Mitragyna speciosa, also known as kratom, is a member of the coffee family. It originated in Southeast Asia and is found predominantly growing in old growth forests throughout the region. The tree itself is an evergreen and in its native habitats can reach heights of 80 plus feet with trunks that measure up to 3 feet in diameter. Its bright green leaves with prominent green, red or white veining contain a large number of potent alkaloids and have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.
The consistency and strength of these alkaloids varies according to the tree’s location, the colour of the veining and the age of the leaf when harvested. As the highest levels of alkaloids are found in mature leaves, these are the ones used to produce the high-end kratom products. Kratom products marked premium have also had the stems sifted out prior to processing as these contain less potent alkaloids than the leaf proper.
Like other species in the coffee family, some varieties of Mitragyna speciosa have known stimulant properties. Other varieties appear to act as opioids. There is also considerable anecdotal evidence to suggest that low doses – up to a few grams, produces stimulatory effects whilst large doses of 10 to 25 grams have the opposite effect.
The Power Within – Kratom Alkaloids
More that 25 different alkaloids have been identified in the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa, across all strains. These alkaloids are incredibly potent.
What Are Alkaloids?
Alkaloids are predominantly plant-derived chemicals, many of which are extremely powerful and directly affect the central nervous system when consumed. They have played a vital role in medicine as analgesics, relaxants and stimulants throughout history, both in traditional and modern medicine. Indeed, many drugs today are synthetic derivatives of plant alkaloids. Morphine for example is found in a number of plants but most notably the opium poppy. Quinine, a valuable treatment for malaria, comes from the Cinchona ledgeriana plant, another member of the coffee family! Ephedrine is extracted from plants in the Ephedra genus, predominantly Ephedra sinica. And so on.
Alkaloids In Kratom Leaves
The most dominant alkaloids in kratom leaves are mitragynine, a known adrenergic receptor agonist, its oxygenated derivative 7-hydroxymitragynine, and mitraphylline. Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine are both recognised as having pain relieving, anti-inflammatory, and muscle relaxant effects. This has made them a popular choice for people suffering from chronic types of pain, such as fibromyalgia. Mitraphylline has been the focus of several studies to determine its value as an anti-proliferative and cytotoxic agent for fighting some types of cancers.
Traditional Uses For Kratom
When chewed, Kratom leaves release compounds that have been used for a variety of purposes. From boosting appetite and energy, enhancing mood to stimulating sexual desire! It has also been used as a painkiller, notably for musculoskeletal pain. Other traditional uses for Kratom leaf extracts include as a local anesthetic, in wound healing and for treating coughs, intestinal infections and diarrhea.
Modern Kratom Uses
Unfortunately, scientific studies on kratom are limited. Anecdotal reports provided by users though do give some insights into both the beneficial and the detrimental effects of taking kratom. Some of the most common user reported benefits include:
- memory enhancing
- mood boosting and anti depressant
- stress and anxiety relief
- mental stimulation and improved focus
- pain relief and anti-inflammatory
- help withdrawing from opium dependence
Adverse effects can include:
- Sleep problems
- Stomach and gastrointestinal upset
- Dizziness and lighheadedness
- Respiratory issues in extreme cases
It’s also worth noting that kratom is classed as a banned substance in several countries including, ironically, one of the countries where it’s grown. The US Drug Administration is also currently reviewing it with a view to restricting its use in that country as well.