What is Kratom?
Mitragyna speciosa is a plant which is native to Southeast Asia ( Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Borneo, Papua New Guinea…). Mitragyna Speciosa (botanical name) is commonly referred to as “Kratom”. Natives of these counties have been using kratom for it’s medicinal and recreational purposes for centuries. Mitragyna speciosa is a tropical evergreen tree that can grow between 12 – 52 feet in height and 15 feet in length. This pant shares the same botanical family as coffee and gardenias. Kratom can be ingested in a variety of ways and has a large range of effects depending on dosage. Since kratom is plant matter, it contains a wide variety of compounds (over 40). This forms something referred to as the “entourage effect” The leaves of the tree are used medicinally as a stimulant or sedative (depending on dose), recreational drug, pain killer, medicine for diarrhea, and treatment for those withdrawing from opiates. Many people report that kratom is an effective treatment for fibromyalgia, arthritis, restless legs syndrome (RLS), and even high cholesterol.
In Kratoms native country the raw untouched leaf has been used since “time immemorial” and is typically chewed or brewed into a tea. It’s primary use traditionally is to relieve pain, combat fatigue especially among the farming population and improve productivity, appetite and sexual desire similar to the coca leaf. Now in the 20th Century, people all over the world consume Kratom, therefore delivery methods and practices have slightly changed. Kratom is made from the leaves of the kratom tree. These leaves can grow to be 7 inches long and 4 inches wide. Dried leaves can be chewed, but given their tough texture, most people prefer to crush them up or create a powder. This allows the plant to be ingested easily or mixed with water. Almost all exported kratom is in a powder type form. From there it can be encapsulated or sold as a bag of “leaf”. Some will go further and actually put the kratom leaf through and extraction process. This process of extraction creates the ability to make highly concentrated alkaloids which present the option for a person to consume less and feel much stronger effects. The extract form is most popular in places like the United States and other non-native countries.
Kratom is consumed for a multitude of medical and recreational purposes. There are a variety of strands of kratom which produce separate effects. Whether the herb has a stimulant or opiate-like effect depends on the variation of strand and dosage. Some of the more popular strands include Bali, Maeng Da, Red Vein and Green Indo. Bali produces a euphoric effect and is the most “classic opiate” among the various strains of Kratom. Maeng Da is more energizing and stimulating, it also produces pain-relieving effects. Red Vein is more sedating and opiate-like, Green Indo balances pain relief while presenting energy boosting qualities. The list continues and now there are many options for people who use kratom products.
At the stimulant level, the brain becomes more alert, physical energy, and occasionally sexual desire is increased. Mood, productivity, and motivation may be improved, as well as the user becoming more talkative, friendly, and sociable. The stimulant effects of kratom are different from typical Central Nervous System stimulants, such as caffeine or amphetamine drugs. Kratom has more of a cognitive stimulant effect than a physical one.
At higher doses, the primary effects become more sedative, euphoric, and analgesic. The user may become less sensitive to physical or emotional pain, feel calmer and more relaxed, and have a general feeling of overall wellbeing and comfortable pleasure. They may even enter a state of pleasant dreamy reverie. Side effects may include itchiness, sweating, or nausea. Long-term use of side effects can also include constipation.
Though just a plant there has been no shortage of controversy. Some people believe that because of kratoms opiate-like properties it should not be available to the public, especially since the opioid epidemic has consumed the United States. Others feel that because it is natural and has natural pain relieving effects they should have the option of kratom over traditional pain medications like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Those who support kratom do not want to be dependent on prescriptions from their doctor which are highly addictive. Kratom can also be addictive because the alkaloids contained in kratom act as opiate receptor agonists. The alkaloids bind to the Mu-opioid receptor which is the same as morphine and opium. There has been little research done on Kratom and its potential for abuse but studies do suggest that although kratom has a similar mechanism of action as many opiate pain medications it does not appear to be nearly as addictive. In fact many people use kratom to overcome opiate addiction. Legislation has been produced that would place kratom as a scheduled narcotic. These legislative attempts have not gone into effect as there is little scientific research done to prove that kratom is a threat to public safety. There is no telling what the future will hold but for now kratom is legal in most states and is not federally regulated.