Herbal Drug Misuse: Effects & Addiction

Although they come from natural sources, plant-based psychoactive drugs can lead to dangerous side effects, abuse, and addiction.

Recently, certain natural substances typically sold as herbal or dietary supplements have become popular in the U.S. Although they are not specifically illegal, many people report adverse effects, intoxication, and addiction or abuse after using them.

This page will cover some of the most commonly used legal herbal drugs in the U.S., their potential health risks and dangers, and how to get help if you or a loved one has lost control of their drug use.

Kratom Misuse & Effects

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), kratom in the United States is found either in pill or powdered form. The substance is a dried, concentrated version of the leaves from a tree named Mitragyna speciosa that grows in Southeast Asia, where it is chewed for its stimulant properties.

Kratom can be taken in gel capsule form or brewed into a tea. In large doses, it has similar effects to opioid drugs like heroin, but without the same potential for overdose. In low doses, the drug has stimulant properties.

Kratom is not officially banned by the Controlled Substances Act, but some states, such as Alabama and California, are writing their own individual laws to stop the ingestion of this intoxicating substance. Larger regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are also cracking down on imported supplements that contain kratom.

Possible adverse effects of kratom include:

  • Nausea.
  • Itching.
  • Sweating.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Constipation.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Increased frequency of urination.
  • Insomnia.
  • Weight loss.

These effects are somewhat similar to opioids. Although kratom was originally hailed as a way for people struggling with opioid painkiller and heroin addiction to overcome these problems, the drug has been found to be addictive on its own, and taking the drug to ease withdrawal symptoms could actually increase the potential for relapse.

The DEA does list kratom as a “Drug of Concern.”

Kava Misuse & Effects 

Kava was originally developed among western Pacific island cultures and derived from the Piper methysticum plant that grows natively there. The substance’s relaxing effects made it a popular social drink, similar to alcohol use in Western countries.

Kava is also like alcohol in that it can lead to liver damage, and there have been some reported deaths related to kava toxicity. Europe and Canada have banned the import, sale, and use of kava, but the U.S. has not, although the FDA has raised concerns about the substance’s safety.

In the U.S., kava is still sold legally as an herbal or dietary supplement in powdered and gel capsule forms. The sedative effects of kava have been used to alleviate anxiety, stress, ADHD, epilepsy, depression, psychosis, migraines and headaches, pain from urinary tract infections or the common cold, and even withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines.

However, there is not enough medical evidence to support any of these uses. Additionally, some kava supplements may be diluted or cut with other substances that can cause negative health effects, including an increased risk of liver damage.

Other effects of kava can include:

  • Sedation.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Tremors.
  • Impaired speech and coordination.
  • Slowed breathing (though not as extreme as with other CNS depressants).

Salvia Misuse & Effects 

This plant is sometimes referred to as “diviner’s sage” and most widely used by the Mazatec Indians in Oaxaca, Mexico, for religious purposes. Its first U.S. uses occurred in 1962, when Albert Hoffman and R. Gordon Wasson acquired some salvia from the Mazatecs, but concluded the substance was a lesser hallucinogen compared to psilocybin in mushrooms.

Salvia grows in a wide swath of Mexico and the southwestern United States. It is related to mint, and the leaves look similar. When used as a psychoactive substance, salvia is chewed, smoked, or vaporized.

Sometimes, it is brewed as a tea. Salvia divinorum is a hallucinogenic drug, causing perceptual changes in light, color, sound, shapes, movement, and time. The substance can also lead to anxiety, paranoia, and aggression, and may trigger psychosis in individuals prone to these mental health disorders. There are no medical uses for salvia.

Ingesting salvia can be dangerous, and the DEA has listed it as a “Drug of Concern.” However, salvia is not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act, and is sold freely as an herbal or dietary supplement, incense, or other legal substance.

Although it remains legal in the U.S., many states have enacted legislation to regulate the drug, and countries like Japan, Australia, Sweden, Italy, and Romania either tightly control or outright ban salvia.

Morning Glory Seed Misuse & Effects

Seeds from the morning glory plant have been used as hallucinogens since ancient times. For example, the Maya would hold ritual ceremonies where they purportedly communicated with the spirits by drinking a beverage infused with honey from bees that fed on morning glories.

Morning Glory seeds contain alkaloids, which some may attempt to consume to get high. Because morning glory seeds can be purchased legally from nurseries, garden supplies, and other retailers, they are relatively easy to obtain. This may lend itself to LSA experimentation by adolescents and teens, which can be dangerous.

The primary psychoactive substance in the morning glory plant is ergine, or D-lysergic acid amide (LSA). While the intoxicating effects of LSA are somewhat like the effects of D-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the substance’s side effects may be more severe.

In large enough quantities, consuming the seeds can cause diarrhea and hallucinations. Other adverse effects may include:

  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Anxiety.
  • Paranoia.

Are Herbal Drugs Safe?

Herbal drugs are not considered safe for human consumption, even though they are technically legal in the U.S. (depending on the state) and derived from natural, plant-based sources.

As mentioned above, using these psychoactive substances can be risky and may lead to potentially dangerous health effects, such as overdose, drug-induced psychosis, and addiction.

Treatment for Herbal Drug Misuse

If you or a loved one has lost control of their drug or alcohol use, reaching out for professional addiction treatment can help.

At Sunrise House drug rehab in Lafayette, NJ, our treatment specialists can help address the many underlying issues that drive addiction and get you on the road to recovery.

For more information about our different levels of addiction treatment, contact our admissions navigators at . They are available around the clock to answer your questions about insurance that covers rehab or other rehab payment options, and can help you start the admissions process today.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

The Price of Not Getting Help
When contemplating the costs of addiction treatment for yourself, child, or loved one, consider the costs, or consequences, of “things as they are now.” What would happen if the substance abuse or addiction continued? Rehab doesn't have to be expensive. We accept a variety of insurances. Learn more below.