A Leaf of Faith? Is Kratom Hype or Hope?
Herbs have since long been a source of cure for mankind. They are still regarded as natural means to boost immunity against diseases, eradicate a particular disease or used for overall health maintenance. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 80% of the world’s population relies on traditional medicine for their primary healthcare needs. This has captured the interest of many researchers to explore local medicinal plants for valuable medicinal traits. Natural products, such as plant extract, either as pure compounds or as standardized extracts, provide unlimited opportunities for new drug discoveries. This is because of the unmatched chemical diversity they can provide. A documentary directed by Chris Bell on Netflix is bringing light to Kratom: the benefits, the risks, and why some are calling it A Leaf of Faith.
What is Kratom?
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family. It is indigenous to Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and other South Asian countries. The leaves, or extracts from the leaves, have been used as a stimulant and a sedative. It’s also been reported for treating chronic pain, digestive ailments, and as an aid for withdrawal from opium dependence.
The leaves of this plant are, known as “Biak” and “Ketum” in Malaysia, and as “Kratom” in Thailand. Mitragynine has been suggested as a useful constituent in the treatment of opiate addiction as replacement therapy. The leaves have also been reported for its, antitussive, anesthetic, antinociceptive, stimulant, analgesic and narcotic-like actions properties. These pharmacological activities are often attributed to the alkaloids found in the leaf. Mitragynine is the dominant alkaloid and is exclusive to M. speciosa and could be used as an easily accessible source of natural antioxidants and antimicrobial agent.
What effect does Kratom have?
Kratom has both opioid- and psychostimulant-like subjective effects. This is why some experts are now referring to Kratom as the Leaf of Faith. The phytochemicals isolated from various parts of the Kratom tree include over 40 structurally related alkaloids. Of these Mitragynine is the most important with up to 66% purity in the extract of leaves from Thailand, and only 12% in Kratom leaves from Malaysia.
The main active ingredients of Kratom are the alkaloids Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. There is evidence that these alkaloids can have analgesic (pain relieving), anti-inflammatory, or muscle relaxant effects. For this reason, Kratom is often used to ease symptoms of fibromyalgia. Mitragynine binds to opioid receptors in the brain, relieving pain. This action might be behind the antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects reported by some Kratom users.
In the United States, Kratom is usually marketed as alternative medicine. You can find it in stores that sell supplements and alternative medicines. In Idaho, Kratom is legal to purchase, but it is considered an illegal substance in 5 U.S. states.
At low doses, Kratom has been reported to work as a stimulant. People who have used low doses generally report having more energy, being more alert, and feeling more sociable. At higher doses, Kratom has been reported as being sedative, producing euphoric effects, and dulling emotions and sensations.
Kratom users report that the herb enhances mood and relieves anxiety, depression, pain, muscle aches, fatigue, high blood pressure, opioid addiction and withdrawal, diarrhea, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anti-inflammatory, immunity-enhancing, and appetite-suppressing effects. This drug can be described as a leaf of faith to some, but also can pose some diverse side effects. It is important to find the strand that works best for you as an individual.
The plant’s dark green leaves are usually dried and either crushed or powdered. You can find fortified Kratom powders, usually green or light brown in color. These powders may also contain extracts from other plants.
Kratom is often available in capsule, powder and tincture form. In the United States, Kratom is mostly brewed as a tea or ingested as a Toss n’ Wash for the self-management of pain and opioid withdrawal.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), a small dose that produces stimulant effects is just a few grams. The effects usually happen within 10 minutes after ingesting it and can last up to 1 1/2 hours. These effects can include alertness, sociability, giddiness and reduced motor coordination. A larger dose can have a sedative effect, with feelings of calmness and euphoria. This could last for up to six hours.
What are the possible side effects?
Reported side effects of long-term use of Kratom include constipation, lack or loss of appetite, severe weight loss and insomnia. Dependence can often cause side effects like nausea, sweating, tremors, the inability to sleep, and hallucinations.
Next week, we will focus on the various strains of Kratom and how consumers report their use and benefit.
References: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Healthline. Netflix Documentary directed by Chris Bell “A Leaf of Faith”.
Tamara Webster, CH, HHP