Crossroads Pharmacopoeia: Kratom (Mitragyna Speciosa)

I hesitated to make this the first herb in this series, due to the amount of controversy that surrounds it. Although it’s an extremely helpful plant to many, some have definitely used it (and marketed it) as a recreational drug. Over the past few years, it has found its way onto the radar of the FDA and the DEA and has been made illegal in 8 US states and there is pending legislation to make it illegal in 6 others. There have been several other states that attempted to pass legislation to ban kratom, but those attempts have either failed or been overturned. To add to the fun, in typical mainstream media histrionic fashion, there have been a number of sensationalized news reports on the “dangers” associated with it. So, first things first: Taken responsibly and in the absence of any over-the-counter or prescription pharma medications, it’s completely safe. We (and several others) have been combining it with several other herbs and natural supplements for years and have never had any problems. Well, that’s not entirely true. There have been a few occasions where we either misjudged the potency of a particular strain or took a slightly higher dose to try and compensate for elevated pain levels and were rewarded with the motion-sickness-like nausea (and in Sam’s case, vomiting) that is common when you take too much. Personally, I consider this a feature, rather than a bug. It’s virtually impossible to “take a deadly overdose.” You can take a lot of it and get sort of “buzzy”, but if you take just a tiny bit more, you WILL be hating life for a few hours. You’ll be nauseous, dizzy and miserable at best, or talking to RALPH about a BUICK, praying to the porcelain god, puking your damn guts out…while being dizzy and miserable…at worst. It’s like a built in failsafe. Respect the spirit of the plant and she’ll take care of you. Disrespect her and she’ll kick your ass and let you know how you’ve fucked up and made a bad life choice.
 
I decided to start off with this one because it seemed particularly relevant when I woke up today. Sam and I got up this morning at 
The dark daily swill…
about 3:30am…both of us in pretty intense pain. Why are we in so much more pain today than normal? Well…my borellia-induced Swiss-cheese short-term memory caused me to forget to order this particularly useful and all-important herb until our supply was extremely low. So, although we aren’t completely out of it, I’ve had to cut back severely on our normal dosage. The lowered dose helps with some things, but does not offer the normal level of pain relief that we have become accustomed to. To be fair, we both wake up in pain every day. We start our day with a very noxious slurry of various herbs that serves to stoke the fire of wakefulness and take the edge off of the aches and pains that come with each of our separate sets of issues. It’s a love-hate relationship, really. There’s a sort of ritual we do each morning: Grab the jar. Sneer at it. Shake it (very important…you do NOT want to have try and choke down the sludge that accumulates at the bottom). Fumble with the lid. Swear a little. Involuntarily shudder in anticipation of the extreme bitterness. Scrunch up the face and choke down the vile “elixir of life.” Shudder again, while making the involuntary “bitter beer face” and uttering the barbarous magical incantation, “UGH! BLEAH! GAH! HUH!” Then sit down to a nice cup of Yerba Mate.
 
To be fair to kratom, the bulk of the disgustingness is mostly attributable to the other herbs in this concoction. By itself, kratom kind of tastes like you might imagine dry stale grass would taste…only a lot stronger and a little more bitter. I’ve tasted a LOT of different herbs in my time and it is, by far, not one of the worst flavors I’ve endured. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nasty, but for what it does, it’s a fair trade off.
 
So, what am kratom? Kratom, or mitragyna speciosa, is an evergreen tree related to the coffee plant. It is native to most of Southeast Asia, where it has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, probably longer. In lower doses, it works like a stimulant, but in higher doses it works like a sedative. In places such as Thailand and Malaysia, manual laborers have been known to chew a few leaves of this plant to boost their stamina and endurance for the day’s work. 
 

 
As to its medicinal uses, there are many. Traditionally, it’s been used to treat diarrhea, to reduce fever, and as an analgesic. It has more recently received a good deal of popularity in treating opioid withdrawal, as two of it’s main constituents work on the opioid receptors. A quick scan of some addiction recovery forums will turn up a fairly high number of people who are recovering from opioid addiction who have been successfully managing their recovery solely through the use of this amazing plant ally.
 
Many people are using it, as we do, to treat chronic pain, whether that’s from an injury, arthritis, migraines, fibromyalgia, or what have you. However, it’s also useful in treating anxiety and depression. At higher doses, it’s also an excellent sleep aide for those with conditions that cause insomnia.
 
And there are so many more things that this amazing plant does! I could go into all the deep details, but I’d just be regurgitating what’s already been written all over the web. Besides, if your reading this, you’re probably the type of person that likes to do their own digging and if you’re interested, you’ll probably do just that. So, I’ll just leave you this short checklist from my own notes:
 

uses and benefits

  • Pain relief
  • Energy/stimulation
  • Immune system stimulation
  • Depression, stress and anxiety relief
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Increased metabolism
  • Increased sexual performance and desire
  • Calming of opiate withdrawal
  • Control of blood sugar levels
  • Anti-oxidant cell protection
  • Anti-viral protection
  • Anti-bacterial protection
  • Muscle relaxant
  • Mental focus
  • Stress reduction
  • Enhanced motivation
  • Promotes heart health
  • Regulates sleep-wake cycle
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Aides weight loss (??? This is questionable. It does seem to have some appetite suppressant qualities, but not significant enough that I would consider this to be a weight loss remedy. I take this herb three or four times a day and I’m ALWAYS hungry…)
  
As with most plant allies, where and how it grows, as well as how it is processed will often have an effect on it’s properties. A quick look at any vendor website will turn up a number of different strains named for the color of the leaf veins, country of origin, etc. Generally speaking, there are three vein colors: Red, green and white. The general rule of thumb is that reds tend to have more pain relieving and sedative properties, whites are less pain relieving and tend to have very high stimulant properties, while greens are usually fairly balanced between the two. You will also see yellow, brown and gold, but these are simply variations of the first three that have been dried or fermented in a certain way, so as to enhance certain properties. Browns and golds are reds that have been fermented. The browns tend to be a bit more more sedative, where golds tend to be a bit more energizing than a typical red, but not as energizing as a green. I’ve seen a lot of argument over just what a yellow vein is. Some say it’s a fermented green, while other say it’s a fermented white. Still others say it could be one or the other, depending on the origin. From my experience, the yellows tend to lean toward the stimulating side and don’t have the pain releiving qualities that the reds and greens do. My guess is that they most likely do come from a white strain. Incidentally, if you have pretty bad anxiety, you might want to avoid the whites all together. I’ve heard of some folks using them to treat anxiety, but I don’t get it. I can take a white, every now and then, if I need a boost of energy (that shit’ll wake the dead!), but it definitely puts my nerves on edge and it does the same for Sam. We had a stretch of about two weeks where we were running non-stop and we were both pretty exhausted. We were given a sample of a white strain with one of our orders, so we tossed it in with one of our daily doses every day for that period of time. We soon found that we were both on edge and loosing our shit at the drop of a hat within a few days. That was our second try with the whites. Not gonna say it was our last, but we won’t be ordering any of that any time soon.
 
So, how does it work? (Warning: This is where I geek out…) Brief side trip: Plants are amazing! They have evolved and adapted over millions of years to account for changes in environment, predation, reproduction, redistribution, viral and fungal infections, etc., etc. Most of these adaptations seem to have come in the form of chemicals that the plants produce. This is why you can look up a particular plant and find that it has some ridiculous number of different uses. The really cool thing is that all of these chemicals work synergistically. Modern medicine has this penchant for looking at a plant ally who’s main claim to fame is this one thing, isolating the chemical that they think is mainly responsible for that given effect, then synthesizing it into some horrible drug with horrible side effects. Meanwhile, the whole plant has none of those horrible side effects. Why? They isolated the one constituent but didn’t take the synergy into account. They’re trying to “perfect” something that was already working perfectly. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But then, you can’t patent and then put a huge price tag on a plant that grows freely out in the woods, can you?

7-hydroxymitragynine
OK…back on track… Mitragyna speciosa has a number of active constituents. In fact it contains over 40 compounds and more than 25 alkaloids.  However, what most people tend to focus on are the two alkaloids that have the more psychoactive effects, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. These are the ones that act on the mu, delta, and kappa opioid receptors and have opioid-like effects. In lower concentrations they produce euphoria, energy and other stimulant effects. In higher concentrations they have sedative and anti-nociceptive effects (that’s a fancy word that basically means it blocks the pain signal from your nerve cells). 
 
Here’s a run-down of most of the chemical constituents that have been identified and what they do. This is a screenshot from a great kratom-oriented website. To see the full article, just click or tap HERE and it should take you there…
 
 
 
 
There are some side effects. In fact, if you do a search, you’ll find all kinds of crazy stuff that supposedly happens when you take this herb. I can tell you from my own experience and from communicating with others who regularly use this herb, most of it is nonsense. The big one is the motion sickness, dizziness, and nausea combo I spoke of, above. Generally, though, that only happens if you take too much. In fact, most of the unpleasant side effects that you’ll find are due to taking too much. So, if you’re going to try this one out, start small and work up. If you get a little queasy, but not quite nauseous, you just reached your limit and you should back off a little and go no further. 
 
I’ve seen mention of dark spots forming on the skin, but I’ve yet to see anything like that. Irritability, jitteriness, anxiety, paranoia, etc. is a thing…if you’re taking the wrong strain. Not every strain is the same and they don’t agree with every person. It would have been easy for me to not do my research, start out with a white vein strain and then throw my hands up and say, “This stuff just made me crazy! It’s horrible stuff! Don’t take this!” Instead, I did my research, tried several strains and stuck with the ones that work for me. There’s another side note: With any herb (or really, anything you’re going to put into your body), do your research. Find out everything you can about it and make an informed decision. Don’t let someone else tell you what’s good for you and what isn’t.
 
Increased urination is a thing. Kratom will dehydrate you if you aren’t careful. However, if you drink an appropriate amount of water (i.e., LOTS of water), this should be an issue. If, however, you drink nothing but soda, you’ll probably end up with a dehydration headache. Stop with the soda, already! Drink some damn water!
 
Speaking of headaches… I’ve had at least one strain that caused me to have a terrible headache for the better part of a day. I asked around and did some research and found that certain strains will have that effect on some people. The cure is pretty simple. Ingest a little bit of caffeine. In my case, out of desperation, I grabbed a cup of coffee and downed it. Within a few minutes, the headache was gone. From that point forward, I have alway included a little scoop of guarana seed powder in my herb blends that contain any kratom. Not only does it stave off the potential kratom headache, it also has a number of other health benefits and also tends to potential the effects of many other herbs.
This may be needed at the Oasis…
Constipation. This one I’m iffy on… I think a lot of times constipation tends to be the result of dehydration. We’ve never really had a problem with this, but we also drink a lot of water and take psyllium husk every day. What we have noticed (and have seen referenced jokingly on at least one kratom group) is the need to keep a plunger close to the toilet. At least 2 or 3 time a week, one or the other of us will clog a toilet. It’s a little weird, but not so terrible a price to pay for being mostly pain free… Besides, what is married life without the opportunity to cheer for your other half when they’ve successfully flushed a deuce without the use of the plunger!
 
Kratom is mostly available in a finely ground powdered form. You can still find some vendors that offer a crushed leaf option, but those seem to be harder to come by. Some people apparently brew kratom into a tea and drink that in small doses. However, I think most people either put the powdered leaf into capsules or, more commonly, do some form of “toss and wash.” “Toss and wash” is pretty much what it sounds like. Toss some powder in your mouth and wash it down with a liquid of choice. Personally, I find that option to be pretty foul. This stuff doesn’t particularly taste good and if you’ve ever done the cinnamon challenge, you’ll understand how unpleasant a mouthful of powder can be, no matter how much water or juice you have to try and wash it all down. The more civilized of us will simply mix the powder with a liquid of some kind and chug that down. If you have a problem with tastes, mixing the powdered leaf with a citrus juice is a good option. Not only does it help to mask the bitter taste, the citric acid also helps your body to better metabolize the alkaloids and the medicine will get into your system faster and more efficiently.
 
There are a number of things that will either potentiate or work synergistically with kratom, giving you more bang for your buck. Citric acid is definitely a potentiator, as is caffeine. Some claim that turmeric will potentiate this herb, but my personal experience is that it falls more in line with being something that works in synergy with it. When I take the two together, the pain releiving effects are definitely heightened, but the mild opiate-like psychotropic effects don’t seem to increase in any way. I’ll definitely be doing a post on turmeric, so I’ll explain more about that, later.
 
Another potentiating/synergizing herb is Chinese Cat’s Claw (not to be confused with Peruvian Cat’s Claw…these are two different plants). Chinese Cat’s Claw is actually related to kratom and contains a number of the same compounds, with the major exception being the mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. If you can find actual Chinese Cat’s Claw, you can actually replace half of the normal dose of kratom with the Cat’s Claw and get the same effects. This significantly reduces the risk of developing a tolerance that would require taking more and more of the herb to gain the same effects. The down side is that it’s a little hard to find actual Chinese Cat’s Claw. Most vendors sell “Cat’s Claw” and report all of the claims, but can’t verify which Cat’s Claw they are offering. The exception, of course, is Justin at Meridian Botanicals. He not only guarantees that he’s selling the real deal, he’ll also send you a sample of the hooks, just to prove he’s got the right stuff.
 
This is a weird one. Sam and I have noticed that if we take our “mud” – aka bentonite clay – even up to about two hours after our last dose of kratom, it will seem to “wake up” the kratom, as if we’ve taken another dose. We haven’t been able to find any references to this effect or explanations for why it happens, though. It’s just a wierd thing that I thought was worth mentioning.
 
OK. So, how much is a good dose? Much like anything else, this is going to depend on the individual, what they’re treating, their general constitution, etc. For most people, about a teaspoon of powdered leaf is a good starting point. If you know you have issues with opiate drugs, be careful and start lower, like perhaps a half teaspoon or even a quarter teaspoon, just to make sure it’s not going to cause any problems. Some people who normally can’t tolerate opiates have no problems with kratom (it’s an unrelated plant to the opium poppy and contains a completely different set of chemical compounds and alkaloids), some other, however, have reported getting very sick from it. Either way, even if you have never had any troubles, do your own research. As informative as this post may be, it is by no means the conclusive word on this herb. There is a lot more information out there that has been collected by much smarter folks that me. Some folks seem to act as though this is the one and only plant needed to cure all the ills of the world, so this all they study. I don’t necessarily hold the same opinion, so I divide my time among a whole handfull…er…armfull…ahh, ok…many armfulls of different herbs, so I’m sure I’ve missed something that they haven’t.
  
As a final note, herbs are living creatures they are spirits, just as we are. They are also allies who literally give up their limbs to help us. As such, they all deserve our respect. Some of these spirits will allow you to abuse them and then just stand back and giggle while you fall on your face. This one, however, is not so passive aggressive. She’s kind of “in your face.” Treat her with respect and she’ll take good care of you. Disrespect her and she’ll smack you on the back of the head and have you regretting your life choices. She has work to do and doesn’t have time for your foolishness. Tread with caution.