Jordan Milholland
Senior Research Analyst

Leighann Thone
Research Analyst

Background and Overview

Kratom, also known as Mitragyna speciosa, is a plant native to Southeast Asia. The leaves of a kratom plant are consumed by persons in order to produce effects similar to both opioids and stimulants.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), two compounds in kratom leaves, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, interact with opioid receptors in the brain, producing sedation, pleasure, and decreased pain when taken in high doses. Lower doses cause alertness instead of sedation. The NIH also states some people in Western countries use kratom to try to treat pain or manage opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Regulatory Status of Kratom

Kratom is largely unregulated globally and in the United States. However, in recent years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has initiated a review of the substance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken actions to regulate the importation of the substance, and some U.S. states have regulated the sale, use, and possession of the substance.

International Law

The WHO announced in July 2021 that kratom would be subject to pre-review by the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of the United Nations, whose membership includes the United States. The pre-review process is intended to determine whether kratom should be subject to a full review, which could result in the substance being banned internationally. Notification of the pre-review required the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to solicit public comment on the substance.

Federal Regulatory Actions

Recently, the FDA classified kratom as both a “new drug” and a “new dietary ingredient” pursuant to the Food and Drug Cosmetic Act. This classification allowed the FDA to issue an import alert for kratom products, which allows the agency to seize shipments of the product at ports of entry to the United States on the basis that the drug or dietary ingredient has not been approved for use in the United States. Persons who have had shipments seized are allowed the opportunity to provide evidence to the FDA to show that a violation has not occurred.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in 2016, announced its intention to place the active ingredients of kratom into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I substances are classified as substances that are illegal to possess and consume and most likely to be abused. However, after receiving public comment on the proposal, the DEA rescinded its proposal.

Kratom regulation by State

State Law

Sale, use, and possession of kratom or its active ingredients is largely unregulated among U.S. states. However, 16 states have either made kratom and its active ingredients illegal to sell, use, and possess, or restrict such actions by minors.

Sale, possession, and use of kratom and its active ingredients are illegal in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin (shown in blue on the map above).

The states of Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Utah require persons to be age 18 to possess and use kratom. The states of Tennessee and South Dakota have implemented an age requirement of 21.