Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical tree native to the jungles of Southeast Asia. It has been used by people in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia for centuries mostly to increase endurance for manual labor. Unlike many herbal remedies, the active constituents of Kratom, mitragynine and 7-OH-mitragynine have been identified and characterized. Both compounds are chemically related to yohimbine, but bind to mu, delta and kappa opiate receptors in the body and brain (mu opiate receptors underlie the pleasant and addictive effects of opiates like morphine and heroin).
Previously unknown in the west, it is becoming increasingly popular due to the activities of internet retailers, many of whom advertise it as a “legal high”. While this is true, Kratom has many legitimate uses aside from intoxication and has enormous potential as an alternative medicine for treating some very difficult to manage conditions.
Effects: In low doses, Kratom appears to be stimulant-like, providing extra energy and endurance. It is in higher doses that Kratom’s opiate-like effects become clear and users experience sedation, nausea and euphoria. Due to binding affinities for opiate receptors throughout the body, including the brain, Kratom’s effects are similar to many opiate analgesics including codeine and morphine. It produces states of intoxication that are similar to Opium and can be habit forming, albeit in a less intense way. Side effects of opiates can also be also present including itchiness and constipation.
Doses: The strength of Kratom is highly variable depending on the strain, supplier and time of year. A low dose varies from 2-4 grams and a high dose ranges from 5-10 grams. Doses higher than 10 grams, especially of high grade Kratom invariably cause unpleasant side effects including nausea, vomiting and motor agitation. Overdose and death has not been recorded with Kratom alone though it was detected in the blood of at least at least one polydrug death in Asia involving a whole cocktail of more harmful substances.
Method of consumption: There are various methods of consuming or extracting Kratom which can be acquired in various forms including whole leaf, crushed leaf and as a powder. The powdered form is easiest to deal with and will produce the greatest effect for the least amount of effort.
The simplest method of consuming kratom is to simply swallow the dry powder. This can be done relatively painlessly by pouring a little bit of water in the mouth, tilting one’s head back so that the water covers the throat, dumping in a pre-measured amount of Kratom from a piece of paper folded in half and swallowing. If done right the Kratom eater may not even taste the Kratom.
Eating Kratom dry delays the onset of effects and prolongs their duration. For a more rapid onset, Kratom can be simmered briefly in boiling water and then consumed as a tea. Due to the low solubility of active alkaloids in water, it is recommended that the plant material be consumed with the tea rather than filtered out.
Extracts: Alkaloids in Kratom, including mitragynine and 7-OH-mitragynine cannot readily be dissolved in water but can be extracted with other solvents. However, the effects of Kratom appear to be mediated by a wide range of different alkaloids and it is for this reason that extracts, sometimes labelled 10x, 30X or even 100X are often less potent than unaltered 1X plain leaf although one reported case of a a deadly overdose in Thailand involved Kratom extract in combination with other very strong drugs.
Medicinal Benefits and Heath Effects: Kratom has been used in Thailand traditionally to treat diarrhea and studies in rats have shown it to be as effective as Loperimide (Immodium AD) especially for the treatment of severe diarrhea (Chittrakarn, 2007).
Recently, chronic opiate users have begun to use Kratom for the treatment of opiate withdrawal (Vicknasingam, 2010). In most cases, Kratom can completely replace the opiate of abuse and relieves withdrawal symptoms even in very severe opiate users such as IV heroin addicts. Kratom itself can cause a physical dependance but its withdrawal symptoms are no where near as severe as that of illegal or prescription opiates and many addicts have found it useful to convert their addiction to Kratom first before quitting completely.
Because of its biological similarity to opiate analgesics, Kratom can successfully be used as an alternative for moderate to severe pain. It is less habit-forming than drugs such as oxycodone, morphine or hydrocodone that are traditionally used to treat conditions such as chronic back pain and may be just as effective.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Kratom may be useful in alleviating symptoms of restles leg syndrome (RLS) although once habituated, withdrawal symptoms may make the condition temporarily worse.
Some of the compounds found in Kratom have been shown to have antioxidant properties and therefore are considered to be of significant health benefit. Additionally, consumption of Kratom can help add fiber to the digestive tract.
Legality: Kratom is completely legal in much of the west, including the United States and Canada. It is illegal to possess or sell in Thailand, Malaysia or Australia but is legal in Indonesia where much of the Kratom in western markets originate. It is not approved for human consumption by the FDA in the U.S. or relevant agencies in Canada and for this reason is not widely marketed at a large scale.
Sources: Kratom can be purchased in large quantities directly from growers but most customers in the United States and Canada prefer to order personal use quantities from reputable Kratom vendors in their own countries. Discretion is advisable when purchasing Kratom due to the large number of unscrupulous online retailers selling sub-par or even fake Kratom that is dangerous to consume.
Most Canadian customers buy from American sites but more Kratom stores from Canada, such as madamkratom.ca, have been appearing and offer lower shipping costs, faster delivery, and competitive prices. Nonetheless, many customers continue to order from American sources due to a lack of information or a perceived better value from U.S. sites.
Conclusion: Far from being just a “legal high” like Salvia, Kratom offers many health benefits for those interested in alternative medicines and may be a major godsend for those battling opiate addiction. While it is still largely unknown in the west, it is slowly becoming more popular and is readily acquired online.
References: Chittrakarn S, Sawangjaroen K, Prasettho S, Janchawee B, Keawpradub N. Inhibitory effects of kratom leaf extract (Mitragyna speciosa Korth.) on the rat gastrointestinal tract. J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Feb 28;116(1):173-8. Epub 2007 Nov 28.
Balasingam Vicknasingama,, Suresh Narayananb, Goh Teik Benga, Sharif Mahsufi Mansora The informal use of ketum (Mitragyna speciosa) for opioid withdrawal in the northern states of peninsular Malaysia and implications for drug substitution therapy. International Journal of Drug Policy 21 (2010) 283288
Wichian Tungtananuwat and Somsong Lawanprasert. Fatal 4×100; Home-made Kratom Juice Cocktail. J Health Res 2010, 24(1): 43-47