Kratom is a tropical shrubby deciduous tree native to Southeast Asia. Countries where it occurs are Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. Here the tree has a long history of use. The leaves of the kratom tree are traditionally used as medicine. In this way many diseases are treated and the mood improved. The official name of the plant is Mitragyna speciosa. The tree grows to an average height of 3 to 9 meters and can be 4.5 meters wide. However, there are cases known where the tree is about 30 meters high. The trunk is straight and has many branches. The leaves are oval and stand opposite each other on a leafstalk between 3 and 4 centimeters. The leaves themselves are about 18 cm long and 10 cm wide. They have a dark green color. Depending on the location, the tree loses its leaves, or is evergreen. The tree gets yellow, round flowers, mainly in groups at the end of the branches.
History and traditional use of kratom
Traditionally, kratom is well known as an effective painkiller, a remedy for many ailments and a stimulant. Especially in the south of Thailand kratom has been used for a very long time. The tradition is deeply rooted in this culture. Neighboring countries in Southeast Asia also have a long history of use. Many inhabitants use kratom, for various reasons. The average person starts using kratom around the age of 25 and usually continues to use it for the rest of his life. Many land workers who live hard lives full of physical exertion use kratom to improve stamina and relieve pain. In certain areas, more than 70% of the male inhabitants use kratom daily. People who use kratom are also known as 'kratom chewers'. The reason for this is that the fresh leaves are chewed until the juice is released. On average, users chew between 10 and 60 leaves a day, but more is certainly possible.
In Thai culture kratom is also used as a medicine against diarrhea and as a means to improve stamina during sex.
Kratom as a painkiller and alternative to opiates.
Kratom also has a reputation in Thailand as a means to help people get rid of their addiction to opiates. The active ingredient mitragynine is partly responsible for this. This substance ensures that users slowly but surely become less dependent on narcotics. For example, kratom is used by opium addicts to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Usually addicts start using kratom when they have started using opiates without a doctor's prescription to treat chronic pain symptoms. Kratom behaves like an opioid antagonist, in a similar way to painkillers such as morphine. However, its action is very different from that of opiates. Unlike opiates, kratom doesn't seem to have any serious side effects. Hypoventilation, an oxygen deficiency caused by many opiates, is not present when using kratom. There are no known deaths caused by kratom. In these cases it was a combination of different medicines and drugs. In Sweden there are a number of deaths known of people who had used a so called krypton kratom product. Although it was thought to be a pure kratom product, it turned out to be desmethyltramadol, an active metabolite of the drug Tramadol.
Legal use of kratom
Kratom has been illegal since 1943 in the country where it has the biggest history: Thailand. The reason for this is dubious: the tax revenues from the opium distribution of the Thai government decreased due to the use of kratom. Other countries also restrict the use of kratom, although the health and social consequences of the use of kratom are insufficiently documented. More scientific research on the medicinal benefits of kratom is needed. Examples of this are the use of kratom as a potential treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. The criminalization of the Thai government complicates this. According to the Transnational Institute (TNI, in Amsterdam) the criminalization of kratom use is unfounded and based on erroneous information and economic control. In Thailand the planting and use of kratom trees is illegal. The so-called kratom law required all kratom trees to be felled. When the law came into force, the inhabitants were not happy with it. Reasons for this are clear: as mentioned before, the tree is native to Thailand and the use of the leaves is deeply embedded in the culture. Especially in the south of Thailand there is a general attitude that the use of kratom causes little or no health problems and is appreciated and considered safe by the population. Nevertheless, the government started a strong anti-kratom campaign, in which whole forests were set on fire and large parts of the jungle were cut down. These actions have had a major impact on the fragile ecosystems of these regions. Of course, many other organisms were also affected by these devastations.
In 2010, the organization Thai Office Of the Narcotics Control Board in Thailand tried to decriminalize kratom. According to her, the reason for the illegal status of kratom was not social and health considerations, but economic interests. As can be read in the report, the organization concluded that kratom was used within Thai culture for many decades without any problems and the ban on its use was unproductive. As appointed by Cassandra Hoffman:
‘In Thailand kratom was first regulated in 1943 under Kratom law. At this time, the government increased taxes on users and stores involved in the opium trade. As opium prices skyrocketed, many users switched to kratom to reduce their withdrawal symptoms. However, at the beginning of the Great East Asian War in 1942 and declining revenues within the opium trade, the Thai government encouraged the competition for the use of kratom to be stopped by declaring it illegal'.
Effects of Mitragyna speciosa
Kratom has gained popularity in the west in recent years. Here it is mainly used as a recreational drug and as a natural alternative to (hard) drugs. In terms of effects you can expect a narcotic effect, similar to opiates, but milder. It should also be mentioned that the effects of kratom depend strongly on the dose. In low doses one can get a more energetic feeling, while at higher doses this is more and more narcotic and can even cause drowsiness. The effects of kratom can soon be noticeable, after 10 minutes one can already notice a change. Depending on the dose the effects last several hours. The alkaloid, or active substance in kratom, that probably causes the greatest effect is mitragynine. This substance binds to opioid receptors in our body. These have to do with fear and your mood, among other things. Just like other opiates, such as opium and heroin, stimulation of these receptors makes you feel euphoric. However, there is a big difference: The substances in opiates bind to the so-called mu receptors, which makes the action much more addictive and has a stronger narcotic tone, while kratom binds to the delta receptors. Probably this is the reason that kratom misses the adverse side effects of opiates and is not (strongly) addictive. Furthermore, kratom contains at least 40 other active substances.
Red vein, Green vein, White vein kratom
On the market there are different types of kratom for sale. Usually it is red, green or white kratom. The difference is in the moment of harvesting. With red kratom the leaves are a bit older, so the effect is more sedative. White kratom consists of early harvested kratom, where the 'feins' of the leaves are still light. This makes the effects more invigorating. The green species is in between. There is also a difference in the place where the kratom originally comes from. You can choose kratom from Borneo, to Maeng Da.
How to use kratom?
As mentioned before, kratom is traditionally consumed fresh by chewing on the leaves. It was also customary to first dry the fresh leaves and then process them into powder or tea. Kratom products sold in the west are normally in powder form, in the form of dried leaves, or an extract. A popular way to prepare kratom is by mixing a tablespoon with a little water or juice. Once you have a smooth consistency you can spoon it in, or dilute it with more liquid and then drink it. Note: the taste is not agreeable for many users. It is therefore wise to rinse the taste away quickly. Keep enough water, juice or milk at hand. Other ways to use kratom is to let the dried leaves soak in hot water and use it as a tea. The dried leaves can also be smoked.
Kratom can be slightly addictive. It is important to always leave plenty of time between uses. Excessive use for a long period of time leads to withdrawal symptoms including diarrhea, runny nose, muscle pain, irritation and cramps. Prolonged excessive use can lead to graying of the skin and weight loss. If kratom is used occasionally, for recreational purposes, there are no known adverse side effects.
Under the influence of kratom you should not drive a car, drive heavy machinery or engage in any other dangerous activities. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are not advised to use kratom. Do not combine kratom with other drugs or medications.
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