What is Kratom?
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a plant that derives from a tree in the rainforests of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Borneo, with the majority of this plant coming from Indonesia. The drug has been used for several thousand years in both medicinal and recreational use among the indigenous population in the tropical and sub-tropical areas of southeast Asia. Three different strains of Kratom exist including white, green and red. These striking colors come directly from the color of the vein in the leaf. You can steep the leaves in tea, grind them into powder, take them as a pill (most popular) or go with the traditional route and simply chew on the raw leaves. Some companies are even developing tinctures that can be placed sublingually, going directly into the bloodstream with faster effects. Sounds pretty convenient right? Even more convenient is the fact that you can usually find Kratom in smoke shops or anywhere online. Read on to discover the benefits of the herb, why it has become so wildly popular in the past few decades, and why there is currently a raging debate surrounding it.
- 1 What is Kratom?
- 1.1 Different Strokes For Different Folks
- 1.2 Legality Issues
- 1.3 Regulation & Research
- 1.4 It’s a Tad Bit Complicated
- 1.5 Dosages and Effects
- 1.6 Going Up…
- 1.7 The (Not-So-Great) Debate
- 1.8 Some Skepticism
- 1.9 Safer, Cheaper, and Much Better
- 126.96.36.199.0.1 [i] Naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. (2018). Natural Medicines. Available at: https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=1513 [Accessed 9 Dec. 2018].
- 188.8.131.52.0.2 [ii] Warner, M. L., Kaufman, N. C., & Grundmann, O. (2016). The pharmacology and toxicology of kratom: From traditional herb to drug of abuse. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 130(1), 127-138. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00414-015-1279-y
- 184.108.40.206.0.3 [iii] -vii O’Mera, M. (2018, Oct 01). Getting to the root: When it comes to kratom, the legal opioid substitute, the benefits outweigh the costs. University Wire Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2115200489?accountid=158302
Different Strokes For Different Folks
Different strains of kratom are used for different purposes because the effects vary depending on the color. Though not an opioid, the leaves carry opioid-like compounds that help inhibit pain and other undesirable symptoms. There is a multitude of benefits to this wonder-drug! According to Natural Medicines (2018) “Orally, kratom is used for anxiety, cough, depression, diabetes, diarrhea, hypertension, fever, fatigue, lessening symptoms of opiate withdrawal, pain, sexual performance, to improve mood, and to enhance physical endurance.”[i] As a physical endurance enhancer Kratom helps to combat muscle aches and muscle fatigue (and for these reasons it’s on the banned-substance list by the World Anti-Doping Agency).
With all of these benefits, you wonder: what CAN’T this herb do?! In the US and Canada, anyone can obtain kratom. It is currently legal. But some countries like Australia, Sweden, and Romania have already banned the drug to prevent abuse. However, this does not stop many fans of the herb from purchasing the drug over the internet. In South America, North America and Europe, this drug’s popularity continues to gain momentum and consumption continues to increase.
Regulation & Research
Along with the popularity, the drug is quite affordable as one ounce typically sells for US$10–40.[ii] This is just a fraction of the price of its opioid counterparts. With so many positive aspects, let’s take a look at why there is such an intense debate regarding the legality. Some medical professionals see Kratom as life-saving while others see it as a hazardous drug. There is little regulation on this herb, as supplement regulation remains a grey area in our society. The main issue at hand is that the herb has not been properly studied. Overall, very little research exists. More concerning is that there is insufficient evidence regarding Kratom’s clinical toxicity. Therefore medical professionals have difficulty in properly deeming it as safe or harmful.
It’s a Tad Bit Complicated
Currently, there are many ongoing studies across multiple universities to discover more about this herb. This will give doctors more substantial data to make an educated verdict. Regardless, it has already been proved that it is not nearly as dangerous as other opioids.
What chemicals are present in this drug that can act like an opioid? Mitragynine and 7- hydroxymitragynine are the dominant alkaloid substances responsible for acting either as a stimulant or depressant to the central nervous system via the monoaminergic and opioid receptors. [iii] The drug is somewhat complicated because its’ energetic or sedative effects depend on the strain and the dosage. That means if you have insufficient education about the herb, you may not achieve your desired results.
Dosages and Effects
It is accepted that the white and green variety are used more as stimulants and mood-enhancers, with the white being slightly more powerful than the green. The red variety, on the other hand, is used as a potent analgesic. Different alkaloids present in varying levels in each strain will result in different strengths of either stimulative or depressive effects. For example, 1–5 grams of raw leaves is considered a normal dose of white Kratom which yields mildly stimulative effects and euphoric feelings. Much like coffee, some will agree. How long does the drug take to hit? Ten minutes is about the average time. Mild side effects may be experienced at this stage and may include slight constriction of the pupils or some flushing of the face. Rare side effects include agitation and anxiety.
Those who up the ante to 5-15 grams may experience opioid-like effects including pain relief or opioid withdrawal symptom relief. For those who opt for a higher dosage claim that they experience total euphoria. Those bold enough to take more than 15 grams may experience a stupor, much like that achieved with opioids like heroin, possibly along with other side effects like sweating, dizziness, nausea, and dysphoria. [iv] Users claim that these effects do not last very long and are rapidly replaced by feelings of tranquility.[v]
The (Not-So-Great) Debate
Now that Kratom and its neurological and somatical effects have been explored, we can examine why it remains such a debate. Let’s weigh in on all the benefits. Those who are pro-legality claim that compared to opioids, Kratom is more affordable and creates less of a dependency than opioids. Many former opioid addicts swear by it, claiming the herb helped them kick their opioid usage. How incredible is that? On top of it all, it offers an alternative to those who need an analgesic but do not wish or cannot afford overpriced (and harmful) prescription medication.
Then there are others who are just not as sold. They claim that Kratom is not a “miracle drug” and along with numerous side effects, tolerances are built rather quickly, and little to no regulation means potential danger to users depending on its origins.[vi] While all of this is true, it must be addressed that this drug is still a lot safer than other drugs that have been popular lately including K2 (also known as Special K), Spice, and other synthetic cannabinoids.[vii] Hmm…natural or synthetic, which one sounds more appealing? Safety is obviously the biggest issue here. And Kratom is safe because it is natural (duh!) and has already been used for several centuries.
Safer, Cheaper, and Much Better
Kratom has given millions of people a safer and more economical option than prescription medication or other drugs and has helped them to live happier, healthier lives. Education is the best solution to solve the legality debate. Instead of ripping this drug out of the hands who need it most, promotion of education will help potential and current users learn about the drug and its safe usage. This drug could very well be the solution to the opioid epidemic that the world is currently facing. There can only be a cascade of positive effects in our economies and healthcare systems from there! See for yourself what Kratom can do for you if you desire an alternative to prescription medications. Be-leaf (see what we did there) in the power of this herb! To discover more about Kratom, please check out our other articles on this site which discuss the benefits of the various strains.