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Kratom Plant: All The Facts

what is kratom

Hadiqa Naqvi |

Dive into the world of the Kratom plant with our detailed exploration. Learn about its origins, uses, and effects, along with the latest research on its pharmacology and therapeutic potential.

This concise guide covers everything you need to know about Kratom, offering crucial insights for understanding this complex plant.

Kratom: An Overview

Kratom, scientifically known as Mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia, predominantly found in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

what is kratom

Belonging to the Rubiaceae family, which includes coffee and gardenia, kratom has been a subject of interest due to its complex pharmacological profile and its growing popularity in various parts of the world, especially in the United States and Europe.

The use of kratom spans centuries, traditionally employed in its native regions for medicinal and recreational purposes. Its leaves, containing multiple active alkaloids, notably mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, are known for their stimulant and sedative effects. These effects vary significantly depending on the dosage: lower doses tend to produce a stimulant effect, increasing energy and alertness, while higher doses lead to sedative effects, providing pain relief and euphoria.

In recent years, kratom has gained attention as a potential therapeutic agent, particularly in managing pain, depression, and opioid withdrawal symptoms. However, its safety and efficacy remain under scrutiny, with concerns about potential side effects, addiction, and other health risks.

What is Kratom: A Botanical Introduction

Kratom is a tropical tree that can grow up to 25 meters high. Its leaves are the primary source of its psychoactive properties. These leaves are dark green and glossy, with a characteristic ovate-acuminate shape. The leaves' size can vary significantly, with older trees having larger leaves.

The kratom tree thrives in the humid, tropical climate of Southeast Asia, flourishing in the fertile soils of the region. It's a hardy plant, resistant to some pests and diseases that typically affect other plants in the area. The tree blooms with yellow, clustered flowers, but it's the leaves that are harvested for their medicinal and psychoactive properties.

The Kratom Plant: Historical Background and Description

Historically, kratom has been an integral part of traditional medicine in Southeast Asia. The first recorded mention of kratom dates back to the 19th century, when Dutch botanist Pieter Willem Korthals documented it. Traditionally, the leaves were chewed fresh by workers and farmers to combat fatigue, improve stamina, and as a substitute for opium. Kratom was also used in traditional medical systems to treat various ailments, including diarrhea, fever, and pain.

The kratom plant's lifecycle begins with the seeds, which are notoriously hard to germinate. Once established, the tree can grow rapidly, with the harvesting of leaves typically starting when the tree is about a year old. The color of the veins in the leaves is often used to classify kratom, with red, green, and white varieties each purported to have different effects. Red vein kratom is said to be more sedating, green is thought to offer a balance of stimulant and sedative effects, and white is said to be more stimulating.

The environment in which kratom grows significantly influences its alkaloid profile, which can vary considerably even within the same region. This variability contributes to the differences in effects experienced by users and poses a challenge in standardizing kratom products for medicinal purposes.

Utilization of Kratom

Kratom has a diverse range of uses, stretching from traditional applications in its native Southeast Asian countries to various modern forms in Western nations. This dichotomy reflects not only the cultural differences in how kratom is viewed and utilized but also the evolution of its application as it has moved from a local, natural resource to a globally traded commodity.

Traditional Uses of the Kratom Plant in Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia, where kratom is indigenous, the plant has been used for centuries, deeply ingrained in the cultural and medicinal practices of the region. The traditional uses of kratom are varied:

  • Energy and Stamina Booster: Farmers and laborers often chewed fresh kratom leaves for their stimulant effects to combat fatigue and increase productivity during long working hours.
  • Pain Relief: Kratom was used as a natural remedy for relieving pain, owing to its analgesic properties.
  • Treatment for Opioid Withdrawal: Historically, kratom has been used as a substitute for opium when it was not available and to alleviate opium withdrawal symptoms.
  • Recreational Use: Beyond its medicinal uses, kratom also served a recreational purpose, consumed socially among friends and family.
  • Other Medicinal Uses: Kratom was traditionally used to treat a variety of ailments such as fever, diarrhea, and diabetes, and as a local anesthetic.

The method of consumption in traditional settings varied, with the most common being chewing fresh leaves. Sometimes, the leaves were dried and smoked, or brewed into a tea. The consumption method depended on the desired effect and the cultural context. 

Modern Forms and Varieties of Kratom in the West

With its introduction to the Western world, kratom has taken on various forms, catering to different preferences and uses:

  • Powders: One of the most common forms of kratom in the West, powders are made by drying and grinding the leaves. They can be consumed in capsules, mixed into beverages, or used in cooking. You can find best Kratom Powders at Choice for an unforgettable experience.
  • Extracts: Kratom extracts are concentrated forms of the active compounds, often found in the form of tinctures, oils, or resins.
  • Capsules and Tablets: For ease of use and dose consistency, kratom is also available in capsules and tablets. Choice overs a wide range of Kratom Capsules in three different variations; Green Maeng da, Red Bali, White Borneo.
  • Teas: Similar to traditional use, kratom leaves are brewed into tea, either from raw leaves or using powdered forms.
  • Enhanced Products: These include products like kratom gummies or combined with other herbs and supplements for specific effects.
  • Topical Applications: More recently, kratom is being explored in creams and ointments for topical use.
kratom plant

 

These modern forms have expanded the accessibility of kratom to a broader audience. However, they also present challenges in regulation and quality control, as the potency and purity of kratom can vary significantly. 

The Western market for kratom has also led to the development of numerous strains, each claimed to have distinct effects based on the color of the leaf veins and the region of origin. This variety has made kratom a versatile plant with applications ranging from therapeutic use to recreational consumption.

The Effects and Pharmacology of Kratom

Kratom's effects and pharmacology are complex and multifaceted, primarily due to the presence of numerous active compounds within the plant. These compounds interact with various systems in the human body, leading to a range of effects that vary from stimulant to sedative depending on the dosage and strain.

Kratom Effects: Active Compounds and Their Actions

Kratom contains over 25 alkaloids, with mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine being the most prominent. These compounds are responsible for the majority of kratom’s physiological effects.

  • Mitragynine: This is the most abundant alkaloid in kratom, accounting for up to 66% of the total alkaloid content in some strains. It is primarily responsible for the stimulant effects at lower doses. Mitragynine acts on the opioid receptors, but unlike traditional opioids, it does not create the same level of dependency or risk of overdose.
  • 7-Hydroxymitragynine: Found in smaller amounts, this alkaloid is more potent than mitragynine and is largely responsible for the analgesic (pain-relieving) effects of kratom. It has a higher affinity for the opioid receptors, which explains its strong analgesic properties.
  • Other Alkaloids: Besides these two, other alkaloids like speciogynine, paynantheine, and speciociliatine contribute to the muscle relaxing, anti-inflammatory, and sedative effects of kratom.

The effects of kratom can range from increased energy, alertness, and sociability at lower doses to sedation, pain relief, and euphoria at higher doses. This dose-dependent effect profile makes kratom unique compared to many other psychoactive substances.

The Mechanisms of Kratom: Receptor Affinity and Impact

The primary mechanism of action for kratom’s effects is its interaction with the opioid receptors in the brain. These receptors are part of a complex system that regulates pain, reward, and addictive behaviors.

  • Opioid Receptor Activity: Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine primarily interact with the mu (μ) and delta (δ) opioid receptors. Unlike typical opioids, kratom alkaloids act as partial agonists at these receptors, which is thought to contribute to a lower risk of respiratory depression and addiction.
  • Serotonergic and Noradrenergic Pathways: Kratom also affects other neurotransmitter systems. It has been shown to interact with serotonin and norepinephrine receptors, which could contribute to mood elevation and analgesic effects.
  • Adrenergic Receptors: Mitragynine has been found to bind to adrenergic receptors as well, which may explain the stimulant effects seen at lower doses.
kratom effects

The interaction of kratom alkaloids with these diverse receptors explains its dual nature as both a stimulant and a sedative, as well as its potential use in managing conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, and opioid withdrawal. 

However, it's important to note that the precise mechanisms of kratom are still being studied, and its safety profile is not fully understood. The variation in alkaloid content based on different strains and growth conditions further complicates the understanding of kratom's pharmacology. This complexity underscores the need for more research to fully understand how kratom works and to ensure its safe use.

Kratom in Medicine: Pharmacokinetics

Pharmacokinetics involves understanding how substances are absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and excreted in the body. In the context of kratom, this understanding is crucial for comprehending its therapeutic potential, safety, and efficacy. Kratom’s key components, primarily mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, exhibit unique pharmacokinetic properties that affect their medicinal effects and risks.

Absorption and Metabolism of Kratom’s Key Components

The absorption of kratom's alkaloids, particularly mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, begins soon after ingestion, with effects typically felt within 5 to 10 minutes. The peak concentration in the bloodstream usually occurs within an hour.

The form in which kratom is consumed—whether as chewed leaves, tea, capsules, powders, or extracts—affects the rate and efficiency of absorption. 

Once in the system, these alkaloids are primarily metabolized in the liver. Mitragynine, for example, undergoes extensive hepatic metabolism through various pathways, including CYP3A4 and CYP2D6 enzymes. This process produces several metabolites, some of which are active and contribute to the effects experienced by users.

The metabolic pathways of kratom's alkaloids are complex and can be influenced by individual genetic differences in enzyme activity, potentially affecting the substance's efficacy and risk of adverse effects.

The Half-Life and Bioavailability of Kratom Alkaloids

The half-life of a substance is crucial as it determines the duration of its effects and how long it stays in the body. For kratom, particularly mitragynine, the half-life is approximately 3-4 hours in healthy individuals. However, this can vary based on several factors like age, liver function, and concurrent use of other substances.

Bioavailability, which is the proportion of a substance that enters the circulation when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect, is also a key factor in understanding kratom's pharmacokinetics. Kratom's bioavailability is affected by its method of consumption, the individual's metabolism, and the presence of other ingested substances that might interfere with its absorption.

Kratom Research and Clinical Implications

The research on kratom, encompassing laboratory studies and human trials, is essential in defining its pharmacological profile, potential therapeutic uses, and legal status. This research is particularly important given the growing use of kratom worldwide and the ongoing debate over its safety and regulation.

Laboratory Studies on Kratom's Effects

Laboratory studies on kratom primarily focus on its pharmacodynamics (effects and actions of the active compounds) and pharmacokinetics (how the body processes these compounds). These studies are crucial for understanding how kratom interacts with various biological systems.

  • In Vitro Studies: These studies often use cell cultures to understand how kratom’s alkaloids interact with human cells, especially brain cells. They explore the binding affinity of kratom alkaloids to different receptors, such as opioid, serotonergic, and adrenergic receptors.
  • Animal Studies: Rodent models are commonly used to study the effects of kratom. These studies have provided insights into kratom’s potential for pain relief, its impact on anxiety and depression models, and its effects on the neurological system. They also help in understanding the potential for addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Pharmacological Profiles: Both in vitro and animal studies contribute to the understanding of the pharmacological profile of kratom. They help in identifying potential therapeutic uses, such as pain management, treatment for opioid withdrawal, and mood enhancement.

Comparison Table of Kratom Effects from Studies

Effect Category

Laboratory Studies (Animal and In Vitro)

Human Trials and Surveys

Pain Relief

Demonstrated analgesic effects in rodent models

Self-reported effective pain management

Mood Enhancement

Potential antidepressant and anxiolytic effects in animal models

Self-reported improvements in mood and anxiety

Addiction Treatment

Reduced addiction-like behaviors in rodents

Anecdotal reports of efficacy in opioid withdrawal

Side Effects

Potential for addiction and withdrawal in animal models

Self-reported side effects like nausea, constipation, dependence


Human Trials and Kratom's Legal Status

Human trials of kratom are less common due to its varying legal status in different countries and the challenges in standardizing kratom preparations for clinical studies. However, some key findings include:

  • Efficacy and Safety: Clinical trials that have been conducted focus on the efficacy and safety of kratom, particularly for pain management, opioid withdrawal, and treatment of mood disorders.
  • User Surveys: Surveys and observational studies provide insights into how kratom is used in the community, the demographics of its users, and self-reported effects and side effects.

As for kratom's legal status, it varies globally:

  • United States: The FDA has not approved kratom for any medical use and has expressed concerns about its safety. However, it remains legal in most states.
  • Southeast Asia: In countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the legal status of kratom varies, with some banning its use and others regulating it.
  • Europe: The legality of kratom varies across European countries, with some allowing its use and others banning it.
kratom plant

The Health Impact of Kratom Use

The health impact of kratom is a critical area of focus due to its increasing use and the potential for both beneficial and adverse effects. While kratom has been touted for its therapeutic benefits, it's important to acknowledge and understand the risks associated with its use.

Kratom Effects: Adverse Reactions and Overdose Symptoms

Adverse reactions to kratom are dose-dependent. Kratom dosage are often lower, higher or overdose. At lower doses, users may experience mild side effects such as nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, increased urination, and loss of appetite. However, at higher doses, the severity of adverse reactions increases, including risks of sedation, loss of coordination, and more severe psychiatric symptoms in rare cases. Overdose, while uncommon, can lead to serious consequences like severe sedation, respiratory depression, and loss of consciousness, particularly when kratom is mixed with other substances.

Health Concerns and Complications Associated with Kratom

Long-term kratom use raises several health concerns. Regular and high-dose use can lead to physical dependence and addiction, with withdrawal symptoms similar to opioid withdrawal. There have been instances of liver injury linked to kratom use, characterized by symptoms like jaundice and fatigue. Cardiovascular issues, including altered heart rates and blood pressure changes, have also been noted. Additionally, there are concerns about the potential impact of prolonged kratom use on cognitive functions, although more research is needed in this area.

Managing Adverse Effects of Kratom

The management of kratom-related adverse effects primarily involves discontinuing its use. This is often the first step in mitigating health risks. Supportive care and symptom management are crucial, particularly in cases of withdrawal or overdose. Medical monitoring may be required for severe reactions, such as liver toxicity or cardiovascular problems. For those experiencing dependence or addiction, counseling and support groups can offer necessary assistance and guidance.

Therapeutic Potential of Kratom

Kratom's therapeutic potential is a subject of growing interest in the medical community, especially as an alternative to traditional painkillers and a potential aid in mental health and addiction treatment. Its complex alkaloid profile suggests a range of pharmacological effects that could be harnessed for therapeutic purposes.

Kratom in Pain and Mental Health Management

Kratom has been increasingly considered for pain management, particularly for chronic pain that doesn't respond well to standard treatments. The alkaloids in kratom, primarily mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, act on the body’s opioid receptors, offering pain relief with a potentially lower risk of dependency compared to traditional opioids. This has made kratom a subject of interest for people seeking alternatives to conventional pain medication.

In the realm of mental health, kratom's potential use in treating mood disorders has been explored, albeit less extensively. Anecdotal reports suggest that the stimulant effects of kratom at lower doses can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, the scientific evidence supporting these claims is still in its infancy. The mood-lifting and anxiolytic properties of kratom could be linked to its impact on neurotransmitter systems, but further research is needed to understand these interactions and their clinical implications fully.

Kratom's Role in Addiction Treatment

Kratom is also being explored as a tool in addiction treatment, particularly in managing opioid withdrawal symptoms. Its ability to mitigate withdrawal symptoms without the high risk of dependency associated with opioids makes it a unique substance in the realm of addiction treatment. 

Some users have reported successfully using kratom to reduce their dependence on opioids and manage withdrawal symptoms. However, the lack of comprehensive clinical studies and concerns about kratom's own potential for abuse and dependency necessitate cautious consideration of its role in addiction treatment.

Concluding Insights on Kratom

Kratom's dual nature as a potential therapeutic agent and a substance with abuse potential makes it a complex topic in both medical research and public health discussions.

Summarizing Kratom's Effects and Applications

Kratom’s effects range from stimulant to sedative, depending on the dosage and strain. Its primary applications are currently in the areas of pain relief, mental health management, and as an aid in addiction treatment. However, these applications are shadowed by concerns about its safety profile, particularly regarding its long-term use, potential for dependency, and the variability in the composition of commercially available products. The legal status of kratom is a reflection of these concerns and varies widely across different regions.

Future Directions in Kratom Research and Policy

Future research on kratom is vital and should focus on several key areas:

  • Clinical Trials: Rigorous clinical trials are needed to establish the safety and efficacy of kratom for various therapeutic uses.
  • Standardization of Products: Establishing standards for kratom products to ensure consistency in potency and purity.
  • Long-term Studies: Research into the long-term effects of kratom use is necessary to understand its safety profile over time.
  • Policy and Regulation: Developing informed policies and regulations that balance kratom's potential benefits with the need to protect public health.

In conclusion, kratom presents both opportunities and challenges in the fields of medicine and public health. Its potential as a therapeutic agent is intriguing, but it must be explored responsibly, with a clear-eyed view of its risks and benefits. As research progresses, it will be critical to update policies and guidelines to reflect new understandings of kratom's effects and applications.