American Scientific recently did an article on Kratom and they admitted that they had no idea how many Americans use this herb for medicinal purposes. It may be thousands or it may be hundreds of thousands. There are probably 100 websites that offer it for sale. The Scientific American article was titled “Should Kratom Use Be Legal”. Well it is already legal everywhere in the US except for Indiana which banned one of the alkaloids extracted from the plant but did not mention the plant itself. In Louisiana you must be 18 years of age to purchase Kratom. They recently tried to ban it in Vermont but many constituents came forward in support of this medicinal herb and the ban only involved one of its extracts. In most countries in the world it is legal except for Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), and a few Eastern European countries. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lists Kratom as a “drug of concern” because of its abuse potential, stating it has no legitimate medical use. .Recently they had stated they had no intention of making it illegal at this time. Unfortunately there is often a knee-jerk reaction by politicians to ban any new herb that surfaces without studying it sufficiently. Or sometimes political pressure will lead to prohibition as in the temporary banning of the non calorie herbal sweetener Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) influenced by certain business interests even though it had been used in Japan safely for decades. Stevia has been made popular as the preferred tea sweetener of Lydia in the hit series “Breaking Bad”

So what is Kratom and what is all the fuss? Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) refers to the leaves from a tropical deciduous and evergreen tree which is a member of the coffee family. It is naturally found in Southwest Asia mostly in Indo-China and Malaysia. It has been traditionally used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. The leaves of the tree promote an uplifting mood and is used to treat many health problems. In southern Thailand, upwards of 70% of the male population uses Kratom on a daily basis in some areas. Traditional use of Kratom is considered equivalent to drinking coffee even though it has been banned in Thailand 70 years ago. Today in order to control its population’s growing dependence on methamphetamines, Thailand is attempting to legalize Kratom.

Kratom has recently made its way to America over the past decade and has become a popular herbal product. Its major uses in this country are: to relieve all forms of chronic pain including back pain, migraine headaches, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and postsurgical pain. It has also been used to treat depression, anxiety, diarrhea, and fatigue. Other positive effects of the herb are lowering high blood pressure and as an effective treatment in people who suffer from borderline personality disorder.

Why is Kratom Unknown?

Kratom is ineffective as a recreational drug. Anyone looking to get high will quickly be unsatisfied and move on. There is only minor euphoria and no intoxicating effect. Taking more only creates nausea.

Also there are no true reports of an overdose resulting in death due to Kratom although there are a few reports of overdoses when taken in combination with other drugs. Thus the newspapers aren’t filled with stories about overdoses due to Kratom. The risk of respiratory depression is sufficiently lower when compared to opiates. If large doses of Kratom are consumed vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating occurs in an attempt to rid the body of excess.

The relief of pain is the reason that most Americans use the herb. Thousands of Americans report that kratom has greatly improved the quality of their lives. It has many positive actions that make it superior to typical pharmaceuticals. It is relatively inexpensive and is superior to the use of opiates since there is usually only a minimum development of tolerance, less sedation, less dizziness, less confusion, and less euphoria. Kratom’s pain relieving abilities are similar to codeine and vicodin. Most individuals are able to perform every day tasks including work and driving a car. And the chance of addiction is considered significantly less.

(Warning; Everybody’s reaction is different. Do not drive until you are sure you can safely perform this or any activity). Do not take this or any other herb without first consulting your doctor. Kratom like most substances can interact with other medications and herbs.

Kratom is mildly addictive and withdrawal may occur after frequent heavy use. A few of kratom’s active chemicals such as mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine behave as μ-opioid receptor agonist so addiction is theoretically possible but withdrawal is said to be similar to caffeine withdrawal in severity. Those with an addiction or who are going through withdrawal are usually in fine physical and mental health. The full picture on possible addition is mixed but is rarely severe. Of course this would depend on the daily dosage, the amount of time between dosages, and whether one uses the straight leaf or an extract. Like any medication, any herb has the potential for addition. Generally after abrupt withdrawal, fatigue, runny nose, mild joint pain and headaches may occur for a few days. To avoid these possibility of side effects slowly taper of the dosage over a few days. It is best to consume Kraton as a tea made from the pure leaf and not an extract. Stay away from extracts; they are expensive and result in too high a dose which is way above what is required.

Treatment of Opioid Addition

The most interesting use of Kratom is in opiate withdrawal. U.S. researchers are studying its potential to wean addicts off of opiates with minimal withdrawal side effects. There have been thousands of reports of people who where addicted to opiates such as vicodin, Percocet, and other addictive pain medications achieving success by substituting with kratom. . Because of kratom’s opioid agonist activity, it is able to greatly reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. While methadone is currently used for this purpose, it is a powerful drug with the potential to cause additional problems for the addict.

Kratom has been used in one study evolving alcohol withdrawal with success.

Anti-Depressant Effects

Kratom is commonly used to treat depression and studies have shown that it has antidepressant-like effects. One study was done with mitragynine, a chemical isolated from the kratom plant, Mitragyna speciosa, concluded that there are significant anti-depressant effects to be gained using Kratom.

Treatment of Strokes

One of the active constituents of kratom, Catechin, has been shown to limit neuronal damage when given to the mice even as long as 3.5 hours after a laboratory induced stroke.

Treatment of High Blood Pressure

Kratom has also been suggested as an effective treatment in high blood pressure, or hypertension. One active alkaloid in M. speciosa is Ajmalicine and can be used as a treatment of high blood pressure.

The Effects of Kratom: What to Expect

Although the strength of the particular strain of kratom will affect the dosage and everyone is different, one teaspoon of powered leaf mixed with 8 ounces of hot water should be effective.  It is also sold in capsules that can be taken with juice or water. There are several strains of kratom but Bali kratom is the most popular and is stated to be the best to treat pain.  After drinking the tea within 15 minutes to ½ an hour one should begin to experience pain relief, with a stimulating effect similar to coffee and increased sociability. Some euphoria may occur but is relatively weak. Larger doses may cause unpleasant effects including nausea and sedation.  Kratom users tend to take minimal amounts to achieve the desired effect and avoid the nausea experienced with higher doses.

Strains of Kratom

There are several different strains of Kratom each with some minor differences: They differ in the level of pain relief, stimulation, and relaxation for the most part. The differences are sometimes controversial but here are some of the strains and their attributes:

Bali or Borneo: Better pain relief, more sedation
Indo: Very relaxing and stress relieving
Malaysian: Similar to Bali but longer lasting
Thai More energizing
Maeng Da Translated as “Pimp’s Grade”. Is considered the strongest & most energizing

Personal Effects

I personally use kratom to treat my chronic migraines. I often include powered ginger root to relieve the often accompanying nausea with my migraines. I use generally add one level teaspoon to 8 ounces of hot water, a half teaspoon of powdered ginger root, mix, and consume. The taste of kratom is somewhat flat and earthy but not completely unpleasant. I would suggest adding a sweetener such as Stevia or other non-calorie sweetener. Usually within 15 to 30 minutes there is a very noticeable reduction in pain which lasts for 2 to 6 hours. There is usually a stimulating effect similar to coffee followed by some mild sedation. I have never had a problem driving or performing any sort of work. But like I have stated before each person’s reaction may be different. I have noticed a reduction in blood pressure and it forced me to lower my blood pressure medication. (Another reason to first consult your doctor before taking kratom)

I have been using kratom to treat my migraines for over 2 years and I have not noticed any change in tolerance.  The same dose of one teaspoon is still effective.  Adding more does not seem to add any benefit.  Since I have chronic migraines I do take it several times a week.  During periods where I was without kratom I substituted wild lettuce extract, Lactuca Virosa or lady slipper root powder, Cypripedium pubescens for pain. (Note: My source of Lady Slipper root is from a European cultivated source and is not wild crafted) Therefore I do not believe that I am physically addicted.  The pain relieving ability of wild lettuce is due to its ability to inhibit the breakdown of the body’s natural pain relieving substances known as endorphins and the pain relieving ability of the Lady slipper root is not fully understood.  These 2 substitute herbs pain relieving ability is different from the opioid receptor activity of Kratom.  It is always wise to have a few different herbs to treat symptoms such as pain in order to reduce the chance of the development of tolerance or addiction.

My wife also takes Kratom tea to treat her flare-ups of arthritis and osteoporosis. She takes the same dosage as I but insists on adding Stevia. Sometimes I have to strain the tea for her because the mixture can be gritty.

Other Observations

In September of 2012, David DeSalvo, who writes on science, technology, and culture for Forbes, Scientific American, the Wall Street Journal, Physiology Today and others wrote an article entitled: “Is Kratom the New “Bath Salts” or Just an Organic Pain Reliever with Euphoric Effects?” The response to his article was huge receiving 47,000 views and more than 80 comments and e-mails mostly in support of Kratom. Almost all of the comments credited kratom with remarkable benefits without side effects. Several of the readers’ challenged David to try it himself and give an informed opinion. He took the challenge and reported back in April of 2013. A summery of his comments are as follows: (used by permission)

“My overall takeaway is that Kratom has a two-tiered effect. Initially it provides a burst of energy very similar to a strong cup of coffee”……”Unlike coffee, however, the energy I derived from Kratom was longer-lasting and level”…”I also did not experience an energy crash with any of the Kratom products I sampled.” 

“The second-tier effect was relaxing, but fell short of being sedating. I never felt sleepy while taking Kratom, but I did experience a level relaxation that was pleasant, and balanced out the initial energy-boosting effects nicely”…………

“As to side effects, I can’t say that I experienced any worth noting.”…… “My overall comment on Kratom is that it’s a lot like good coffee, but with a more even, long-lasting energy effect, and a much more pleasant “finish.” …..” As to the results of stopping usage, I can tell you without hyperbole that getting off coffee is a far worse experience than getting off Kratom. I was able to stop taking Kratom for three days and at most I experienced a bit of sluggishness that wore off in a day or so.   Suffice to say, caffeine withdrawal is significantly worse than Kratom withdrawal, if it can even be called “withdrawal.” There’s no comparison whatsoever”. 

“Having now experienced the product myself for a number of weeks, I can see no reason why it should be banned, or on what basis such a product would be banned if people can walk into a typical coffee shop and buy an enormous cup of an addictive substance that’s arguably more potent than any Kratom available anywhere.” (Note: Quotes used with permission)

David did note that he had no pain during his experiment and thus could not comment on its analgesic effects.

Final Comments

Kratom when chewed or boiled into a tea, is quite harmless according to the available literature. While additional research is needed, criminalization of kratom is unfounded and is based on economic control and disinformation. Criminalization of kratom is unnecessary, problematic, and counter-productive. And more important, as Americans we should have the right to use herbal medicine as part of our right in the “pursuit of happiness.” Why should millions of Americans suffer with pain when there is relatively safe alternative available? And with the medical legalization of Marijuana in many states occurring, it would seem ironic.

Lastly, kratom should be considered an herbal supplement with tremendous medicinal potential. Kratom is especially useful for the addict interested in beating a drug or alcohol habit. It may also have potential in treatment of depression, social anxiety disorder and of course chronic pain. It could mean freedom for many pain sufferers.

Note; I currently purchase my kratom from Major Kratom in Burlington, Vermont. There are a number of good sources. Please patronize the sites that appear on my website. Over the past 2 years I have purchased from all of the advertised sites.

References

  1. Scientific American Website Article; September 30, 2013.
  2. Boyer EW, Babu KM, Adkins JE, McCurdy CR, Halpern JH. Self-treatment of opioid withdrawl using kratom (Mitragyna speciosa korth). Addiction. 2008, 103, 1048-1050.
  3. Quotes Written by David DeSalvo, writer for Forbes Magazine, web based articles 2012 to 2013, used by permission.
    Wikipedia, 9/2013.
  4. Tanguay, Pascal (April 2011). http://www.tni.org/sites/www.tni.org/files/download/kratom-briefing-dlr13.pdf
  5. “Kratom in Thailand: Decriminalization and Community Control?” (PDF). Series on Legislative reform of Drug Policies 13. Digital object identifier doi: 10.2139/ssrn.1908849. Retrieved 2013-03-07.
  6. Takayama H, Ishikawa H, Kurihara M, Kitajima M, Aimi N, Ponglux D et al. (2002). “Studies on the synthesis and opioid agonistic activities of mitragynine-related indole alkaloids: discovery of opioid agonists structurally different from other opioid ligands”. J Med Chem 45 (9): 1949–1956. Digital object identifier doi: 10.1021/jm010576e. PubMed Identifier PMID 11960505.
  7. Reanmongkol, Wantana; Niwat Keawpradub, Kitja Sawangjaroen (March 2007). “Effects of the extracts from Mitragyna speciosa Korth. leaves on analgesic and behavioral activities in experimental animals” (PDF). Songklanakarin Journal of Science and Technology 29 (1): 39–48. Retrieved 2012-10-26.
  8. Kiley, Brendan (2012-04-10). “The Rush to Prohibit Kratom“. The Stranger. Retrieved 2012-10-30.