What is Kratom?
An Introduction to a Misunderstood but Highly Beneficial Botanical
With all of the media attention this leaf has gotten, you may ask yourself, what is kratom anyway? Mitragyna speciosa korth, or kratom, is a botanical that belongs to Rubiaceae family, along with coffee (Koehbach & Gruber, 2015). This type of tree is native to tropical and sub-tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Africa. Sadly, the United States Food & Drug Administration has launched an all-out attack on this natural, organic alternative to prescription medication, but remember: not everything is as it seems. The following is a small bit of information and some links (see Resources near the end) for you to further your own independent research.
Kratom has a longstanding history of use throughout its native east Asian countries of Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. These populations have utilized the leaves of the kratom tree as alternative medicine for generations. Kratom has been traditionally used in these regions as a malaria treatment, in salves to treat rashes and other skin conditions, as a sleep aid, to regulate blood pressure, as a cough suppressant, to cure diarrhea, and to help laborers make it through long, strenuous work days. Oh, and it is most often chosen as a reliever of chronic pain.
M.speciosa contains more than 40 compounds called alkaloids. Each type of kratom is comprised of its own distinct alkaloid profile, which is responsible for the leaf’s many beneficial effects. The major portion is of the profile is comprised of indole alkaloids, which are bioactive compounds which elicit various pharmacological actions (Kukula-Koch & Widelski, 2017).
More than 25 alkaloids have been extracted from M. speciosa with mitragynine being the most abundant at approximately 66% of total alkaloid weight. This alkaloid is primarily responsible for much of the pain relieving effects associated with kratom as it is a partial mu-opioid receptor agonist. (Al-Hasani & Bruchas, 2011). That said, there are a few other compounds in the kratom leaf that also act on these receptors to different degrees.
Regarding the potential social outcomes of kratom usage, one study performed by Midwestern University’s College of Pharmacy found that heavy kratom users showed no negative social effects and rarely presented with any serious health problems (Veltri & Grundmann, 2019). The majority of these people were married with jobs and had lead normal lives, unlike what we see with alcohol or street drugs. The people of Southeast Asia view kratom in a similar way to how westerners see coffee.
On top of its reported analgesic effects, the compounds found in kratom have been studied for a vast array of potential benefits. It has so far shown promise in helping reduce fever, lower anxiety, help with depression, fight viruses, and relieve some symptoms diabetes – just to name a few. Kratom’s alkaloids are also being explored for strengthening the immune system and regulating blood pressure (Agrawal, Nandini, & Sharma, n.d.).
More research needs to be done before we fully understand all of these individual substances and how they truly work in the body. However, it would be naive to deny the potential that this botanical has to offer new and effective alternative treatment options. Time will tell if researchers will be allowed to carry on their studies and discover all the possibilities.
Kratom and its Alkaloids
Mitragynine, which is kratom’s most well-known compound, makes up around 66% of all alkaloids found in the leaf. It’s the one responsible for a great deal of the plant’s analgesic capabilities and acts as weak opioid receptor agonist with high affinity for µ-opioid receptors. Although the FDA continues to spread fabricated stories about the dangers of kratom, studies following a dose-adjusted protocol have found mitragynine to be no more than one-tenth the strength of morphine (Kikura-Hanajiri et al., 2009).
The contents of each leaf can vary, sometimes widely, from tree to tree. Analysis of plants within the same forest usually show a consistent, tight range of the same elements from tree to tree. However, these differences become enormous when comparing leaves from Bali, Thailand, Malaysia, and Sulawesi, for example. The larger the geographical difference, the greater the variation is likely to be, but each one has its own unique effects.
Is Kratom Safe?
As of the date of this writing, all available reports of fatal kratom overdoses have involved other, often multiple, drugs or subjects with histories of poor health. To date, there has been zero cases of death in which kratom was ascertained to be the sole cause (Suhaimi et al., 2016). One would become violently sick long before reaching such a level of toxicity in the blood.
The leaves of the kratom tree have generations upon generations worth of heavy usage within Southeast Asian culture, so real-world application in humans has certainly been evaluated. That said, there have been kratom products that were found to contain adulterants, and even recreational drugs. When deciding to consume kratom, it is of vital importance to select only pure, organic kratom with no additives.
On the original question regarding kratom safety, we have some information from real academics, scientists, doctors, and others qualified to speak on the subject, though this short list is non-exhaustive:
- Dr. JE Henningfield (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) and his associates performed an eight-factor analysis to assess the addition, abuse, and danger profiles of kratom. The team found the following (Henningfield, 2017):
- Kratom, unlike opioid medications, is associated with benefits in terms of occupational performance and social outcomes (Swogger, 2015).
- At the levels that today’s kratom user consumes the leaf, kratom is not usually associated with negative health consequences
- Kratom is about as addictive as caffeine, with the worst-case scenario involving mild dependence at most
- Kratom’s predominantly oral consumption route contributes to its relative safety as well as its low abuse potential
- Despite the false and embellished claims by certain agencies in the media, there appears to be no significant abuse of kratom in the United States
- A study using 10 years of data from 63 hospitals, which documented 23,005 emergency room visits related to dietary supplements, featured zero cases involving kratom or mitragynine (see alkaloid profiles below)
- The DEA no longer features kratom on its list of drug threats
- When the FDA released its own eight-factor analysis describing kratom as a harmful drug with significant abuse and dependence potential, it was quickly and fully discredited by a panel of 11 independent doctors, medical and otherwise, who actually have credibility in the field (Babin, et al., 2018)
What are the Effects of Kratom?
Returning to the alkaloids present inside the kratom leaf, here is a short snippet about them and the individual effects that each has been studied for (“Kratom Alkaloids & Effects | Kratom Science,” 2018):
- Paynantheine (9%) & speciogynine (7%) – smooth muscle relaxing effects.
- 7-hydroxymitragynine (2%) – reported analgesic, antitussive and anti-diarrheal properties. It is for these potential benefits that kratom is sometimes used to ease opiate withdrawal symptoms. It is believed that 7-hydroxymitragynine is 30 times stronger than mitragynine and 10 times stronger than morphine.
- Speciogynine (1%) weak opioid antagonist effects
- Mitraphylline (<1%) vasodilation, anti-hypertension, smooth muscle relaxing, diuretic, anti-amnesic, immunostimulant and anti-leukemic effects
- Isomitraphylline (<1%) may act as an immunostimulant and anti-leukemic agent.
- Speciophylline (<1%) studied for its benefits for those with leukemia
- Rhynchophylline (<1%) may have a major role in blood pressure as it acts vasodilator, antihypertensive agent and calcium channel blocker. It is also reported to exhibit anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, anti-arrhythmic and antithelmintic properties.
- Isorhynchophylline (<1%) possibly boosts the immune system.
- Ajmalicine (<1%) researched as a cerebrocirculant, anti-aggregant/anticoagulant, anti-adrenergic, sedative, anticonvulsant and smooth muscle relaxer.
- Corynantheidine (<1%), corynoxine A (<1%), corynoxine B (<1%), mitrafoline (<1%), isomitrafoline (<1%), oxindale A (<1%) & oxindale B (<1%) are opioid receptor agonists, some of which act as calcium channel blockers and anti-locomotive agents.
- Speciofoline (<1%), isospeciofoline (<1%), ciliaphylline (<1%), mitraciliatine (<1%), mitragynaline (<1%), mitragynalinic acid (<1%) and corynantheidalinic acid show antitussive and analgesic effects.
The content of each individual alkaloid inside the kratom leaf varies with the geographical location and age of the source tree. Older plants are richer in alkaloids, which is why our people are so picky during harvests. Our kratom is harvested from leaves of only mature trees, which have trunks with radii greater than 5 cm and leaves with richly colored midribs (the leaf’s central vein).
The curing process can also heavily influence the balance of alkaloids in kratom products. One study found that roughly 8% of a leaf’s mitragynine can be converted to 7-hydroxymitragynine by the sun alone (Kruegel et al., 2016). Keep in mind that 7-hydroxymitragynine is exponentially stronger than mitragynine, the premier analgesic within kratom. This means that there is a major variance in psychoactive effects between a hastily-harvested leaf and one that is properly cured – even from the same tree.
Handling can indeed make or break raw materials in this business. Our suppliers have consistently stressed the importance of maintaining a constant soil pH level between 5.5 and 6.5. When we claim that we offer only the highest quality kratom one could find anywhere, it is because we take heed to the experience of many generations and we work iteratively on process optimization.
Potential Health Benefits of Kratom
The analgesic, or pain relieving, effect is due to interaction of alkaloids with opioid receptors present in the brain. The result is an enhanced release of enkephalins and endorphins, which may numb the pain receptors of the body (“Leu-enkephalin,” n.d.). This characteristic is why so many fans of natural medicine have chosen kratom over prescription pain medications.
Our customers have reported applications such as mild to moderate relief from pain caused by fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fractures, and post-operative procedures. Our products are not intended to treat, diagnose, or cure anything, but we have (and love to share) incredible customer testimonials crediting kratom with a renewed freedom and the ability to live life again.
The stimulation that is produced by M. speciosa occurs when it partially acts on mu-opioid receptors in the brain (Boyer, Babu, Adkins, McCurdy, & Halpern, 2008). This activates the body and mind in such a manner that one receives a subjective boost in mental energy and focus. Additionally, some claim that the kratom leaf, when used in the right amounts, enhances cognitive ability,
Uplifting of mood and reduced depression and anxiety
The alkaloids present in the leaves of the kratom plant are commonly used for their euphoric, anti-depressant, and anxiolytic effects. Mitragynine and 7-OH-mitragynine are said to soothe the nerves and elevate the mood in such a way that users forget all their worries. These are replaced with a sort of euphoric feeling.
This effect is again due to interactions with opiate receptors, which lead to a release of sympathetic neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin (“Mitragynine”, 2019.). Kratom’s alkaloids may also be useful for other symptoms of anxiety like insomnia, heart palpitations, sweating, and muscle cramps. Hopefully society is allowed to see what other great things can come from mitragyna speciosa.
Help in overcoming opioid addiction
Kratom has been successfully used by our customers enduring opioid withdrawal as it eases the period of withdrawal symptoms, allowing one to taper off these drugs. According to our feedback, kratom may mitigate the typical symptoms of opioid withdrawal like cramps, vomiting, pain, anxiety etc. Its alkaloids are not traditional opioids, but they can partially bind with opioid receptors in place of opiate drugs and thus help in easing the effects of addiction (Greene, 2013).
Immune system modulation
The kratom leaf may help to improve the immune system by helping to rid the body of free radicals and harmful microbes. Many of the alkaloids of kratom may work as immunostimulants (Rojas-Duran et al., 2012), which improve the immune system and combat against infections. Some are also toxic to viruses.
The alkaloids 7-hydroxymitragynine and mitragynine may assist users in working harder for longer periods and with a focused intensity. Essentially, one becomes more satisfied with the task at hand. This happens with the release of neurochemicals like serotonin and dopamine which help to improve focus, attention span, and motivation. Also, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine relaxes the ruminating mind (Janowsky, El-Yousef, & Davis, 1974) and is thus also helpful in improving focus.
The activation of opioid receptors helps one to stay motivated and energetic to get the things done. We have one customer in particular who swears by taking kratom an hour before a study session or exam for a bit of an extra drive. These effects are elevated with the drastic increase in dopamine and serotonin that may occur once kratom’s alkaloids are metabolized in the body. The duration of effects is said to be approximately four hours for most strains.
Improved heart health
The alkaloids present in kratom leaves may be beneficial to the body’s hormonal balance and blood vessels, so it is exciting to think about what possibilities may exist for future treatments. These compounds are investigated as vasodilators, calcium channel blockers, antihypertensive agents, and diuretics. These sorts of substances help to improve heart health and reduce blood pressure.
The major and primary alkaloid of kratom is mitragynine, which has been referred to as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. (Mossadeq et al., 2009). This property is similar to over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) in that it reduces pain, inflammation, swelling and redness at the site of inflammation. Rhynchophylline (often found alongside mitragynine) shows these characteristics as well (Yuan et al., 2009).
Antioxidant properties of kratom
Some research has shown that kratom leaves contain certain antioxidants that are helpful in protecting users against cancer. These antioxidants have an effect similar to the ones found naturally in your own body, ones like superoxide dismutase and glutathione, which aid in preventing the formation of free radicals. You can think of free radicals sort of like rust on a piece of metal, in a very abstract sense. A reduction in free radicals may be strongly correlated with better odds in staving off cancer and adding to one’s lifespan.
Also being currently researched are several other health benefits of kratom leaves. Much remains to be learned about this special leaf. In December of 2018, the University of Florida received a $3.5 million grant to study the potential benefits of kratom’s alkaloids (UF College of Pharmacy, 2018). We are awaiting UF’s findings with great anticipation .
So, what is kratom?
The kratom leaf is a botanical tool for those who seek greater energy, analgesia, and mild to moderate euphoria but aren’t comfortable putting prescription medications in their body.. It’s for those who prefer natural, organic solutions to life’s problems. It’s for people who think freely and don’t accept propaganda as fact. It may be for you. Despite its oft-negative reputation in the media resulting from the US government’s fabricated stories, poor methodologies, and false science, pure, unadulterated kratom remains a generally safe compound with a plethora of potential benefits and generations upon generations of usage history.
Remember: always check the credibility of all information sources and never blindly accept anything as the truth. Thinking critically is absolutely vital to making the best, most informed decisions regarding your health. We’d like to suggest avoiding Google when conducting research as they censor the information they provide.
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and kratom is not approved for medicinal use in the USA. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. If you decide to being experimenting with kratom, we advise you to talk to your healthcare professional regarding your current health condition and the possible implications of consuming such a substance. We do not recommend opioid-dependent patients abruptly stop taking their medication. The above claims are based on reports provided to us by our customers, friends, or other members of the community as well as academic, peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject.
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