Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tree from Southeast Asia that grows in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua, where it has been used in traditional medicine. Kratom is a member of the Rubiaceae family, that also include coffee and gardenia.
The effects are unique in that stimulation occurs at low doses and opioid-like depressant and euphoric effects occur at higher doses. Some people take it for managing chronic pain, for treating opioid withdrawal symptoms, or – more recently – for recreational purposes.
Kratom does not get you “high”, but it can provide stimulation, mood lift and sedation. The stimulating effects of kratom are much different and smoother than caffeine for example. They start after 10-15 minutes and last between 2 and 5 hours.
The leaves of kratom are consumed either by chewing, or by drying and smoking, putting into capsules, tablets or extract, or by boiling into a tea. However, some Southeast Asian countries now outlaw its use. Common uses include treatment of pain, to help withdrawal from opiates (such as prescription narcotics or heroin) and for mild stimulation. Kratom was also used as an opium substitute in Thailand.
In the US, the herbal product has been used as an alternative agent for muscle pain relief, diarrhea, and as a treatment for opiate addiction and withdrawal. Patients with PTSD have reported positive effects.
In the United States, kratom is mostly brewed as a tea for the self-management of pain. Kratom is legal in the United States. However, it’s not legal in Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, and several European Union countries.
In Southeast Asia, it has been used in traditional medicine. The leaves are chewed to relieve musculoskeletal pain and increase energy, appetite, and sexual desire in ways similar to khat and coca.
Traditionally, kratom leaves have been used by Thai and Malaysian natives for centuries for its stimulant effects. It was used by workers in Southeast Asia to increase energy, stamina, and limit fatigue. Kratom is often used by workers in laborious or monotonous professions to stave off exhaustion as well as a mood enhancer and/or painkiller.
The leaves or extracts from them are used to heal wounds and as a local anesthetic, and to treat coughs, diarrhea, and intestinal infections.
The herb is very bitter and is generally combined with a sweetener.
Effects are dose-dependent and occur rapidly, reportedly beginning within 10 minutes after consumption and lasting from one to five hours. Kratom has an unusual action of producing both stimulant effects at lower doses and more sedative effects at higher doses.
Beside pain, other uses include as an anti-inflammatory, antipyretic (to lower fever), antitussive (cough suppressant), antihypertensive (to lower blood pressure), as a local anesthetic, to lower blood sugar, and as an antidiarrheal. It has also been promoted to enhance sexual function. None of the uses have been studied clinically.
Kratom withdrawal side effects may include irritability, anxiety, craving, yawning, runny nose, stomach cramps, sweating and diarrhea; all similar to opioid withdrawal.
The leaves, or extracts from the leaves, have been used as a stimulant and a sedative. It’s also been reported for treating chronic pain, digestive ailments, and as an aid for withdrawal from opium dependence.
Kratom is being used in the US to treat chronic pain and to reverse opioid withdrawal symptoms, and often purchased over the Internet. However, recreational use may be on the rise, too. The primary psychoactive component, mitragynine, is many times more potent than morphine.
At low doses, kratom has been reported to work like a stimulant. People who have used low doses generally report having more energy, being more alert, and feeling more sociable. At high doses, kratom has been reported as being sedative, producing euphoric effects, and dulling emotions and sensations.
Stimulant effects – The effects usually happen within 10 minutes after ingesting it and can last up to 1 1/2 hours. These effects can include increased alertness, increased sociability, giddiness and reduced motor coordination.
Sedative effects – A larger dose of between 10 and 25 grams of dried leaves can cause a sedative effect, with feelings of calmness and euphoria. This could last for up to six hours.
Kratom hasn’t been studied in-depth, so it hasn’t officially been recommended for medical use. Clinical studies are very important for the development of new drugs. Studies help to identify consistently harmful effects and harmful interactions with other drugs. These studies also help to identify dosages that are effective yet not dangerous.
Medicinal Properties & Benefits
Sexual Stimulant – Kratom is seen by many traditional practitioners and users as an aphrodisiac and a fertility booster, as the extra energy and blood flow can help increase fertility, re-energize a tired libido, and improve duration/conception rates.
Reduced Anxiety – As you can probably imagine, any substance that is able to relieve pain and cause opium-like effects on the body will also likely have an impact on the mental stability and tone of an individual. Kratom leaves are widely used as anxiolytic substances for people who suffer from chronic stress, depression, anxiety, and mood swings. By regulating the hormones in our body, people can finally get relief from these exhausting symptoms of chemical imbalance without having to rely on pharmaceuticals and all of the implicit side effects of those drugs.
Addiction Recovery – Due to the inherently healthy nature of kratom leaves, in combination with their range of effects, they have been used as a method of curing addiction for hundreds of years. In many cultures, opium addiction is a major issue, but regularly chewing on kratom leaves provides a similar sensation without the comedowns and negative side effects. Therefore, when people are attempting to “get clean” and stay that way, they often turn to kratom leaves as a tolerable solution, thereby making these leaves very valuable in many parts of the world. This also helps to cover withdrawal symptoms during the transition away from that more intense drug.
Heart Health – Studies have connected the use of kratom leaves to a distinct drop in blood pressure. As the leaves and their chemical components impact the body’s hormones, they also reduce inflammation throughout the body, including the blood vessels and arteries. By relieving that tension in the cardiovascular system, kratom leaves are able to help prevent more serious heart conditions, such as atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
Diabetes Treatment – One of the lesser known benefits of kratom leaves is their effect on blood sugar levels. Limited research has shown that the alkaloids found in the leaves are able to help regulate the amount of insulin and glucose in the blood, effectively preventing the dangerous peaks and troughs that diabetics face. This can not only help diabetics manage their disorder, but also prevent it from developing in the first place.
Pain Reliever – One of the most obvious and widely known effects of kratom leaves is pain relief. Since the leaves were first introduced to their indigenous cultures, this has been a primary use, as the analgesic properties of the alkaloids and nutrients of the leaves can quickly relieve pain throughout the body by impacting the hormonal system. By increasing the amount of serotonin and dopamine that is released into the body, pain can be alleviated (or masked) by chewing on kratom leaves. Essentially, the alkaloids dull the pain receptors throughout the body. This morphine or opium-like quality of kratom leaves is widely regarded as its most important application.
Immune System Booster – Independent studies on the various alkaloids found in kratom leaves have shown that the combinative effects can have major effects on the strength and resilience of the immune system. While this research is still being qualified and checked, traditional and anecdotal beliefs about kratom leaves show that it can reduce the severity of illnesses or prevent illness altogether.
Energy Booster – The metabolic effects that kratom has are one of the other reasons that the leaves are so popular, particularly with laborers in various countries. It can increase your energy levels by optimizing certain metabolic processes and impacting hormone levels. This is a result of increased circulation, despite its soothing nature, and a general increase in oxygenated blood to areas of the body that needs it, combining with increased metabolic activities to provide a burst of energy. For sufferers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, kratom leaves are often an alternative, natural solution.
The main active ingredients of kratom are the alkaloids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. There is evidence that these alkaloids can have analgesic (pain relieving), anti-inflammatory, or muscle relaxant effects. For this reason, kratom is often used to ease symptoms of fibromyalgia.
More than 20 alkaloids in kratom have been identified in the laboratory, including those responsible for the majority of the pain-relieving action, the indole alkaloid mitragynine. Mitragynine is classified as a kappa-opioid receptor agonist and is roughly 13 times more potent than morphine. Mitragynine, structurally similar to yohimbine, is thought to be responsible for the opioid-like effects.
Usage and Recipes
Kratom is often made into a hot tea, by soaking the powder in hot or near-boiling water and letting steep for 15 minutes or so. The powder can be strained out, or it can be swallowed with the tea.
Doses of 1 to 5 grams are said to produce mild stimulant effects or anxiety, while higher doses (5 to 15 grams) produce euphoria effects more in-line with opioids. Doses exceeding 15 grams can lead to a state of excessive sedation and stupor. Small doses (between 2 and 7 grams usually) provide energy and stimulation and focus. The more kratom you take, the more sedating it becomes.
Kratom dosages usually start around 2 grams and can go anywhere up to 10 to 15 grams for some people, depending on their weight, tolerance, and other factors. Dosages should always be started low and slowly worked up until the desired dose is found. The trick is finding the perfect medium for yourself and keeping with that desired dose. Too high of doses are not really dangerous, but can cause nausea.
People do not have the same tolerance when it comes to drugs, so there are no two individuals known to possess the same level of reactions after taking kratom. This factor is the reason anyone should start with the low dose. Everyone is also advised not to redoes until the effects fully kick in so that he or she can determine how high or low is his or her dosage on it.
Kratom Side Effects
Expected opioid-like side effects that may occur with kratom in the dose range of 5 to 15 grams include sedation, nausea, sweating, dry mouth, increased urination, loss of appetite, constipation, dizziness. Common minor side effects may include nausea, vomiting, and constipation. Other side effects may include high heart rate and blood pressure, trouble sleeping, and, rarely, liver toxicity.
More severe side effects may include seizure, addiction, and psychosis. Serious toxicity is relatively rare and generally appears at high doses or when kratom is used with other substances.
When use is stopped, withdrawal may occur.
Deaths have occurred, but only when kratom was mixed with other substances.
Kratom addiction and chronic use has led to cases of psychosis with hallucinations, delusion, and confusion. Tremor, anorexia and weight loss are other possible side effects with long-term use.
Kratom is well-known to be addictive, as found with traditional use by natives over many years in Southeast Asian countries. Withdrawal effects similar to narcotic withdrawal and drug-seeking behaviors have been described in users in Southeast Asia. Many Southeast Asian countries have restricted the use of kratom due to the potential for abuse.
Lack of quality scientific evidence confounds the evaluation of the safety of kratom. There have been cases of fatal toxicity and acute liver injury associated with kratom. Concerns exists that the general public would not be able to identify or confirm the quality or purity of kratom from any Internet source.
Some claim a “kratom hangover”, which includes headaches or nausea in the morning after use. This is something you can determine for yourself, based on your particular sensitivities.
At relatively low doses (1–5 g of raw leaves) at which there are mostly stimulant effects, side effects include contracted pupils and blushing; adverse effects related to stimulation include anxiety and agitation, and opioid-related effects like itching, nausea, loss of appetite, and increased urination begin to appear.
At moderate (5 to 15 g of raw leaves) doses and higher, at which opioid effects generally appear, additional adverse affects include tachycardia (increased stimulant effect) as well as the opioid side effects of constipation, dizziness, hypotension, dry mouth, and sweating.
Frequent use of high doses of kratom may cause tremor, anorexia, weight loss, seizures, and psychosis. If heavy users try to stop using kratom, they may experience withdrawal symptoms including irritability, feelings of distress, nausea, hypertension, insomnia, runny nose, muscle and joint pain, and diarrhea.
As of January 2015, neither the plant nor its alkaloids were listed in any of the Schedules of the United Nations Drug Conventions.
Europe – In Europe, as of 2011, the plant was controlled in Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Sweden. In the UK, since 2016, the sale, import, and export of kratom are prohibited under the Psychoactive Substances Act.
ASEAN – As of 2013, kratom was listed by ASEAN in its annex of products that cannot be included in traditional medicines and health supplements that are traded across ASEAN nations.
Australia and New Zealand – As of January 2015, kratom was controlled as a narcotic in Australia and under Medicines Regulations 1985 (Amended August 6, 2015) of New Zealand.
Thailand – Possession of kratom leaves is illegal in Thailand. The Thai government passed the Kratom Act 2486, effective August 3, 1943, which made planting the tree illegal in response to a rise in its use when opium became very expensive in Thailand and the Thai government was attempting to gain control in the opium market. In 1979, the Thai government placed kratom, along with marijuana, in Category V of a five category classification of narcotics. Kratom accounted for less than 2% of arrests for narcotics between 1987 and 1992. The government considered legalizing kratom in 2004, 2009, and 2013.
Malaysia – The use of kratom leaves, known locally as ‘ketum’, is prohibited in Malaysia under Section 30 (3) Poisons Act 1952 and the user may be fined with a maximum amount of MYR 10,000 (USD 3,150) or up to 4 years imprisonment. Certain parties have urged the government to penalize the use of kratom under the Dangerous Drugs Act instead of the Poisons Act, which will carry heavier penalties.
United States – The FDA started working with other US agencies to seize shipments of imported kratom in 2014, as the product was being marketed as a dietary supplement but had never been shown to be part of the US diet nor to be Generally Recognized as Safe. As of May 2016, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin had made kratom illegal, and the US Army had forbidden soldiers from using it.
According to the American Kratom Association, kratom is legal in 44 states. State laws have restricted its use in six states – Indiana, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Vermont, Arkansas and Alabama. These states classify kratom as a schedule I substance. Kratom is also noted as being banned in Sarasota County, Florida and San Diego County, California.
Canada – As of October 2016, it was not legal to market kratom for any use in which it was ingested, but could be marketed for other uses, such as incense.
The Kratom Controversy
Here are some articles that can help you make your own opinion about Kratom – given that the US FDA is planning to launch a “ar on Kratom” as well: