How Hard Is Kratom On The Liver? Damage And Complications

The short answer is yes; kratom is bad for your liver. Kratom has been banned in multiple countries due to its ability to cause liver damage and is not a recommended treatment for any medical condition. So, what is kratom, and how is it bad for your liver?

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What is kratom?

Kratom is an herbal extract produced from the leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa plant, a tropical evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia. It has been used for decades as a natural herbal medicine for treating chronic pain and diarrhea and as a substitute for opium during opium withdrawal.

Kratom has grown in popularity recently because it is marketed as a plant-based supplement. In this case, plant-based doesn’t mean safe.

Kratom extracts can produce psychotropic and opiate-like effects, which may lead to abuse. According to a 2019 report by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, kratom has the potential to be abused, and more healthcare practitioners should be aware of this.¹

Given kratom is legal at the federal level in the United States, many assume that it’s safe to use — but this isn’t the case for most people. Kratom-induced liver toxicity is one of the many possible effects users may experience if they abuse this product.

Kratom is commonly sold as a green powder and labeled as a jewelry cleaner not intended for human consumption. The use of kratom is rising as more patients seek out what they feel is a more natural way to relieve pain. The most widely reported side effects of kratom are agitation, tachycardia (a racing heartbeat), drowsiness, vomiting, and confusion. Severe side effects, such as hallucinations, seizures, respiratory depression, and coma, were reported in 2% to 6% of users.²

What does the liver normally do?

Your liver is the organ that is primarily responsible for cleaning your blood. During digestion, the blood absorbs the nutrients and other compounds and passes through the liver. Your liver processes this blood, breaks down harmful substances, creates nutrients from the building blocks in your food, and also metabolizes drugs into non-toxic forms that can be eliminated from the body.

Your liver is also responsible for the following:

  • Producing bile which helps carry waste from the liver and assists with breaking down fats in your diet

  • Producing proteins for your blood plasma

  • Converting sugars (glucose) into storable sugars (glycogen)

  • Fighting infections and removing bacteria from the blood

  • Regulating levels of amino acids in your blood

Your liver is essential for you to live, as it is the primary “cleaner” in your body. Any substances that interfere with normal liver function, as kratom appears to, can be a serious problem.

What does the research say about Kratom?

Several studies have highlighted the adverse effects and toxicity of kratom. In particular, it has been linked to liver damage and fatal overdoses.

A 2020 review looked closer at the effects of kratom in a prospective US cohort. Researchers found eleven cases of kratom-related liver injury, with all being symptomatic and resulting in the development of jaundice.Another review examined a number of cases who presented with symptoms of hepatotoxicity after ingesting kratom and has concluded that this substance can cause liver injury and other serious complications.³ ⁴

Other studies state that care must be taken to reduce the unnecessary intake of kratom over the counter, highlighting the need for stronger regulatory measures at the public health level.⁵

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that kratom has increased in popularity recently as a recreational drug since it can produce some opioid-like effects, and it also has the potential for dependence and abuse. In postmortem toxicology reports of individuals who died of suspected substance overdose, kratom was the cause of death in 59.9% of the total cases that tested positive for kratom in the bloodstream.⁶

On the other hand, no high-quality research studies have proven the health benefits of taking kratom, and it is not medically recommended for use in any case.

Symptoms of liver damage from kratom

The most common symptoms of liver damage associated with the use of kratom are dark urine, pale stool color, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.

Jaundice, a condition in which skin and eyes appear yellowish, is also very common in those suffering from liver damage. Due to accumulating fluids, you may also experience itchy skin and swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet. 

Possible complications from using kratom

Acute liver failure, or failure of liver function in a short period of time, can come with a range of serious symptoms. This is the sort of damage likely to occur if one ingests large amounts of liver-damaging substances, such as kratom. However, prolonged use of kratom, even in normal doses, can cause liver injury and toxicity, causing high elevation of liver enzymes and eventually leading to liver failure. 

Severe bacterial or fungal infections, bleeding, and increased pressure in the brain are all serious complications of acute liver failure requiring urgent medical care. 

If your liver is damaged severely enough, then a liver transplant may be the only option for recovery.

Is it possible to use kratom safely?

While kratom is a traditional medicine, emerging evidence suggests avoiding this product is best. Kratom is popular among laborers in rural Southeast Asia for pain relief and its stimulatory effects, similar to coffee. Despite its popularity, kratom’s potential for addiction and developing dependence on the substance has led to it being banned in both Malaysia and Thailand. 

It is reported that from 2011 to 2017, there were over 1,800 calls to American poison control centers for kratom-related problems. Most of these calls occurred within the last two years of that period, indicating a rapid increase in people using kratom recreationally.⁷

Not only is your liver at risk when ingesting kratom, but other organ systems may also suffer even when used for a short period. An animal study has found that even when used for a short period of less than 28 days, a range of adverse effects and toxicities to the liver, kidney, and lungs were found. This suggests that kratom is toxic to the physiology of animals and potentially humans as well. Hence, it is unlikely that there is a confirmed safe way to use this supplement.⁸

If you are tempted to use kratom as an analgesic (pain reliever) or for recreational purposes, it is highly recommended that you first speak to your doctor. 

How can you improve liver health?

To keep your liver healthy, the simplest thing you can do is ensure you are drinking appropriate amounts of water. For most Americans, this means increasing your water intake. 

The liver is set up to deal with toxins and to recover naturally afterward, assuming the appropriate environment is provided. This includes drinking enough water (2.2L for women and 3L for men) and eating a healthy diet rich in plant foods. 

Good plants to eat for liver health include asparagus, celery, chestnuts, kiwi fruit, mango, papaya, and spring bamboo shoots. In general, including more natural and unprocessed plants in your diet will help promote good liver health.

Is it possible to reverse damage to the liver?

Mild to moderate liver toxicity or injury caused by medications or supplements can sometimes be treated by certain medications that act as an antidote, reversing the effect of this substance and reducing the signs of liver failure. For example, a medication called acetylcysteine has been used in the treatment of hepatotoxicity from kratom.

Additionally, doctors will focus on treating the symptoms to ensure that the condition will not further deteriorate to an advanced stage of liver damage. As in severe cases of acute liver failure and when the damage can’t be reversed, the only treatment option is a liver transplant.

The lowdown

Kratom is a natural substance, but that does not mean it is safe. Kratom has been connected to a number of cases of liver damage, as well as kratom-related deaths. Using kratom is not recommended for any reason. You should always speak to a doctor before using any new substance for medical or recreational purposes. 

Frequently asked questions

What is kratom (Mitragyna speciosa)?

Kratom is an herbal extract produced from the leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa plant, a tropical evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia. Kratom has been historically used as a pain reliever and stimulant, but recent studies show it is unsafe for any use.

Is kratom hard on the liver?

Yes, kratom can be very hard on your liver. Ingesting even small amounts of kratom can cause liver damage. Larger amounts of kratom are more damaging, with some cases even resulting in kratom-induced death. 

How does the liver work?

The liver works as a filter, removing toxic substances from the bloodstream after they have been absorbed into the gut. The liver also plays a key role in metabolizing and synthesizing other proteins and fat in the body.

Does kratom cause hepatitis?

Yes, kratom can cause inflammation of the liver, also known as hepatitis. 

Can kratom cause liver failure?

Yes. If you ingest a large amount or use it for an extended period, you may experience liver failure. Kratom can be very dangerous if consumed in large enough amounts and may lead to overdose and death. Kratom is not a recommended treatment for any medical condition.

What are the health risks of kratom?

Kratom has been found to cause damage to the liver as well as other organs in your body. It can also be abused or cause fatal overdoses. It is not recommended to use kratom to treat any health condition. If you are considering kratom as a medication, it is wise to speak to your doctor first. 

How can I use kratom safely?

There is no scientifically proven way to use kratom safely. Very small amounts are less likely to cause liver damage or cause other health problems than larger amounts are. Still, it is best to steer clear of this substance completely, as individuals’ reactions to its effects will vary, and what could be a small dose for someone else could be toxic to another, based on their weight, overall health condition, liver condition, and other medications they may be taking.

  1. Kratom, botanical supplement with opioid-like activity, may cause liver toxicity and injury | American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases

  2. Kratom use and toxicities in the United States (2019)

  3. Liver injury associated with kratom, a popular opioid-like product: Experience from the U.S. drug induced liver injury network and a review of the literature (2021)

  4. Kratom-induced liver injury: A case series and clinical implications (2021)

  5. Multiorgan dysfunction related to kratom ingestion (2021)

  6. Notes from the field: Unintentional drug overdose deaths with kratom detected — 27 States, July 2016–december 2017 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  7. Kratom exposures reported to United States poison control centers: 2011-2017 (2019)

  8. Subchronic toxicity study of standardized methanolic extract of mitragyna speciosa korth in sprague-dawley rats (2015)

Other sources:

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