Herbal supplements are very in vogue nowadays as everyone looks for natural ways to increase energy, improve concentration, overcome pain, and live a healthier lifestyle.

Without a doubt, many who favor holistic medicine have started to wonder what is kratom and how does it work?

What is Kratom?

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Deep in the jungles of SE Asia, grows a tropical tree referred to as the Mitragynine speciosa tree.

It has thrived in the heat and humidity of the region for centuries.

A member of the coffee family, the tree is filled with a bevy of alkaloids that the locals of the region have favored as a holistic treatment for pain, depression, lagging energy, and improved mood.

The leaves of the tree are harvested at varying times during its growth cycle to make use of the varying alkaloids.

After harvest, the leaves are cured/dried and pounded into a fine powder.

Many favor kratom teas and others prefer to chew on the natural leaf fiber.

In recent years, the western hemisphere has discovered and embraced kratom as a valued holistic medication.

In most areas of the United States, kratom is perfectly legal for purchase and use.

You’ll find it at grocery stores, gas stations, naturopathic retailers, smoke shops, vape shops, dispensaries, and other locations.

Also, many online vendors are starting to spring up that offer affordable kratom products from respected brands.

How Does Kratom Work?

The plant fibers of the Mitragynine speciosa contain chemicals known as indole-based alkaloids.

Over 40 types of alkaloids occur naturally in kratom.

The most notable, the Mitragynine and the 7-hydroxymitragynine, occur in the highest concentrations.

Once dried, it boasts an alkaloid percentage that ranges from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent depending on the strain.

Some are more potent than others.

Normally, potency is highly dependent on harvest time and curing.

The time that the leaves are picked also reflects the vein color which is an indication of the alkaloid levels and how the strain will impact the body.

The Components of Kratom

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) drug profile | www.emcdda.europa.eu

Alkaloids of Kratom

As mentioned, kratom contains dozens of alkaloids that impact the human body in varying ways.

Some are stimulant-like and will energize and uplift, but others can cause drowsiness and deep body relaxation.

Many lead to euphoria and others make the user sleep.

It’s all about percentages and alkaloid types.

Therefore, kratom is very odd.

It acts as both a stimulant and an opiate but remains highly dose-dependent.

The two leading alkaloids Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine effectively bind with the body’s opioid receptor, known as the ‘mu’ receptor.

Narcotics, such as oxycodone and heroin, stimulate the same receptor.

Understanding Alkaloids Effects on The Opioid Receptors

“Mitragynine is not a particularly very potent opioid,” states Dalibor Sames, a chemist at Columbia University.

“The plant is designed to be a factory for Mitragynine,” Sames says. Mitragynine can amount to almost two-thirds of the alkaloid extract from a kratom leaf, adds Andrew C. Kruegel of Columbia, who is the paper’s first author.

Oliver Grundmann, PhD, FCP, a clinical associate professor from the Colleges of Pharmacy and Nursing at the University of Florida, goes on to explain more about kratom’s impact on the body’s opioid receptors.

“It is under discussion in the scientist world. Yes, these compounds bind to the same opioid receptors in the brain and throughout the body but the effects that happen once they bind to the opioid receptors are not exactly the same as with morphine or oxycodone. We don’t necessarily see the same respiratory depression [which may occur with chronic opioid therapy]. We don’t see the same degree of constipation. However, we do see an analgesic, or pain-reducing, effect.:

He adds, “There is also a tendency for users to use kratom for self-treatment of mood disorders, for example, for anxiety or depressive disorders or PTSD [ie, post-traumatic stress disorder]. A minority who are users or consumers use it to mitigate withdrawal symptoms from a variety of prescription drugs or even illicit drugs.”

Dr. Grundmann goes on to say. “We do not have good clinical trial information. That should give us pause and caution in making solid recommendations about the use of kratom.”

Kratom for Pain

Woman and Pain: Facts to Know | Everyday Health

Coping with Pain and Discomfort

Clearly, kratom’s ability to impact the body’s opioid receptors shows how it has the potential to act as a potent painkiller that might surpass dangerous narcotics.

Recently, Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical company Trevena’s promising drug oliceridine has been given the okay by the FDA for regulatory treatment studies.

Therefore, made from kratom’s Mitragynine pseudo indoxyl, it remains far less addictive than narcotics while producing the same pain-killing results as the most potent narcotic painkiller.

The alkaloids of the kratom plant bind to the opioid receptors found in the body’s organs, spinal cord, and brain in the same manner as morphine.

They quickly start to activate the signal pathways through which information runs freely from molecule to molecule.

Fewer Risks Than Opioids

Kratom as a pain killer poses fewer risks than opioids which can quickly lead to an overdose by depressing the respiratory system.

Also, when used correctly, users rarely become addicted or develop a tolerance.

Brian Shoichet, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at University of California, San Francisco, and co-author of a paper on PZM21 published last month in Nature, states, “The whole field is sort of opening up, and there’s hope that there are molecules that at least don’t cause respiratory depression. That’s what kills people on opioids.”

“I hope we can recognize this is a new way to approach treating this receptor,” states Laura Bohn, a professor at Scripps Research Institute, “And it comes at a time when the receptors are becoming very demonized in the media and politically.”

Kratom and the Opioid Crisis

Understanding what is kratom and how does it work?

Many in the scientific community see kratom as more than just an herbal supplement.

They hope that it might become an effective painkiller due to the way the alkaloids work on the human body.

With enough fine-tuning, it could even become a safe option for dangerous prescription narcotics.

Christopher McCurdy, a president-elect of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, passionately believes that kratom might have the ability to solve the opioid crisis. “There’s a huge wealth of anecdotal evidence, and some scientific, that there is definite medical potential for this plant. If it’s not in the treatment of mild and moderate pain, it’s definitely in the treatment of potential opioid withdrawal,” states McCurdy.

Unlike opioids which hinder breathing and can cause death, this has not been noted in studies carried out with kratom. “We’ve never seen respiratory depression in the animal studies that we’ve conducted, and we’ve never seen or heard reports of respiratory depression in the human population that’s been using. And this is something that’s really amazing when you start thinking about a potential treatment for opioid addiction or opioid withdrawal.”


Kratom as an herbal supplement is ideal for many individuals.

The risks remain minimal.

Currently, researchers hold a great deal of hope for the plant’s alkaloids and their pain-killing potential.

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