Kratom, known scientifically as mitragyna speciosa, is a tree in the coffee family (rubiacae) that grows in the southeastern region of Asia. It is indigenous to Indochina—Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and smaller surrounding countries—where the plant composition is relatively consistent across the region. Though kratom use has risen in the western hemisphere after the turn of the 21st century, it has been used in Southeast Asia as traditional and herbal medicine for hundreds of years. Today, the leaves are shipped across the globe in the form of powders, capsules, and extracts as an alternative to the synthetic medicine produced by pharmaceutical companies.
Different types of kratom leaves are classified as strains, which are identified by the coloring of the veins that run through them. White vein kratom provides stimulation and energy, so these are usually taken in the morning as a supplement or replacement for caffeine. Red strains have sedative effects, so they are taken to thwart anxiety and insomnia, or to relax after a day’s work. Green strains are the most versatile. Most are energetic, but they generally contain equal measure of either pain relief or sedation to varying degrees.
The kratom leaf contains several alkaloids, the most prominent of which are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. These alkaloids grant kratom its medicinal properties and are considered the active ingredients. Kratom users have claimed it improves the condition of a number of physical and mental ailments, including:
- Restlessness and insomnia
- Trouble concentrating on large tasks
- Withdrawal from stronger substances
- Chronic pain, such as arthritis
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Social anxiety
As kratom has a much higher threshold for abuse and no reported association with the respiratory failure that contributes to overdoses, it is seen by many as a viable rehabilitation agent for those suffering from heroin and morphine withdrawal. Similarly, many reports using kratom as a means to overcome the debilitating effects prescription painkiller addiction.
How is Kratom Produced?
The Mitragyna tree requires a specific atmosphere to thrive. It grows in humid, tropical climates like that of Southeast Asia, which see moderate sunlight and plenty of rain year-round. As the tree requires a lot of water to survive, it is highly sensitive to drought, has little tolerance for cold, and has zero tolerance for snow.
The powdered form of kratom is produced in a fashion similar to herbal tea. It is harvested from Mitragyna tree by cutting the leaves, dehydrating them, and then grounding these dried pieces into a fine powder. Resins and concentrated extracts are formed by boiling the leaves until only the alkaloid elements remain, then extracting both the concentrated liquid and the byproducts of the broken down leaves.
How is Kratom Taken?
Historically, kratom users would chew on the raw leaf of the Mitragyna tree to receive the effects, but the powdered form has supplanted this method for its portability and storage convenience. The powdered form is ingested in various ways. Most users take a scoop of kratom powder and wash it down with a strong-tasting liquid like apple juice or soda that overpowers its unpleasant taste. Those who don’t mind the taste or have grown used to it will take it with water. Kratom powder is also placed into digestible capsules and consumed the same as an over-the-counter pain reliever, either washed down or swallowed dry. Ingesting the powder directly grants quicker release of kratom’s effects, usually half an hour, while the gel caps provide a more consistent effect spread out over a longer period of time. The typical (and recommended) dosage of kratom is between two (2) and four (4) grams, as higher dosages may contribute to some of the side effects described below.
Boiling kratom tea has been one of the preferred application methods since its inception. This usually involves taking dehydrated leaves or powder and boiling them in water, then extracting the liquid through a strainer. The process is repeated with the same leaves until the tea reaches the desired concentration. The tea is usually chased with juice to remove the taste, or some will add lemon to make it easier to swallow quickly. Kratom is also blended into smoothies, mixed into chocolate milk, and stirred into malleable foods like applesauce. Some have tried smoking kratom, and while it can be consumed this way without severe discomfort, the amount one would need to smoke in order to feel the effects is considered impractical.
What Are the side effects of Kratom?
Like any substance ingested into the body, the side effects of kratom vary according to the amount taken. It has little to no short or long term side effects for regulated use—a few grams every other day—but can cause discomfort after heavy and continual dosage. The most commonly reported side effect with new users is nausea. Kratom is not considered addictive if used responsibly, but like any activity that is repeated multiple times every day, it can become habit-forming if there is no reprieve. Taking excessive amounts of highly stimulating strains like Maeng Da can lead to restlessness similar to consuming too many cups of coffee, and insomnia if taken too late in the day. High doses (more than 8 grams) may induce vomiting, sweating, itching, and muscle tremors. Kratom has also been known to cause mild dehydration, but this can be overcome by upping one’s fluid intake accordingly. Kratom should not be taken with opiates or excessive amounts of alcohol, as the chemical properties of these substances have not been proven harmless when ingested with kratom.
Kratom enthusiasts are divided on the safety of extract concentrations and resin. While seasoned users are capable of managing doses that are ten times as strong as measured powder, some feel it may be contributing to the overuse that provokes the aforementioned symptoms. As such, it is advisable that novice kratom users avoid extracts until they’ve developed a better understanding of their own tolerance through low doses of weaker strains. There have been no reports of deaths directly associated with Kratom overdose in either form, as reported injuries involving the leaf have all included additional drugs in the user’s system.