Kratom vs Cannabis – Similarities & Differences

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Contributor: Eric Bloom

Kratom and cannabis often get conflated with each other. The reasons are easy to understand — both are plant-based, both are widely misunderstood, and their legal status can be … difficult to parse.

Both remedies have fervent supporters who advocate their medicinal, recreational, and ritual use. Both have their fanatical detractors. They also intersect in their uses.

However, kratom and cannabis are different in important ways. Kratom, in particular, is relatively new on the scene in the US and hardly the household name of cannabis and its most popular derivatives — marijuana and CBD.

What Is Cannabis?

Cannabis is a hardy plant first detected in central Asia and now grown all over the world. Most legal cannabis in the US is grown indoors in managed industrial grow operations.

Cannabis plants come in two forms — hemp, which contains no psychoactive compounds, and marijuana, which contains the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana is further divided into two strains — Indica and Sativa.

Medicinal cannabis products can be extracted from any part of the plant, but the budding flowers have the highest concentrations of active ingredients.

Cannabis can be consumed in many forms, including:

  • Leaf (often smoked)
  • Oil
  • Wax
  • Gummies
  • Tinctures
  • Chewable tablets
  • Capsule

What is Kratom?

Kratom is extracted from mitragyna speciosa, a tropical evergreen tree related to the coffee-bean tree and native to Southeast Asia. Most kratom is harvested from old-growth forests in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Thailand.

Kratom can be consumed in many forms, including:

  • Leaf (often brewed like tea)
  • Powder
  • Tinctures
  • Capsules
  • Softgels
  • Chewable Tablets
  • Gummies

Before you buy Kratom online, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re getting. Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between these two compounds.

Legality of Cannabis and Kratom

Both compounds suffer from murky legal status, which makes clinical testing and scientific research difficult (though not impossible).


Cannabis remains illegal at the Federal level, though prosecutions of marijuana offenses were halted under the Obama administration. 38 US states allow recreational or medicinal use of marijuana, while hemp and its extracts (including CBD) are legal in all 50 states.


Kratom is unregulated at the Federal level, but the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) issued warnings (not backed by Science), against kratom in 2017. Six US states have effectively banned kratom.

Active Ingredients of Cannabis and Kratom

Both cannabis and kratom have been used by indigigenous peoples for hundreds of years.


The active ingredients in cannabis products are called cannabinoids. Cannabis plants contain more than 100 distinct cannabinoids. The most popular and well-known of these active ingredients are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is psychoactive, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is not psychoactive.


The active ingredients in kratom are alkaloids, nitrogen-rich organic compounds known to affect physiology when consumed. The most prominent alkaloids found in kratom are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, and they exist in relatively small quantities compared to the concentration of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.

Safety of Cannabis and Kratom

Both cannabis and kratom have proven safe by every reputable scientific study. The vast majority of users of both compounds experience no serious negative effects.


Some kratom users experience nausea. Other side effects may include acid reflux or headaches.


Common side effects of cannabis include increased appetite and paranoia. Some users may experience disorganized thinking, hallucinations, and rapid heartbeat.

Mechanism of Cannabis and Kratom

While cannabis and kratom share many similarities,, their mechanisms of action are very different.


The body actually has a system of receptors — the endocannabinoid system — that interacts with the compounds in cannabis. THC interacts with this system to trigger serotonin production, causing the changes in perception that characterize the “marijuana high.”

Non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD interact with this mechanism to promote physiological homeostasis — an internal “balancing” of the system thought to contribute to reducing inflammation, anxiety, etc.


Kratom, on the other hand, contains a variety of alkaloids that interact with the body in different ways. More research must be conducted before these uses can be described.

Both cannabis and kratom are effective plant-based products used by people for an ever-growing list of reasons.

While kratom lags behind cannabis in the size of the industry and recognition of its benefits, the popularity of kratom is growing. Kratom is quickly beating back stigma and criminalization efforts to take its rightful place alongside cannabis as an ancient, indispensable natural product.

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