What You Need to Know About Kratom

What is Kratom?

Kratom, Mitragyna speciosa, is an evergreen tree from Southeast Asia related to the coffee bean plant. The kratom tree is native to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Myanmar. The tree grows up to 85 feet in height and has tiny yellow flowers and large, glossy, dark green leaves. What makes kratom special is the leaves have been used as folk medicine by the peoples of Southeast Asia for a very long time, possibly even for thousands of years. Southeast Asians have used it for everything from boosting energy and immunity, to sharpening mental functioning and pain relief. All of these beneficial effects have placed kratom among the most powerful healing plants on the planet.

Kratom’s Journey to the West

The kratom tree was brought to Europe in 1839 by Dutch botanist Pieter Willem Korthals. Korthals was intrigued by the Southeast Asian veneration for the Kratom tree. After introducing the Kratom tree to the Netherlands, it quickly gained popularity across Europe as a decorative tree. In fact, you can still buy live kratom trees for landscaping.

In 1836 botanist Korthals reported that kratom was being used in Malaysia as a substitute for opium. Likewise, kratom was used similarly in Thailand at that time. Recently, kratom has gained popularity in the West as a treatment for opiate withdrawal. However, there is very little credible research on kratom’s effectiveness in treating opiate addiction.

Case Studies on the Effects of Kratom

One case study presents contradictory evidence that kratom is effective as an opiate withdrawal treatment. The study merely showcases an individual who abruptly stopped injecting hydrocodone and attempted to manage his opioid withdrawal using kratom. However, after combining kratom with the stimulant modafinil the subject had a tonic-clonic seizure. Likewise, the subject reported he only modestly abstained from opiates once he stopped kratom. Overall, research suggests that kratom is more of an opiate substitute for those addicted, rather than a withdrawal treatment.

Kratom is a stimulant, similar to coffee, when used in small amounts. Likewise, the stimulating effects of kratom can have a beneficial effect on metabolism, resulting in increased stamina and weight loss. However, in larger amounts, Kratom can have a sedating effect. Kratom’s sedating effect can provide relief from both pain and anxiety for some people. Kratom achieves this effect by increasing the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body.

The various alkaloids in kratom can also have beneficial anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial effects. A 2009 study demonstrated that the combined effects of these alkaloids can have a big effect on the resiliency of the immune system. Likewise, the anti-oxidant and anti-microbial qualities of kratom scavenge free radicals as a natural antioxidant.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

Kratom use does come with potentially harmful side effects. Some individuals are highly sensitive and can only tolerate kratom in small doses. If you want to try kratom, start with a very small amount and gauge your reaction. Also, don’t use kratom every day.

Common potential side effects include nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, constipation, excessive urination, and thyroid problems. Likewise, some people become addicted to kratom, although the withdrawal symptoms tend to be mild, and only last a few days. Pain and insomnia are the most commonly reported kratom withdrawal symptoms.

More concerning are reports of kratom induced seizures. However, most kratom-related seizures were attributed to combining kratom with other drugs. Researchers analyzed data from the National Poison Data System and found that there were more than 1,800 kratom-related calls to the poison control center from 2011 to 2017. Nearly a third of these were admitted to a health care facility, with 11 kratom associated deaths.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises extreme care should be taken when using kratom. Furthermore, the FDA warns that kratom use can be deadly, citing 47 deaths involving kratom. However, nearly all of those 47 deaths also involved other drug use, and it’s still unclear if those deaths were from kratom use, another substance, or the combination of kratom with other drugs.

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