In this article we’re going to look into what kratom is, how it’s used and what the benefits are.
What is kratom?
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. It has been used for medicinal and recreational purposes for hundreds of years, if not longer.
Kratom is part of the coffee plant family but it doesn’t contain caffeine. It is, however, a stimulant when consumed at low doses, comparable to khat and coca for inducing increased alertness, energy and sociability.
Kratom’s effect profile flips when consumed at high doses though. When this happens, kratom acts as a sedative similar to opium, producing relaxing, euphoric effects.
Kratom effects are due to the presence of two psychoactive ingredients in the leaves; mitragynine and 7-hydroxymytragynine. These are alkaloids that are known to have anti-inflammatory, muscle-relaxant and pain-relieving properties.
While kratom is believed to have been first introduced to the USA during the Vietnam war, it is only in recent years that it has grown in popularity among Americans, possibly in response to the country’s opioid crisis.
What was kratom originally used for?
The first recorded medicinal use of kratom dates back to 1836, but people have likely been consuming it for much longer.
Originally, kratom was used by farmers and other manual laborers across Thailand and Malaysia to overcome fatigue and provide muscle relief when working. Typically, these effects are realized by chewing on the leaves which, as they are very bitter, are often mixed with a sweetener.
Kratom has also been used as an opium substitute by people across Southeast Asia if opium was not available, or by chronic opium users who wanted to manage their withdrawal symptoms.
Kratom has had other traditional medicinal uses as well. Its leaves act as a local anesthetic and help in the treatment of wounds, while it has also been used to combat coughs, diarrhea and other intestinal infections.
What are the benefits of kratom?
Kratom is a plant with a complex pharmacology that many claim yields multiple benefits but these have not, as yet, been thoroughly assessed by Western scientific researchers due to its relative novelty.
Nonetheless, here are some of the widely-reported benefits of kratom.
A small dose of several grams produces stimulant effects such as alertness, sociability and enthusiasm within 10 minutes of ingestion and these can last for up to two hours.
As such, small doses of kratom may help enhance libido, improve focus on particular tasks, and provide boosts in energy for people suffering from chronic fatigue.
Larger doses of between 10 and 25 grams induce a sedative effect of calmness and euphoria that lasts for up to six hours.
For this reason, kratom may be of beneficial use in the treatment of anxiety and depression.
Treatment of chronic pain is the most commonly cited benefit of using kratom, and it may offer a way of doing so without the use of prescription painkillers and opioid-based treatments.
Opioid withdrawal management
As noted, kratom’s benefits may include the alleviation of opioid withdrawal symptoms for chronic opioid users.
How to use kratom
While kratom was historically used by laborers in Southeast Asia by chewing on the leaves, it is now more commonly dried and then crushed into a fine powder. This makes it easier for the body to absorb the psychoactive alkaloids in the kratom powder.
As a powder, it can then be consumed in multiple ways. Here are some of the most popular methods for using kratom.
The most straightforward way to use kratom is to mix the powder with a liquid. It’s recommended that you stir it thoroughly or even use a frother to help the kratom powder to dissolve.
Since the taste is unpleasant, many people mix kratom powder with a sugary drink like chocolate milk or orange juice. However, doing this several times a day may not be suitable for health-conscious people. A benefit of mixing kratom with acidic drinks like orange juice is that it boosts the effect profile of the alkaloids.
Making kratom powder into a tea with honey and lemon is another popular consumption method. The powder dissolves better and any excess material can be filtered out using a strainer or coffee filter.
This means you’re consuming less excess fiber but you’re also missing out on some of the alkaloids left behind in the sludge.
Make sure the water isn’t boiling when you add the powder as this will adversely affect the alkaloid extraction.
Perhaps the easiest way to take kratom is to swallow capsules containing the powder, the main benefit being that you don’t taste it.
You can buy capsules pre-filled with kratom or you can prepare them yourself, although this can be time-consuming and messy.
Kratom capsules usually contain 500mg of powder, which is a pretty low dose. The largest capsules contain a maximum of one gram. This means you have to take a lot of capsules if you’re looking for a heavier dose of kratom.
Similarly, as with capsules, some people take kratom encased in an edible film such as a wafer. This also means you don’t taste the powder but you can take much larger doses – up to five grams – at one time.
Another option is to smoke the kratom powder instead of swallowing it.
This method is quite controversial as smoking kratom means it is exposed to much higher temperatures. This means many of the active ingredients are likely destroyed or degraded, reducing it’s potency.
At the same time, the body absorbs what is inhaled much more efficiently than with swallowing and the effects are near instant, making it a reportedly more intense experience. However, these effects also wear off much more quickly than with other methods.
Is kratom safe?
As mentioned, kratom has not been studied in-depth under clinical research conditions.
This vacuum of information means many people make exaggerated claims about its miraculous health benefits at one end of the spectrum and its dangerous side effects at the other end.
The truth, as with many psychoactive substances, probably lies somewhere in between. Kratom may help people manage chronic pain or increase focus when used responsibly, but it can also be abused, resulting in potential side effects such as appetite loss or hallucinations.
Perhaps the biggest concern regarding kratom’s safety is the lack of regulation of the substance.
While it is legal in the USA, the safety and purity of kratom leaves and powder are not authorized or monitored by the Food and Drug Administration. This means there may be unscrupulous vendors selling low-quality kratom that may even be mixed with other, potentially harmful, substances.
For this reason, it is imperative that you only buy kratom from a legitimate source.