by Mike Arnold
Introduced to the United States decades ago, but lacking the name recognition associated with similar substances, many of you may be unaware of this internationally celebrated opiate alternative. For some, the word “opiate” may conjure up thoughts of prescription medications such as oxycontin, or perhaps even controlled substances like heroin. But unlike these synthetic opiates, Kratom is unique in both origin and action, providing us with many of the beneficial effects of traditional drugs, but without the harsh side effect profile characteristic of these synthetic creations.
More properly classified as an herbal preparation, Kratom is made from the leaves of the Mitragyna Speciosa, a tree native to Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand, Indonesia, etc) and belonging to the same family from which America’s favorite breakfast beverage is derived; the coffee tree. A part of Asian culture for millennia, Kratom has traditionally been used in as a means of increasing work capacity in common laborers; a practice that endures to this day in these regions. Although banned in Thailand as a result of economic backlash (a decrease in tax revenue from opium exports), it is legal in most other countries, including the United States.
However, a handful of states (Indiana, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, and Tennessee) have passed legislation outlawing the distribution and possession of this natural botanical; a decision many believe was unwarranted, given its impressive safety record (no deaths have been attributed directly to Kratom) and the lack of incriminating data gathered from countries with a long history of use. But what is it about Kratom that makes it so special and which allows it to continue enjoying near worldwide legal status?
Diverse in its actions, the effects of Kratom are largely determined by both dosage and the particular strain employed. At lower dosages it imparts a stimulant-like effect, characterized by an increase in energy, motivation, and the ability to perform routine or monotonous tasks with greater ease. This energizing effect is distinct from that which is obtained with traditional stimulants such as caffeine or ephedrine, as it lacks the nervous system activation associated with these compounds. This means no elevation of heart rate, jitteriness, anxiety, post-use crash, or any of the other unwanted side effects common to nervous system stimulants. The stimulating effects of Kratom are cerebral in nature, rather than nervous system oriented, so the user retains a calm, relaxed disposition during the experience.
At higher dosages, it acts more like an opiate, exhibiting euphoric, anti-anxiolytic, sedative, and analgesic properties. Many have likened it to the prescription drugs hydrocodone (Vicodin) or oxycodone (Percocet); an apt comparison, as the active compounds within Kratom bind to the same receptors as opiates. Depending on the dose administered, it can pack quite a punch, delivering a feel-good experience similar to traditional opiates in terms of both duration and intensity.
In addition to dosing, there are dozens of different types of Kratom available, each of which is classified according to strain and vein-color. Strain-type is determined by geographical location, as the tree’s environment has a profound impact on both the type and quantity of alkaloids (the active compounds within Kratom) present. Strains are often named after the country or city in which they were grown, such as: Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Borneo, Bali, etc. Some others were given names unrelated to their country/city of origin, such as Maeng Da.
Kratom is also categorized by vein-color, which includes white, red, and green vein varieties. White-vein Kratom is the most stimulating of the bunch and is commonly used to increase energy, enhance mood, alertness, concentration, and mental vigilance. It is ideal for those participating in day-time activities and social events, as well as improving work performance or engaging in day to day tasks. Its popularity has grown rapidly over the last few years, as more and more people have begin searching for an alternative to the more sedating types of Kratom.
For those looking to unwind and relax at the end of the day, the red vein varieties are your best bet. Prized for their strong euphoric, anti-anxiolytic, analgesic and sedative qualities, they bear the closest resemblance to traditional opiates in both function and effect. Because of their proficiency in this area, they can often be used interchangeably with prescription pain medication or even as a replacement. At present, red vein Kratom is the most commonly used of the three different veins types.
Falling somewhere in the middle of the white and red veins is green-vein Kratom. Supplying a more even balance of stimulation to sedation, green-vein products are suitable for anytime use, although many users tend to describe their effects as more energizing than sedating, making this particular vein more closely related to the white-vein varieties than red.
With all the classifications used to differentiate between the various types of Kratom, choosing the product that is best for you can get confusing, especially when one considers that there is no universal naming or grading system in place. As a result, you will frequently find individual vendors coming up with their own names for the strains they offer, making it difficult to reliably compare Kratom products from one seller to the next (note: the country/city of origin is still usually included in the name). Still, understanding the differences between each of the three vein types will help point one in the right direction. Most Kratom vendors also provide descriptions of the different strains they sell, assisting the user in their purchase.
Now that we know what this amazing botanical does, let’s take at look at how it works. Kratom contains over 40 active compounds, many of which are unique to the Kratom tree alone. However, there are 3 primary compounds believed to be responsible for its stimulatory and opiate-like effects. These are mitragynine, 7-hydroxymitragynine, and mitragynine pseudoindoxyl. Structurally similar to yohimbine, these psychoactive compounds bind with norandrenergic, seretogenic, and opioid receptors, but have different effects in the body.
Mitragynine, the most abundant alkaloid in Kratom, was originally thought to be the main alkaloid responsible for producing its opiate-like effects, but further research has shown mitragynine to be stimulatory in nature, even at very high doses. 7-hydroxymitragynine, although present in much lower quantities than mitragynine, is roughly 30X as potent and now thought to be the primary alkaloid responsible for initiating the pleasurable opiate-like effects experienced by Kratom users.
The last alkaloid mentioned here, mitragynine pseudoindoxyl, falls inbetween the other two in terms of potency, but produces opiate-like effects similar to 7-hydroxymitragynine. Alkaloid content can vary tremendously among the different types of Kratom and is the chief reason for the diverse effects experienced with different strains and vein colors. While these 3 alkaloids may be the heavy-hitters of the group, there are many more thought to play a role in the overall Kratom experience. However, the majority have been poorly studied, leaving us with little to no information from which to draw conclusions.
One of the primary advantages of Kratom compared to traditional opiates is the safety factor. The biggest risk factor associated with opiate usage and which has been responsible for the vast majority of opiate related deaths, is hypoventilation (respiratory depression). Fortunately, Kratom lacks this side effect, making it a much safer alternative to opiate-based drugs.
While Kratom can cause physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms with chronic use, withdrawal is generally mild in comparison to opiates. Furthermore, many users have noted that whole-leaf preparations, which contain all of the plants alkaloids in their natural quantities and ratios, do not result in the same degree of tolerance or withdrawal as do individual alkaloids, such as 7-hydroxymitragynine. This has led many to speculate that Kratom, in its unadulterated state, contains compounds which prevent the user from experiencing the same degree of dependence that is seen with opiates.
As a result, Kratom has been successfully employed as an anti-addiction treatment in those suffering from opiate addiction, helping to ease, and in many cases eliminate withdrawal symptoms completely, thereby helping ease the individual’s transition into sobriety. In Southeastern Asia, Kratom has been used for this purpose for centuries; a practice that has only recently begun to catch on in the United States as more addicts begin looking for natural alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.
With the alkaloids in Kratom possessing a high degree of oral bioavailability, the leaves are most often consumed in dry, ground/powdered form, which are then either encapsulated or mixed in liquid and drank. Whole leaves can also be made into a tea, for those who prefer this method over consuming the leaves themselves.
Potential side effects include those which are common to opiates, such as: drowsiness, constipation, nausea, dry mouth, and slowed digestion. With responsible use (Kratom should not be used chronically), side effects are mild, and frequently go unnoticed.
While Kratom is most often used for its pleasurable effects, it is not without its fair share of health benefits. Although clinical research on this botanical is still in its infancy, it has already been shown to have multiple positive effects on our physiology, acting as an anti-oxidant, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial agent. In addition, blood sugar regulation appears to be improved with Kratom, thereby benefitting overall metabolic health.
With multiple positive applications, an impressive safety profile, several health benefits, and reduced addiction potential, Kratom’s popularity has exploded in recent years, providing millions of people with a superior and legal alternative to synthetic opiates. Given its wide availability and inexpensive cost, Kratom can be purchased through companies such as Mile High Kratom and other online vendors.