Kratom is confusing.
According to some people, it’s a miracle.
Other people–including the feds, a few senators, and a grieving mother or two–say it’s a dangerous substance and want to see it banned for good.
And then of course, there’s the not-so-hidden interest of pharmaceutical companies, who see Kratom as a competitor for the opiods they’re pushing on people and would rather have it not be an option.
Yep, there’s a ton of angles here…
Unfortunately, there’s a distinct lack of accurate information about what Kratom really is, how it works, what it’s capable of, and whether or not it’s dangerous.
Just run a quick Google search and you’ll find everything from “this stuff will kill you” to “it’s completely harmless”. So who’s right?!
Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about in this article.
Kratom first came onto my radar when the feds tried to ban it but then reversed their decision based on the public reaction. Needless to say, this was pretty exciting for me.
As long as I’ve lived in America (my whole life), I’ve never actually seen the federal government care what the people think. Sure, we all like to think that our government is set up to protect our liberties and keep us safe, but if you believe that, then I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.
The truth is, US politics are deeply intertwined with business interests and it’s very rare that law-makers make up their minds about something and then change their position.
But that’s exactly what happened with Kratom.
When I saw this, I began doing a ton of research on this unique plant, both from a research perspective as well as personal experimentation.
So, without further ado, here is everything you need to know about Kratom…
What Is Kratom?
Mitragyna speciosa, otherwise known as Kratom, is a kind of tree native to South East Asia.
Kratom has been used throughout systems of traditional medicine for hundreds (or thousands) of years but the popularity of Kratom supplements has surged into the last few years as more and more people have reported therapeutic effects and an opiate-like high.
Although there are dozens of different alkaloids (active components) in Kratom, the majority of the effects are attributed to two in particular:
Here’s what they look like:
The alleged benefits of Kratom include:
- mood enhancement
- increasing energy levels
- pain relief
- better immune function
- reducing anxiety/depression
- helping with opiod withdrawal
Of course, these are just some of the most commonly asserted benefits. Kratom is believed to have a much wider array of benefits but very few of them have been placed under scientific scrutiny.
There are several different strains of Kratom and each strain is alleged to have slightly different effects.
For example, Bali Kratom is supposed to be the most euphoric and opiate-like, whereas Maeng Da Kratom is (allegedly) more of a stimulant.
Kratom is a bit like Marijuana in the sense that different strains are supposed to do different things, but at the end of the day, it’s the same plant.
In reality, what kind of an effect you get from Kratom depends a great deal on dosage, not just which strain you’re using, but it’s certainly possible that different strains contains different alkaloids and different concentrations of those alkaloids which ultimately make the effects vary from strain to strain.
The effects of Kratom appear to be highly dose-dependent.
At low doses, Kratom produces stimulant effects.
At high doses, it produces opiod-like effects.
It’s not unheard of for a substance to do one thing at a low dose and the complete opposite at higher doses, but it’s pretty rare. The effects of most drugs and supplements are generally pretty linear.
The mechanisms underlying Kratom are more complex, though.
How Does Kratom Work?
The active components of Kratom include mitragynine and 7-HMG but there are dozens of other alkaloids as well.
It’s clear that mitragynine and 7HMG are responsible for the majority of the benefits, but it’s not clear whether any other alkaloids contribute meaningfully to the effects of Kratom.
That begs the question…
Is it better to use a powdered version of the plant containing all the alkaloids or is better to use extracts that are standardized for the these two main actives.
Many people prefer the whole plant approach.
In terms of their chemical structure, these molecules are similar enough to Morphine and Morphine derivatives (opiods) that they can actually bind with the opiod receptors in the brain.
7-HMG appears to have the higher affinity.
What Are The Benefits Of Kratom?
Here’s the thing about Kratom…
Modern science has only just started to validate the potential benefits so much of what is believed about Kratom is based on subjective experiences and animal research.
Right now, there isn’t much in the way of human research, but as Kratom reaches a mainstream level of awareness, that is likely to change.
Pharmaceutical companies may see Kratom as a threat to the addictive opiods they sell, but that’s not the only way to fund research. Anything that can possibly treat opiod addiction the way Kratom is believed to will surely attract funding from other interested parties.
It’s only a matter of time…
In the meantime, let’s talk about some of the benefits Kratom is believed to possess and examine the research behind each one.
Kratom And Chronic Pain
Kratom is widely believed to be an effective pain killer.
Just google around for a while and visit a few forums. You’ll find countless instances of people claiming Kratom completely eradicated their chronic pain.
In animals, mitragynine has demonstrated analgesic (pain-reducing) properties and we know that it works by activating µ-opioid receptor.
These receptors are involved in regulating pain and they’re the targets of many (opiod) pain killers.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much in the way of human research.
Kratom And Fatigue
Kratom has traditionally been used by the indigenous people of Thailand (where it grows) for increase energy levels and staving off fatigue.
The leaves can be dried and ground into a powder, brewed into a tea, or even chewed for a mild effect, much like Coca.
Many people who use Kratom supplements claim that, at low doses, they experience effects like
- mood improvement
- high energy levels
- greater motivation
Kratom And Muscle Relaxation
Both Mitragynine and Kratom extract (containing other alkaloids in addition to Mitragynine) have been shown to induce skeletal muscle relaxation in mice.
Unfortunately, at this time, no human studies have been conducted to confirm these findings.
Many users of Kratom report feeling less muscle pain and stiffness, though.
Kratom And Depression/Anxiety
Another common use case for Kratom is for battling depression and anxiety.
No human studies have been conducted to confirm these benefits, but there’s a fair amount of supporting anecdotal evidence.
Kratom And Opiod Withdrawal
Many users of opiods use Kratom to withdraw. Since Kratom targets some of the same opiod receptors as actualy opiods, there’s certainly reason to believe it could be useful.
In animals, Kratom has been shown to reduce symptoms of opiod withdrawal, but it remains untested in humans.
It’s worth noting, however, that there are case reports of opiod addicts using Kratom to withdraw and a ton of anecdotal evidence supporting it’s use.
How Do Different Kratom Strains Differ In Effects?
There are several different types of Kratom, known as ‘strains’.
The effects are going to be similar no matter which strain you use, but different strains are said to have slightly different effects.
Just keep in mind that this is mostly based on anecdotal evidence, not hard science. Researchers have only just begun studying Kratom in general, let alone comparing the effects of different strains.
Let’s talk about a few of the most popular Kratom strains and how their effects (allegedly) differ from one another.
Maeng Da Kratom is one of the most commonly used strains, known for producing strong feelings of stimulation while also being an effective pain-reliever.
This strain is ideal for people who want the pain-relief that Kratom is known for, but without sacrificing energy levels.
Personally, this is my favorite strain.
Thai Kratom is said to be the most powerful strain in terms of stimulation, but the pain-relieving and anxiety-reducing effects are variable.
Some people find this strain to be quite therapeutic while others don’t exactly get along with it.
Personally, I find Thai Kratom to be comparable to Maeng Da in terms of stimulation but not as powerful in terms of euphoria or anxiety-reduction.
Bali Kratom is said to be one of the more relaxing strains. Higher doses can induce a state of euphoria and reduce pain pretty considerably.
If there’s one strain that behaves similarly to opiates, this is it.
I like Bali, but I don’t use it often. If I were suffering from some sort of chronic pain or anxiety, I would probably use this form of Kratom more.
Indo Kratom is perhaps the most well-balanced of all the strains, offering both anxiety reduction and pain relief as well as stimulation and motivation.
There are several sub-strains that are considered Indo, including Sumatra Riau.
Borneo Kratom is said to be one of the most effective strains for pain-relief and anxiety-reduction. It is not particularly stimulating, though, so the effect profile is similar to Bali.
Does Kratom Get You High?
That sort of depends on your definition of high, but yes, Kratom has psychoactive effects.
At low doses, it produces stimulant-like effects such as a slight mood boost, more mental energy, motivation to get things done, and a greater sense of overall wellbeing.
At higher doses, the effects of Kratom are more like opiods. Mild euphoria, relaxation, sedation, and a general feeling of warmth.
The fact that Kratom offers this kind of legal high is exactly why it’s being targeted by the FDA and DEA, but we’ll get into the complicated legality of Kratom a little later on.
First, let’s talk dosages…
There is no optimal dosage for Kratom. How much Kratom you should take depends on two things:
- what kind of effects you’re shooting for
- the quality and purity of your Kratom
Generally speaking, you probably want to start with somewhere between 500mg and 1000mg (1 gram).
You can find Kratom in the form of capsules which are pre-measured, but if you’re using a powder form of Kratom, it’s best to use a scale to weigh it.
One teaspoon is roughly equivalent to 2.5 grams, though different Kratom products can vary in terms of density.
Regular Kratom use does result in tolerance build-up, so many users find themselves taking several grams per day. There’s no evidence suggesting this is dangerous, but it’s certainly more expensive!
I suggest starting with dosages of 500mg. See how it feels and go from there.
Kratom Side Effects
Kratom appears to be pretty benign, but there are some minor side effects to be aware of.
- Nausea (if you take too much at once)
- Dry mouth (pretty common)
- Sedation (mostly higher doses)
- Constipation (rare)
- Hangover (some scattered reports of this)
Contrary to what the media would have you believe, there are absolutely no reports of anyone dying from Kratom.
Combining Kratom with other drugs–like opiods, Xanax, or Promethazine (cough syrup)–can potentially be dangerous, though. The more Kratom you take, the more likely you are to experience negative side effects, but it would take an insanely high amount of Kratom to kill you (if it’s even possible).
Is Kratom Addictive?
Much of the concern about Kratom stems from the belief that it’s addictive because it acts on some of the same receptors as opiods (which are highly addictive).
There are case reports of Kratom use resulting in addiction and subsequent withdrawal symptoms, but there’s no evidence that Kratom withdrawal is anywhere near as severe as opiod-withdrawal.
Anecdotal reports indicate withdrawal anywhere from “not that bad” to “horrible” but, of course, how much you take and how long you take it are going to be the deciding factors here.
The important thing is that Kratom addiction is nowhere near as much of a problem as opiod addiction, so anyone who is using Kratom for the purposes of reducing opiod addiction is taking a step in a positive direction.
It looks like much of narrative around the addictive potential of Kratom is controlled by rehab companies and government agencies who are in the pocket of big pharma.
In other words, most of what you’ll read about Kratom addiction is slanted to serve certain business interests. There’s really not much evidence that Kratom is particularly addictive.
Is Kratom Legal?
The legality of Kratom is a little complicated.
In the last few years, the DEA has seized shipments of Kratom being imported into the US and in 2016, it announced that it planned on making Kratom a Schedule I controlled substance, right up there with Marijuana, Cocaine, and Heroin.
There are five Schedules for controlled substances in the US.
Schedule I is reserved for substances which have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. For some reason this includes Marijuana, but mostly we’re talking Cocaine, Heroin, and Methamphetamine.
Schedule II is reserved for substances which have some accepted medical use and a lower potential for abuse.
The schedules continue on down until Schedule 5, which includes substances that have a legitimate medical use and a low potential for abuse (like cough syrup).
Obviously, it’s all relative…
Alprazolam (Xanax) is Schedule IV, but it’s one of the most heavily abused prescription medications of all time.
Marijuana is considered Schedule I, but clearly has accepted medical uses, so it doesn’t fit the definition.
Obviously, there’s some issues with the way these drugs are classified and Kratom was about to be the latest victim of arbitrary legal classifications.
That is, until the DEA received so much blow-back from the general public that they withdrew their intent to Schedule I Kratom.
So, as of the writing of this article (January 2018), Kratom is legal in the United States. It’s not a controlled substance and can be bought and sold freely.
Ironically, it is illegal in Thailand, where the majority of it comes from.
The Bottom Line On Kratom?
Kratom is a largely misunderstood plant, perhaps because there hasn’t been much research on it regarding either efficacy or safety.
Many people rely on it as a daily supplement to help deal with things like fatigue, anxiety, depression, and opiod addiction.
The (US) federal government, on the other hand, claims that it’s dangerous and has tried to ban it in the past. Despite this, there is no direct evidence that Kratom is dangerous when used correctly.
Like any substance, natural or synthetic, it’s possible to abuse Kratom, though. On top of that, not all forms are created equal. Should you decide to give it a shot, make sure you use a brand you actually trust.
Do your research, read reviews, be skeptical.