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What is Kratom?
Kratom is the common name for a plant that carries the scientific name: Mitragyna speciosa Korthals. It is a tree indigenous to Southeast Asia (Thailand, northern Malay Peninsula to Borneo); it is mostly grown in the central and southern regions of Thailand, and only rarely in the northern part.
The traditional use of this plant dates back many centuries and, of course, has its origins in Thailand. In recent times, kratom has become popular for recreational purposes, because of the pleasant effects the leaves of this plant can have. Outside Thailand, very little is known about kratom.
Kratom, and more specifically mitragynine, is known for its positive effects on one's mood. It stimulates the body and thus increases activity. Traditionally, kratom was mostly used as a stimulant by Thai peasants, labourers, and farmers who used the plant to overcome the burdens of their hard work and meagre existences. They did this mostly on a daily basis. When it was first used has not been determined, since it goes too far back.
In traditional medicine, the Thai people use kratom to treat diarrhoea. A small minority of users take it to prolong or intensify sexual intercourse.
However, the Thai government has banned the use of kratom and classed the plant as a drug in the same category as cocaine and heroin. Consequently, kratom has the dubious honour of being banned in the country it originated in and where it had been used traditionally for centuries.
The Mitragyna genus, part of the family Rubiaceae, is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Asia and Africa. Asian Mitragynas are often found in rainforests, while the African species (which are sometimes still classed in a separate genus, Hallea) are often found in swamps. Most species are arborescent, some reaching heights of almost 100 feet (30 meters). The genus was given its name by Korthals, because the stigmas in the first species he examined resembled the shape of a bishop's mitre. This genus is characterized by a globular flowering head, bearing up to 120 florets each.
Mitragyna speciosa itself can reach heights of 50 feet (15 meters) with a spread of over 15 feet (4,5 meters). The stem is erect and branching; flowers are yellow; leaves are evergreen and are a dark glossy green in colour, ovate-acuminate in shape, and opposite in growth pattern. Kratom is evergreen rather than deciduous and leaves are constantly being shed and replaced, but there is some quasi-seasonal leaf shedding due to environmental conditions. During the dry season of the year leaf fall is more abundant; new growth is more plentiful during the rainy season.
More than 25 alkaloids have been isolated in Mitragyna speciosa. The three most abundant indoles are mitragynine (9-methoxy-corynantheidine) which is responsible for 1/2 of the alkaloid content, paynanthine, and speciogynine. The first two of these are believed to be unique to M. speciosa. The two most abundant oxindoles are mitraphylline and speciofoline. Other alkaloids present include ajmalicine, corynanthedine, mitraversine, rhychophylline, and stipulatine. Mitragynine is believed by many to be, but has not been proven to be, the primary active alkaloid in M. speciosa.
The effects of kratom can be described as comparable to opium based-products, but milder. In general, the effects are stimulating and euphoric at a lower doses and are more calming and narcotic at higher doses. These effects are noticeable after 5 to 10 minutes and can last for several hours.
Kratom contains a number of active components, so-called alkaloids, of which mitragynine is believed to be responsible for most of its effects. Mitragynine is an opioid agonist, meaning that it has an affinity for the opioid receptors in your brain. These receptors influence one's mood and anxiety. Mitragynine binds to these receptors and improves your mood and gives you a euphoric-like feeling, just like opiates such as heroin and opium. The big difference between kratom and opiates is that mitragynine prefers so-called delta opioid receptors, while opiates bind to mu opioid receptors. At higher doses, mitragynine increasingly stimulates mu receptors. This is believed to be the reason that kratom has a stimulating effect at lower doses and narcotic effects at higher doses, and that it is not (strongly) addictive.
Nowadays most users describe the effects as stimulating and euphoric, for some it also has a relaxing and analgesic effect. People report feeling euphoric, but still energetic enough to function normally. Most sources say that it is a stimulant in lower doses, becoming sedative in higher doses.
Some people report that after using the plant they experience headaches and nausea, which usually ceases after a short while. There are some known possible negative effects to kratom use, especially after a longer period of regular consumption.
In East Asia it is also often used as a substitute for opium when opium is unavailable, or to moderate opium addiction. Mitragynine is used to gradually wean the user off narcotics. Within a few days, the addict would stop use of the narcotic they are addicted to, and the cravings and withdrawal will be moderated by the binding of mitragynine to the delta receptors. Mitragynine could also perhaps be used as a maintenance drug for addicts not wishing to quit but trying to moderate an out of hand addiction.
More recently mitragynine has been used in New Zealand for methadone addiction detox. And in 1999, Pennapa Sapcharoen, director of the National Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine in Bangkok said that kratom could be prescribed both to opiate addicts and to patients suffering from depression, but stressed that further research is needed.
It is widely known that kratom can have a positive effect on your mood and level of anxiety, but there have been no studies on the long-term use.
There are different types of kratom on the market: leaves, powder and resin. Resin and powder are usually stronger than leaves, but the strength of each product also depends on the age and quality of the plants it was made from. Some sites offer what is called 'commercial leaves;, meaning that these are a blend of leaves of different quality. These are quite good to make your own extract. You will also find selected, high quality leaves or powder (which is mainly just ground leaves). These are usually more expensive, but you will need less. It is difficult to say which is best.
The dosage depends very much on the strength of the kratom used. Usually 5-10 grams of dried leaves should be enough for inexperienced users. Lower the dose when using kratom powder, as it is usually stronger than plain leaves (3-5 grams). The same goes for resin. Kratom is not habit forming when used responsibly and not more than once or twice a month. However, regular users will feel the need to increase the dosage after some time.
Kratom leaves are usually chewed fresh (usually after removing the stringy central vein). Dried leaves can also be chewed, but since they are a bit tough, most people prefer to crush them up or powder them first. You have to chew well for quite some time. Most people drink warm water or tea after it.
A paste-like extract can be prepared by lengthy boiling of fresh or dried leaves. This can be stored for later use. Small pellets of this extract (which is also sold as such in various shops) can be swallowed, or can be dissolved in hot water and consumed as a tea. Some people like to mix kratom tea with ordinary black tea, or other herbal teas, before it is consumed. This is done to make it more palatable. Sugar or honey can be added to sweeten it.
Making tea is probably the tastiest and most common way of using kratom. Following is a basic recipe found on the internet for making kratom tea:
1) Take 50 grams of dried, crushed kratom leaves and put them in a pot. Add 1 litre of water.
2) Boil gently for 15-20 minutes.
3) Pour the tea through a strainer into a bowl and reserve the liquid (squeeze the leaves in the strainer to get most of the liquid out).
4) Put the leaves back in the pot and add another litre of fresh water. Repeat steps 2 and 3 (after the leaves have been strained a second time, they can be discarded).
5) Put the combined liquid from both boilings back into the pot and boil until the volume is reduced to about 100 ml.
Health problems are unlikely to occur in occasional kratom users. Some users have reported minor nausea, increased urination and constipation as side-effects. Like any drug or medicine, people's reactions vary and some people could possibly have an allergic or other unusual reaction to kratom, even if they used it responsibly.
Health risks of kratom are small, unless you consume large quantities every day. In Thailand, where there are some people who use kratom every day, those dependent on it can develop weight loss, dark pigmentation of the face, and have physical withdrawal symptoms if they quit abruptly. The withdrawal symptoms may include muscle aches, irritability, crying, runny nose, diarrhoea, and muscle jerking.
Never use heavy machinery, drive or perform any other hazardous activity while under the influence of kratom. Even if you feel stimulated, rather than sleepy, sleepiness may come on you without warning. Use your common sense.
Pregnant or breast-feeding women and children under 18 should not take any drug or medication except on medical advice. We strongly advise that any woman who could possibly be pregnant NOT use kratom.
Combining drugs is usually a bad idea. It is recommended that you do not combine kratom with yohimbine, cocaine, amphetamine-like drugs, or large doses of caffeine, because of the possibility of over-stimulation or increased blood pressure. We recommend that kratom not be combined with large amounts of alcohol, with benzodiazepines, opiates, or any other drugs that depress the nervous system. This is because of the possibility that such combinations might cause over-sedation or even possible respiratory depression (not breathing), It is also recommended that you do not use kratom in combination with MAO inhibitors, such as Syrian Rue (Peganum harmala), Banisteriopsis caapi, Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and certain anti-depressants. Serious, even fatal, reactions can occur if MAO inhibitor drugs are combined with monoamine drugs. The combination of MAO inhibitor drugs with kratom, which contains monoamine alkaloids, has not been studied
Kratom prefers wet, humus-rich soils in a protected position. Being a heavy feeder, it requires very rich, fertile soil. It is drought sensitive, and if grown out of its native habitat, sensitive to frost. Propagation is by very fresh seed or cuttings. There is a low strike rate, due to a fungus which attacks xylem tissue.
There is only little known about growing kratom. Seeds and cuttings are very hard to find. Kratom cuttings are considered somewhat difficult to grow, though the plants themselves, once established, are relatively hardy. Because of the difficulty in getting cuttings to root, many people are experimenting with cloning. Two of the primary difficulties with cuttings appear to be that they are either attacked by fungus or simply never put out roots.
Suggestions for dealing with these problems include:
- putting the cutting in water with an air bubbler to increase oxygen levels
- using a small amount of fungicide in the water to ward of fungus growth
- changing the water every day to reduce chances of fungus.
It has been reported that the leaves of M. speciosa are at their most potent in late autumn, just before the leaves fall off. It has been noted that plants grown in cold climates are weaker.
Kratom tea can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. Kratom extract can be stored for a couple of weeks until use.
Links / Further reading
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