The Science of Kratom

July 25, 2017 Articles, Kratom Alkaloids, Kratom Effects, Kratom Research

Kratom has been heralded by many as a natural pain reliever, valuable for alleviating joint pain and getting a good night’s sleep. The initial emergency scheduling, de-scheduling and proposal for scheduling by the DEA has sparked a storm of confusion.

Research remains in short supply, but an examination of current data describes the potential benefits of Kratom. A quick survey of some of this research will help you understand whether Kratom may help you.

Active Alkaloids

Bioactive plants such as Kratom (Mitragyna speciose) are typically discussed in terms of their active alkaloids, and how these compounds interact with our body. Kratoms most commonly discussed alkaloids are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. These compounds are thought to act on opioid receptors to provide muscle relaxation and anti-inflammatory action. Contrary to other opioid receptor-acting compounds, Kratom can be used in small doses without a sedation effect. In fact, it is even noted by many as being a mild stimulant in smaller doses. Anything compound acting on opioid receptors has a potential for abuse. Kratom isn’t regarded as recreation by most, though excessive use has been reported to cause several side effects.

Some animal studies have shown that isolated preparations of mitragynine cause cognitive impairment in animals [1]. Withdrawal symptoms were also seen in this study, apparent after as little as 24 hours. It should be noted however, this was in mice and this was a potent mitragynineextraction— not a natural or even powdered form. Other potentially noteworthy compounds found in Kratom are Speciogynine and Paynantheine—both of which have been associated with the reduction of muscle twitches [2]. These compounds have all been investigated in some capacity by researchers over the years. While data is sparse, there are observations of health benefiting action consistent enough to note.

It is important to note that the FDA has not approved Kratom as a viable medical treatment and are seeking to classify it as a Schedule I controlled substance in the aftermath of 44 deaths directly or indirectly related to kratom use.

Health Benefits

Kratom has been used as an herbal treatment in the Southeast Asia regions for centuries. Only in more recent history has it made an appearance in Western culture? As many are aware, one of the biggest benefits associated with kratom is a muscle relaxing effect. It’s regarded by many as a natural analgesic, and this notion is supported by select scientific data [3]. A 2013 survey of Kratom-related research cataloged many prior studies of these plants’ active alkaloids and their associated health benefits [4]. Below is a brief survey of these findings, ordered by the compositional prevalence of each:

  • Mitragynine: Analgesic, antitussive, antidiarrheal, adrenergic, antimalarial
  • Paynantheine: Muscle relaxer
  • Speciogynine: Muscle relaxer
  • 7-Hydroxymitragynine: Analgesic, antitussive, antidiarrheal
  • Speciociliatine: Mild opioid receptor agonist

As evident by this paper, Kratom has been found to provide many more benefits than just mild pain relief. It’s been used throughout history as an effective agent to treat infectious diarrhea and even malaria! For the sake of discussion, however, further consideration of Kratom will be related to its action on the opioid receptors and potential for addiction.

Mitigation & Moderation

Kratom is noted as being highly effective in the mitigation of pain.It’s is regarded by many as a potential herbal substitute for opioids. This is a bold notion, and much more research is needed to confirm this for any widespread agreement in the scientific community. That said; anecdotal accounts of Kratom paint a very promising picture. When used in small doses, Kratom is effective in helping to reduce symptoms of inflammatory pain and muscle spasms. In chronic use, however, data suggest that Kratom can cause a habit-forming dependency resulting in withdrawal symptoms upon cessation. This may seem alarming to some, but consider it’s used as a potential replacement for opioids and effective way to treat addiction. As noted by Christian P. Müller; “Understanding the everyday utility and the learning mechanisms of non-addictive psychotropic [drugs] use may help to prevent abuse and the transition to drug addiction in the future.” Examining possible means of improving the efficacy of Kratom may offer even further potential down the road, but we must keep in mind that kratom is not a viable option for those suffering from an opioid addiction. Any information suggesting otherwise is based on insufficient evidence.

Magnesium Potentiation

Magnesium is one of the most important nutrients in our bodies. It’s implicated in hundreds of cellular processes vital to keeping us in working order. Studies among American populations have shown that rates of magnesium deficiency are as high as 70%. This means that 2 out of 3 people don’t have enough magnesium in their body to support optimal health. Among the many other reasons to care about this alarming fact, are the data that implicate magnesium as amplifying biochemical action of opioid receptors. [5] For the most part, direct study of this effect has been conducted on experimental pain models and not tested on humans. It’s generally regarded that any such compounds demonstrating the ability to act as NMDA receptor agonists show the possibility to potentiate opioid receptor activity as well[6][7]. The simple takeaway here is that supplements such as magnesium malate and adequate dietary magnesium intake may likely help magnify the effects of Kratom. This may allow for a lower minimal effective dose, thus lessening the chances of developing a dependency. The most common side effect of taking too much magnesium is simply loose stools and diarrhea—and both dissipate quickly upon cessation. One very intriguing consideration is that the anti-diarrheal effects of Kratom might actually increase tolerable doses of magnesium—or at least mitigate the symptoms.

Final Considerations

Kratom has been used for centuries as a natural herbal treatment for pain, disease, and a mild stimulant. Recent popularity has sparked a controversy among US regulatory agencies which has left many uncertain as to whether it’s good or bad. The best way to make this decision is to carefully consider the research that has been conducted so far. This research, far from conclusive, paints a positive image of Kratom as an effective in pain management and opioid addiction treatment.

Certain compounds like magnesium may help potentiate the effects of Kratom, and thereby work to reduce dependency associated with chronic use. One should always consult with a licensed professional when considering health-altering substances such as Kratom. Having more information on your specific state of health can help you better understand how these types of compounds may affect you.

There is still insufficient evidence to support the idea that Kratom can replace more traditional Western techniques for treating chronic pain or other ailments and users should obey all laws relating to the Mitragyna speciosa plant.



Author’s Bio

Zack West is an avid enthusiast of all things health and nutrition related, and often called a health nut by colleagues and friends. As President of Isotrope and spends his time researching current biochemistry and nutritional research. He is not a doctor, and nothing he says should ever be interpreted as medical advice.



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