Powerful supplement or dangerous drug? The herb Kratom, native to Southeast Asia, has long been used as a pain reliever and mood booster in countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Australia.
It is also illegal or highly regulated in these countries due to its psychoactive properties and supposed dangers. So, which is it? Is Kratom a compound that can be used safely to optimize your body, or should it be avoided at all costs?
Kratom is a plant whose leaves contain psychoactive opioids (which means it does things to your mind). It can affect mood, reduce pain responses, and supposedly works as an aphrodisiac.
Researchers know two of the main compounds in Kratom that affect the brain (mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine), but because the long-term consequences of using Kratom aren’t understood (and many governments believe there is significant potential for abuse) its legal status is somewhat slippery.
In many parts of Southeast Asia, possession of Kratom leaves is illegal. In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Agency had plans to make it a Schedule I Substance (one of the really illegal ones), citing a public health risk.
This drew the ire of supporters, who believed there were uses for Kratom that could and should be explored through medical research. In response, the DEA relented, temporarily, in October 2016, allowing for a “public comment period” for individuals to “share their experiences using Kratom as a medical treatment.”
As I’m writing this, the DEA is still reviewing comments and hasn’t reached a decision, but the battle lines have been drawn. Researchers, and groups like the American Kratom Association, wish to keep it legal, while regulators and some medical associations would prefer a crackdown.
Seeing as there is potential for Kratom to become a significant painkiller and perhaps even weed addicts off of other opioids, I’d much rather see continued research before the government goes wild with a restrictive ban.
An excellent choice for insomnia (for most people) and weight loss (for some people), it may not be the go-to supplement for depression due to producing too much of a good thing serotonin).
Kratom is sometimes referred to as “Ketum,” but it is more commonly known by its scientific name, Mitragyna Speciosa.
Kratom isn’t illegal yet, and, in fact, is quite easy to order from different vendors on the internet. Apparently, you can chew the leaves to get some of the effects, but I decided to go with the Kratom powder, which people commonly mix into drinks. I decided to keep things simple and go with the Kratom-infused tea.
First, I had to measure out a dosage (you’re going to need a scale for this). The recommended amount varies from 2-10 grams (for the premium grade powder), so I decided to go roughly in the middle with about six grams.
I mixed it in with a cup of Earl Grey and sipped it slowly. After I had finished, it took about seven minutes to start feeling the effects.
Some of what I had read said that the stimulating feeling Kratom is supposed to grant is hit-or-miss. I guess that I’m in the category that takes to this particular effect, as I felt a definite pep. A little while later, I could notice a serious euphoria washing over me.
It was intense for about a minute, then subsided to a more reasonable level. It peaked a few times throughout the four hours that I could notice the effects of the tea, but for the most part, I felt a noticeably increased mood and enhanced level of motivation most of the time that was largely stable.
My takeaway is this: I can see why some might see a potential for abuse here. The high was pronounced enough that you might want to chase after it if you’re prone to such behavior. On the flipside, I’ve read about how with further study, Kratom might form the basis for the “perfect painkiller,” one that doesn’t require ever increasing dosages to work in the long-term.
Again, I’m of the opinion that researchers should investigate Kratom further to learn more about it, both good and bad, to see if it does have a place as either a mood supplement or pain controlling agent.
Reading talk from around the internet, you’ll see arguments from both camps represented. The article I linked to earlier, “Kratom Drug Ban May Cripple Promising Painkiller Research,” mentions the studies of Kratom’s components on mice, that showed some promise.
Then there are the scores of blogs and activists who, for lack of a better term, are “all-in” on Kratom and want to see it studied further.
They acknowledge some of the risks, but just want to see the government take a measured approach to learning more about the plant before saying it should be tightly restricted. I’ll admit, I’m inclined to agree with them.
Kratom’s main benefits are the effects it has on the mind. It won’t improve your focus like some other compounds, but it will put you in a different state, which will vary based on your sensitivity and the dose that you use.
This is one of Kratom’s more interesting qualities. It can provide either a stimulating or sedating feeling, depending on how much you take.
At lower doses, Kratom will cause you to feel perky, much like I did when I tried it out. The experience can be summed up as an enhanced level of alertness and physical energy.
You might feel motivated to do some work, more talkative, friendlier, and much more willing to interact in a group setting. It’s different than the traditional “coffee high,” however, as the effects are more noticeable on a cognitive level than a physical one.
At higher doses, you’ll feel slower and calmer. It’s a feeling of comfort similar to other opioids, allowing you to relax and take your mind off of day-to-day stressors.
Kratom may also act as an anti-depressant. It counteracts feelings of sadness and creates a sometimes intense euphoria that will ebb and flow as the substance runs its course through your body. Some users also report heightened levels of sexual energy, a deeper appreciation for art and music, and a general sense of well-being that engulfs the presence of mind.
Kratom has long been used as a traditional medicine for pains associated with arthritis and other conditions. Your muscles relax as waves of contentedness overtake your body. This close similarity to other opiates is one of the reasons people will use it as a substitute, in some cases as an attempt to wean themselves from more potent drugs.
It is important to note, however, that medical research into Kratom’s effectiveness in the area is incomplete. It certainly may be suitable for this purpose, but to what degree, researchers do not yet know.
Kratom contains about 25 compounds known as alkaloids that interact with the body. The two most potent, though, are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. Here’s what we know about their effects so far:
“Mitragynine has opioid-like activity in animals. It inhibits electrically stimulated ileum and vas deferens smooth muscle contraction. Through actions on centrally located opioid receptor, it inhibits gastric secretion and reduces pain response.”
In other words, they attach to receptors in the brain and make you feel good. If you want to dig deeper into the chemistry, you’ll find that mitragynine also inhibits certain enzymes, making it a prime candidate for drug interactions (situations where taking two drugs simultaneously will produce synergistic or antagonistic effects).
As mentioned, these substances (and several derivative substances) have powerful painkilling effects and might have use as designer analgesics. If researchers can learn more about how they work and how to tweak them properly, they could open the door to a whole new world of pain relief and mood regulation.
Determining the correct dosage of Kratom can be tricky. You’ll have to keep in mind that lower amounts may produce stimulating effects, while higher doses will result in sedation. This is further complicated by the fact that Kratom comes in different forms and potencies.
The leaves, for instance, can be chewed to induce the effects, or steeped to create a bitter tea that will confer the plant’s benefits. How much raw Kratom to use will depend on your body weight and other personal health factors.
When using Kratom powder, you can find different varieties, like “premium” and “ultra-potent,” that will change how much you need to use to achieve the state you desire. In many cases, an amount between 2-10 grams is suitable, but you’ll have to do some trial-and-error to get your numbers dialed in.
It’s quite important to measure accurately with a sensitive scale, as the difference between just a few grams can significantly alter how it will affect you.
The side effects of Kratom are also varied, changing from user to users. The most commonly reported short-term drawbacks are nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, increased urination, and a loss of appetite. In the long term, there have been reports of insomnia, skin darkening, and anorexia as well.
The most cautioned against side effect is addiction. This is what the DEA takes most seriously:
“Between 2010 and 2015, U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that kratom abuse leads to agitation, irritability, tachycardia, nausea, drowsiness, and hypertension.
Health risks found in kratom abusers include hepatotoxicity, psychosis, seizure, weight loss, insomnia, tachycardia, vomiting, poor concentration, hallucinations, and death. DEA is aware of 15 kratom-related deaths between 2014 and 2016.”
Proponents argue that there is little risk of the drug becoming dangerous and habit forming if used responsibly. Unfortunately, many who suffer from “addictive personalities” might find it difficult to enjoy only occasional use, and may instead opt for a recreational habit (building a tolerance, and thus spiraling into a cycle of increased use).
Kratom is plenty potent on its own, and its potential for drug interactivity is notable. For those reasons, you should take caution when combining it with other substances. Cocaine, large doses of caffeine, amphetamines, and MAO inhibitors are a definite no-no. Still, there are a few stacks that are relatively safe if used in controlled doses.
Kratom is commonly ingested as tea of its own but tastes notoriously bitter. Mixing it with a more pleasantly flavored tea variety will mitigate the bad taste and provide a slight, but not overwhelming caffeine boost on top of its natural stimulating effects. Brew your tea as normal, add a few grams of Kratom, and you should be good to go.
Those that want to maximize the mood-altering benefits of Kratom have found that Phenibut is a prime option. Phenibut is an anti-stress and anti-anxiety agent that is believed to “unlock” GABA receptors in the brain. This improves your mood, making you more sociable, and inducing relaxation.
The two compounds have a supposed synergistic effect that increases the potency of these positive states. The typical Kratom/Phenibut routine consists of your regular dose of Kratom (which might vary) along with an approximate 500mg of Phenibut. The effects should last for 4-6 hours.
Some might find Kratom somewhat intimidating or want to compare its effect to similar substances. If you fall in either camp, be sure to check out:
This is a dopamine elevating supplement that is designed to boost mood and cognitive function. If you’re looking for the calmness and energy that Kratom might provide along with a focus or brain boost, you might try this one out. Supplements are readily available in capsule form, so you don’t have to fool around with weighing dosages in most cases.
Apparently, this cooking spice is more than just a spice. Users report that Turmeric tea can help with depression symptoms and relieve joint pains, so if you were interested in Kratom for those reasons you might find this to be a suitable substitute. Important to note that there is insufficient research to support these claims about Turmeric, but it’s worth a shot to try it out.
This antihistamine can control allergy symptoms, and, according to some supporters, it also does wonders for depression and mood. The effect is similar to the opioid high of Kratom but is potent in much lower doses. It can cause serious interactions with drugs like alcohol, though, so make sure to read up and watch what you’re doing if you decide to give it a go.
There is a lot more to look into when it comes to Kratom. I’ll repeat it for good measure, this stuff is potent, and I feel it has definite use for regulating mood and pain. I’m also convinced there is potential for misuse, but the same can be said about many other substances.
In the end, it will be up to the research community to investigate Kratom further to unlock more of its secrets, but that will become increasingly difficult if the DEA gives it a severely limiting Schedule I restriction. I encourage you to read up further.