Kratom


Have you seen signs advertising, “Kratom sold here”? Kratom (Pronounced Krah-Tom or Krey-Tom, depending on who you ask) is a tree that grows in Southeast Asia and may be consumed through its leaves like a tea or supplement.

Understanding Kratom, Its Uses & Consequences

Kratom is legal in North Carolina if you are 18 years or older; however, it is not regulated by the FDA.

Therefore, sellers can market anything as kratom. There are several states, however, that are working on regulating kratom or banning it altogether. (source:

Just like many other substances, using kratom can have its pros and cons. With all the misinformation and over-prescribing of pain medicines like oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin), which has led to an opioid epidemic, you might find yourself asking, “Is kratom a legal, yet potentially dangerous substance that has somehow managed to fly under the radar?”


Is Kratom safe? Q&A with Ben Powell, P.A.

For more information, we needed some answers from a professional in the mental health and substance use field. SouthLight’s Opioid Treatment Program Senior Clinical Director, Ben Powell, P.A. was able to provide some insight on this subject. 

Grace: What is Kratom?  

Ben: It’s a legal, over-the-counter, natural supplement that can be made into tea. Kratom is a weak opioid and can actually cause opioid withdrawal depending on how much you’re using. 

Grace: Do you have clients who use it? If so, how many and what are their diagnoses? 

Ben: About 5-6 clients are using it currently. Some clients have come in for admission solely for kratom use. Their diagnosis would still be opioid use disorder because it is a weak opioid. The client is usually using a lot to have to come to treatment- about 40 grams per day.  

Grace: How does kratom impact recovery?  

Ben: It’s just really unfortunate that there’s a weak opiate out there because it lends people the ability to get addicted to opiates. It was supposed to be banned a few years ago; however, that clearly hasn’t happened yet. Some people use it to manage withdrawal symptoms from opioids. So, it’s like doing their own opioid treatment program.  

Grace: What is your opinion on kratom as a provider? 

Ben: There are two sides to it: in some cases, it can be useful (people not using stronger opiates) but in other ways, it can be destructive and leads people to need to get help at a treatment center.

I don’t recommend that people use kratom because it is a drug that has consequences.

There should be a disclaimer that you could get addicted to opiates when you buy kratom. 

Kratom = Not Worth the Risk

In the end, kratom is a pain reliever so it can be used for chronic pain or other medical purposes. However, just like with prescribed opiates, kratom can be dangerous to those who consume them. So, just like with any other substance, you should always speak with your medical provider before trying it.  

SouthLight’s Opioid Treatment clinic in Southeast Raleigh offers both Opioid Treatment Therapy and counseling to help people treat substance use issues with heroin and other opiates.

About Grace Gilmore

Grace Gilmore is a student at the UNC School of Social Work working toward her master’s degree. She formerly worked at SouthLight in the Intensive Outpatient Program as a counselor. Grace has returned to SouthLight to intern with the Community Engagement Team and shadow the clinical programs that SouthLight offers.  

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