Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
The main difference between kratom and THC is where they come from: THC comes from the cannabis plant and works by attaching to the CB receptors in the endocannabinoid system. In contrast, kratom is derived from the leaves of the Mitragyna speciosa tree and binds to serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain.
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What Is Kratom?
Kratom is an herbal supplement that has stimulant effects without caffeine. Some kratom products have caffeine additives, but the plant does not naturally contain caffeine. Kratom has been reported as having sedative effects in higher doses.
How It Works
The mitragynine in kratom binds to dopamine and serotonin receptors in the brain, which is believed to be responsible for the stimulating properties of kratom. Mitragynine also connects to opioid receptors in the brain and may be beneficial in managing opioid withdrawal symptoms, which is why high doses of kratom can be sedative.
Kratom leaves have been used in Thailand and Southeast Asian cultures to soothe minor ailments like diarrhea and fatigue. The leaves are traditionally brewed into a tea with potent stimulant effects. In the United States, kratom is now available in powder or pill form in some health food and other retail stores. Due to mitragynine’s ability to bind to opioid receptors, some have used kratom to manage opioid withdrawal. However, kratom’s opioid dependence and withdrawal efficacy has not been assessed.
Increased energy levels, pain reduction, and help with opioid addiction are some potential benefits of kratom. But more scientific research is needed before these potential benefits can be confirmed.
Risks and Drawbacks
Kratom sometimes produces mild side effects like dizziness but may also cause more serious issues. The herbal supplement may increase blood pressure levels, leading to heart problems in some people, especially those with congenital heart defects or other cardiovascular problems. Liver damage and pregnancy dangers are two more risks associated with kratom use. Due to kratom’s sedating effects in higher doses, it can also slow breathing. Kratom is also addictive, and a deadly overdose is possible.
What Is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. Along with cannabidiol (CBD), THC is the most prominent cannabinoid in cannabis.
How It Works
While mitragynine binds to serotonin, dopamine, and opioid receptors, THC binds to receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) on top of directly or indirectly modulating other receptor systems in the body. The ECS regulates many of our most vital life functions, such as immunity, reproduction, memory, and appetite. When THC binds to ECS receptors, it sends signals to brain areas that, for example, control memory. Some people claim that cannabis helps them study and remember more easily, while other sources have said that cannabis may impair long-term memory. These effects could be due to individual differences in an individual’s ECS and the dose and type of cannabis being used.
THC-rich cannabis products have many common uses, including relieving chronic pain and treating chemotherapy-related nausea. While most cannabis products are not FDA-approved, dronabinol is a synthetic THC-derived drug used to treat nausea in people with cancer that gained FDA approval in 1985.
Some of the many potential benefits of THC products include:
- Pain relief from the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
- Lower incidence of insomnia.
- Anxiety reduction.
- Appetite stimulation for people with HIV/AIDS.
- Easing of hard-to-treat Neuropathic (nerve) pain.
- Fewer tremors from Parkinson’s disease.
- Manage cancer pain and potentially even kill cancerous cells.
Many other possible therapeutic benefits have been attributed to THC, which is why the list of qualifying conditions for getting a medical marijuana card continues to grow.
Risks and Drawbacks
For most people, the risks and drawbacks of using THC are due to the cannabinoid’s psychoactive properties. Some people want the benefits of the cannabis plant but without feeling intoxicated (which makes CBD a suitable alternative).
In addition to unwanted intoxication, THC may also cause the following side effects:
- Red eyes
- Digestive issues, including nausea
Many of the potential risks of THC are mild to moderate and may be tempered by using cannabis products with lower concentrations of the potent cannabinoid.
Similarities and Differences Between THC and Kratom
First, THC is a cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, and it is also the main psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis. While kratom is also psychoactive, it comes from a different plant (an evergreen tree grown in Southeast Asia). Furthermore, kratom’s psychoactive properties are generally limited to stimulant effects in low to moderate doses and sedative effects in higher doses. In contrast, THC can have more dynamic, wide-ranging effects, including sedation, euphoria, stimulation, arousal, appetite-inducing, stress reduction, and many more.
THC may make you feel energized, or it may make you feel sleepy or any other number of mental sensations. The effects of THC depend on concentrations, strains, personal tolerance level, and many other factors. As THC is usually used in cannabis, it is generally used alongside many other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that exert their influence and impart an effect.
Kratom, a herbal extract, has many different compounds that exert an Entourage Effect and has biphasic effects (i.e., different effects at different dosages). This means there are some similarities in the science of how cannabis and kratom work, but they are entirely different pharmacologically.
While the effects of THC may be unpredictable when compared to kratom, there is one thing we can assert: using cannabis has never resulted in a fatal overdose. The same is not true of kratom, which was linked to 11 reported deaths in the U.S. between 2011 and 2017.
How to Decide Which Is Best For You
There are some instances in which THC may be safer and more effective than kratom.
When to Use THC
Pain relief, combating nausea, and feeling euphoric are three of the most common uses of THC. But the cannabinoid is linked to dozens of other potential health benefits, from shrinking tumors to intensifying work-outs.
When to Use Kratom
Kratom may help those trying to overcome opioid addiction, although this claim needs to be assessed more thoroughly. But you should check with your doctor before using kratom to withdraw from opioids. Addiction aside, some people use kratom supplements in low doses when they need to feel more alert and don’t feel like drinking a cup of coffee. However, due to kratom’s potential addictive and narcotic properties, it would be well-advised to use caution or avoid using it.
The Bottom Line
THC and kratom are both natural remedies that may relieve pain in some people, and they come from different plant species and impact the body differently. THC and kratom products are legal but unregulated and not FDA-approved. Use caution with dietary supplements and speak with your doctor to see if THC or kratom suits you.
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