In Western cultures, kratom is only beginning to achieve widespread recognition. For centuries, southeast Asian cultures have used kratom for its many benefits, including pain relief and improved focus. Today, kratom is widely available in head shops and apothecaries throughout the United States and it’s continually growing in popularity. But why is kratom suddenly becoming a bigger trend?
The most common uses for kratom are largely the same as how they began. People drink kratom and consume the leaves for mood-boosting, anxiety-relieving effects. Certain types of kratom are highly effective for treating pain while others are better for focus and motivation. Ultimately, the reasons kratom is popular are as diverse as those who use it.
Before you use kratom, it’s important to understand how it may affect your mind and body. This guide will discuss the history of kratom and its many significant benefits for your health, depending on the type of kratom you choose and your desired results.
Where Does Kratom Come From?
Kratom is brewed from the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa plant. Mitragyna speciosa is an evergreen tree native to Southeastern Asia, including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.
Interestingly, the Mitragyna speciosa plant is in the same family as plants that produce coffee. Many users compare the effects of consuming kratom to those of coffee, although kratom does not naturally contain caffeine.
When you hear of people using kratom, they are consuming the Mitragyna speciosa leaves in some way. The leaves may be consumed on their own, but are most commonly brewed into a tea due to their intense bitter taste.
A Brief History of Kratom
Researchers do not know the exact origins of kratom usage, but widely agree cultures have used the plant for many centuries. It is widely considered an ancient practice to consumer kratom leaves, even ritualistic in some parts of the world.
Records indicate kratom usage as an opium alternative among Malaysian societies as early as the beginning of the 19th century. Kratom offers long-lasting pain relief similar to the effects of opium, without the associated risks for addiction and dependence. As such, cultures with native Mitragyna speciosa were among the first to use it as an alternative for the drug.
In Thailand, field workers and farmers would commonly use kratom when they worked in the fields. By chewing on the plant while they worked, they believed it provided enough energy-boosting and pain-relieving effects to help them work through all-day shifts with relative ease.
Kratom became so popular in Thailand the country outlawed the plant in 1943. The outlaw came in response to Thailand’s attempts at controlling the opium market, which was suffering due to the widespread use of kratom. As of 1979, kratom rests in the same Category V class of drugs (the same as cannabis.marijuana) in Thailand, however, its use is still popular throughout other countries in southeast Asia.
How does kratom work?
Like other psychoactive substances, chemical compounds are responsible for the perceivable effects users feel after they drink kratom. These compounds - known as “phytochemicals" - include (but are not limited to:
- 9-methoxy-corynanthidine (mitragynine)
Structurally, mitragynine is similar to ergine (also known as LSA and a critical compound for the synthesis of LSD) and psilocybin - the active compound in psychedelic mushrooms. Although its effects are not psychedelic in nature, their relaxing and mood-boosting effects could be attributed to this molecular similarity.
Both compounds have high oral availability and can effectively cross the blood-brain barrier, creating long-lasting effects. Previously, researchers believed mitragynine was the most potent compound in kratom but more recent studies show that 7-hydroxymitragynine is roughly 46 times more powerful due to higher blood-brain barrier penetration and better oral availability.
Drinking kratom works because of each phytochemical’s high oral availability. Traditionally, southeastern Asian farmers would chew on kratom leaves while they worked to reap their many benefits, but kratom tea is a more popular route of administration today.
Is kratom legal where I live?
Kratom laws in the United States vary among states. At the time of writing, there are no federal regulations banning the sale or use of kratom, however, some states have special laws limiting its distribution and consumption:
- Alabama: On May 10, 2016, kratom became a Schedule 1 controlled substance in Alabama.
- Arkansas: As of February 2016, kratom is a controlled substance in Arkansas.
- California: Kratom is not regulated by state law in California, but it is not legal in San Diego due to local ordinances prohibiting its sale.
- Florida: Kratom is not regulated by Florida state law, but it is illegal in Sarasota County.
- Illinois: State legislature does not regulate kratom sales in Illinois, except for Jerseyville which prevents its sale to minors.
Indiana: The state of Indiana classifies kratom as a synthetic drug and the plant is banned statewide
- New Hampshire: Kratom is legal for adult use; minors under the age of 18 may not legally purchase kratom in New Hampshire.
- Tennessee: State legislation classifies kratom as a controlled substance in Tennessee and selling/buying kratom is illegal.
- Wisconsin: Kratom is not explicitly outlawed in Wisconsin, but the active compounds in the leaves are classified as Schedule 1 substances. Therefore, kratom is illegal in Wisconsin.
While federally legal at the time of writing, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to debate kratom’s status as a controlled substance. Most recently, the DEA moved to ban kratom by classifying it as a Schedule 1 drug. They introduced their intentions in August 2016, withdrawing their decision to reclassify kratom in October 2016.
Internationally, kratom legality varies. Countries with kratom bans include:
- South Korea
- New Zealand (legal when prescribed by a doctor)
Some countries - including Italy and the United Kingdom - do not have federal laws prohibiting kratom but local legislation may limit sales or consumption. Other countries - including Canada - do not outlaw kratom itself, but have not legalized it “for human consumption”. In these countries, kratom may be sold as incense but not as a supplement.
It’s important to check local legislation in your city or district to find out if kratom is legal. If you are purchasing kratom online, be aware that vendors will not ship to states, cities, or countries where kratom sales are banned.
What Are the Health Benefits of Drinking Kratom Tea?
Traditionally, kratom is most widely used for medicinal purposes. Kratom’s health benefits are extensive, making it a popular herbal alternative to prescription drugs for many. The physical and mental benefits of kratom vary among the different strains you can buy but range from stimulation to sedation.
Let’s take a look at some of the most powerful health benefits of drinking kratom.
1. Boost Your Energy Without Increased Heart Rate or Jitteriness
Related to coffee, kratom provides an energy boost similar to its caffeine-laden counterpart. Katom leaves do not contain caffeine, but the plant’s active compounds produce an even stronger, longer lasting energy boost than coffee.
Rather than helping you “wake up” like caffeine, kratom helps the mind and body fight fatigue. According to Dr. Axe, the active compounds in kratom help increase levels of oxygen in the bloodstream and calm the user’s nerves, leading to an energy boost without the negative side effects commonly associated with caffeine consumption.
2. Improve Your Focus and Provide Mental Stimulation
The energy boost that comes with certain strains of kratom provides additional benefits - namely, improved mental performance and focus.
Pharmaceutical drugs like amphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin) are popular treatments for attention-deficit disorders. College students and professional commonly use these substances without a prescription to achieve better test scores and work results, breaking federal law in the process.
Kratom offers a legal alternative to prescription stimulants for people who struggle with focusing on the task at hand. When you consume kratom, you may feel a stronger urge to start projects you’ve been waiting to do and you may work on tasks for a longer period of time without distractions.
Because kratom works differently than other legal stimulants (like caffeine), the focus-boosting effects last longer. One dose of kratom may produce energy and focus-boosting effects for up to 6 hours, making it even more valuable if you’re using it for improved mental performance.
3. Provides Long-Lasting Pain Relief Throughout the Body
Pain relief is one of the most traditional uses of kratom. Users have compared the pain relief they get from kratom to prescription painkillers, including opiates. Joint problems, back pain, headaches, and other chronic pains are all common reasons people use kratom.
According to a study by Addiction, the alkaloids in kratom attach to the opiate receptors in the brain similarly to many prescription painkillers. As such, kratom is an effective pain killer, reportedly treating chronic pain in some patients as effectively as those prescribed by their doctor.
4. Fights Anxiety and Provides Improved Mental Clarity
Depending on the strain you choose, you may experience improved anxiety symptoms
when you drink kratom. The active compounds and alkaloids in kratom are anxiolytic, meaning they can help prevent anxiety attacks and reduce nervousness throughout the day.
However, it’s important to choose the right type of kratom if you’re using it as an anxiolytic treatment. Certain strains - particularly white strains of kratom - may lead to increased feelings of anxiousness or nervousness as compared to a red strain, which promotes relaxation. Different kratom strains offer unique effects because they contain unique combinations of the active compounds which can greatly impact how they feel.
When using the correct strains, you may experience long-lasting anxiety relief after you drink kratom. It may help you control mood swings, if not eliminate them entirely.
5. Enhances Sexual Desire and Performance
Traditionally, kratom is regarded as an aphrodisiac. Drinking kratom or consuming the kratom leaves was widely believed to increase fertility in men, although research has yet to prove this claim.
However, animal studies involving mice, kratom consumption, and fertility may indicate some validity to these claims. Some animal models have shown kratom to increase sperm production in mice, which may be a stepping stone to more information about the subject.
6. May Help Manage Diabetes
Kratom’s positive effects on diabetes are one of its lesser-known benefits, but one of the most valuable for many. According to a recent study, the active compounds in kratom can help the body more effectively manage the amount of insulin and glucose in the blood. In doing so, kratom may help minimize the blood sugar spikes and drops that people with diabetes management.
As more studies look at kratom’s impact on diabetes, it’s showing itself as a useful way to not only manage existing diabetes symptoms but help prevent some individuals from developing the disease at all.
7. Boosts the Immune System
According to a handful of independent studies, drinking kratom may have a positive impact on a person’s immune system. These studies highlight the antioxidant properties of kratom combined with their antimicrobial activity, which may contribute to a stronger, more resilient immune system when consumed.
What are the side effects of drinking kratom tea?
While kratom offers a wide variety of significant health benefits, it’s important to understand the plant’s potential side effects before consumption. There is little risk of overdosing on kratom and the plant is a relatively safe alternative to other treatments that offer similar effects, but consuming kratom may produce unexpected symptoms.
The following portion of this article will discuss potential side effects you should be aware of before drinking kratom for its health benefits. By properly understanding the substance’s side effects, you can consume kratom more safely and improve your overall experience.
1. Kratom Has Addictive Potential
As kratom grows more popular in Western cultures, the reports of abuse and addictions are increasing. Because kratom is so readily available in many places, it’s easy to buy and use as much as a person wants. Combined with the naturally addictive nature of kratom’s active compounds, it can be challenging for some users to regulate their consumption.
Why is kratom addictive?
The most important factor is the plant’s opiate-like pain killing effects. Kratom is addictive for many of the same reasons as prescription pain medications - it produces similarly euphoric effects, tempting users to re-dose more often than is necessary.
Overusing kratom comes with its own set of unique side effects. Drinking kratom in moderation is not likely to establish an addiction or cause long-lasting, unwanted side effects in an otherwise healthy individual. However, overusing kratom for long periods of time may lead to issues like:
- Anorexia and weight loss
- Hyperpigmentation in a person’s cheeks
After a person becomes addicted to kratom, they may develop a physical dependence. As with opiate painkillers, quitting kratom after developing physical dependence may lead to intense withdrawal symptoms. Common symptoms of kratom withdrawal include nausea, vomiting, dysphoria, hypertension, and insomnia among others.
2. Kratom May Lead to Digestive Upset
Depending on the route of administration, kratom may cause uncomfortable digestive issues when consumed. Stomachaches, nausea, vomiting, and constipation are all common side effects when a person consumes too much kratom.
Eating kratom leaves or powder without brewing them into a tea is more frequently associated with digestive side effects and discomfort. By brewing the leaves into a tea and sipping them, your body has more time to digest the compounds and put them to work.
When you consume kratom leaves without brewing them into a tea, you are introducing a significant amount of plant matter into your body. The plant matter can take a long time to digest and may cause abdominal discomfort as a result.
If a person consumes too much plant matter, they may vomit. This is less commonly associated with drinking kratom because a person’s stomach doesn’t need to process as much plant matter to access the active compounds.
Kratom may cause constipation regardless of how a person consumes it because of its dehydrating properties. If a person does not drink enough water after they drink kratom or eat the leaves, they may experience constipation due to dehydration.
3. Kratom May Have a Negative Impact on the Liver
Kratom’s impact on the liver seems to vary for each individual. Many users do not report issues with their liver after drinking kratom for a prolonged period of time, while others experience severe symptoms.
The Journal of Medical Toxicology published a study on the subject which looked at a young man who experienced liver concerns after consuming kratom. During the study, the subject experienced jaundice and pruritus after intake kratom (without consuming any other substances which could have caused the reaction).
It’s important to talk to your doctor about using kratom if you have any previously existing liver conditions. While these effects are rare, they could be dangerous if you live with a medical condition that impacts your liver. Your doctor can tell you more about your risks, depending on your individual medical conditions.
4. Kratom May Cause Unwanted Psychological Effects
Whenever a person takes a psychoactive substance, they should prepare for potentially unwanted side effects. This principle applies to kratom as well as many other prescription and recreational substances.
Typically, drinking kratom produces relaxing, euphoric effects similar to those of opiate-based painkillers. However, overuse or misuse may lead to experiences like:
- Reduced sex drive
- Anxiety or panic
- Severe mood swings
- Loss of appetite
- Psychotic episodes
- Aggressive behavior
When used properly, kratom is less likely to produce unwanted psychological effects. In general, the negative effects of kratom will pass quickly after they present themselves but may last up to a week and have a damaging, lasting impact.
To avoid unwanted psychological effects when drinking kratom, it’s important to dose the substance properly. Overusing kratom will increase the likelihood of negative side effects, as well as increase their intensity.
Is Drinking Kratom Tea the Best Route of Administration?
Typically, kratom isn’t sold as a tea. It’s sold as dried, fine powder or as dried, whole leaves. Kratom powder and leaves are safe to consume without brewing them into a tea, however, there are many reasons a person may prefer drinking their kratom to eating it.
1. Drinking Kratom Teas Tastes Better
Like coffee, kratom’s natural flavor is bitter. It isn’t a sweet flavor you want to savor - it’s strong and it can be overwhelming by itself.
When you brew kratom into a tea, you can adjust the flavor as you would other drinks. Adding honey, lime, or other types of tea to your kratom brew can improve the flavor significantly.
2. Kratom Teas Are Less Likely to Cause Digestive Distress
Eating kratom powder by itself is associated with higher rates of abdominal pain among users. Research suggests drinking kratom may have fewer side effects than eating the plant matter whole because they believe the alkalines responsible for causing digestive distress do not brew into the tea the same way the active compounds do.
Researchers believe this may be the case because the compounds which cause digestive upset are not water-soluble. If a compound in kratom is not soluble in water, it will not transition from the plant matter to the brew.
Additionally, the lack of plant matter itself may lend a hand to kratom’s lessened abdominal side effects when brewed as a tea. The plant matter is harder for the body to digest than other sources of energy. Usually, a person needs several grams of dried kratom to achieve their preferred effects. By consuming so much plant matter at one time, a person’s stomach may be overwhelmed and may respond negatively.
When a person consumes kratom, they do not digest as much plant matter (if at all). The tea is a vessel for the active compounds in kratom without the side effects that come with eating the plant on its own.
3. Citrus Juice Is a Potentiator for Kratom
Lemon and lime are common additions to kratom teas, typically used to improve the brew’s taste. However, using citric acids in kratom teas offer additional benefits which make it a more advantageous route of administration than other methods.
Citric acids are a potentiator for kratom. When a person combines kratom and a citric acid like lime or lemon, the juices may dissolve certain alkaloids in kratom, improving their bioavailability.
Additionally, citric acids may inhibit some of the body’s enzymes that are responsible for metabolizing the drug. By doing so, consuming citric acid with kratom can enhance and lengthen a dose’s effects.
4. Sipping Kratom May Reduce Negative Side Effects
Kratom teas are one of the most traditional ways to consume it, but it isn’t popular for everyone. In Western cultures, the prctice of “tossing and washing” kratom is widely spread. The “toss and wash” method involves swallowing a dose of kratom and a beverage in quick succession, minimizing the amount of time a person spends tasting the substance.
However, the toss and wash method involves consuming a large amount of raw plant matter in one quick motion. As the body processes the plant matter, the kratom may produce unpleasant side effects.
By sipping kratom as a tea, the body can acclimate to its effects - both positive and negative. It may not produce as powerful euphoria as tossing and washing, but drinking kratom is the best way to consume it if a person wants to avoid digestive upset.
Final Thoughts About KRATOM TEA
Kratom isn’t new - in fact, it’s played an important role in many cultures for centuries. However, its newly-found, widespread popularity in Western society has many people wondering if it lives up to its reputation.
When used properly, kratom can offer a wide variety of significant health benefits. From anxiety relief to improved diabetes management, it has something to offer almost everyone.
However, it’s important for potential kratom users to speak with their doctors before buying or using the substance. While serious side effects are rare, individuals with certain pre-existing conditions may be prone to issues not commonly seen.
Additionally, potential kratom users should be vigilant when they choose a supplier. Whether a person is purchasing it from a local head shop or from an online vendor, it’s crucial to choose a supplier that sells unadulterated, high-quality kratom leaves or extracts.
Poor quality kratom may lead to a higher risk of negative side effects - especially brands which are “enhanced” with other compounds to feel more powerful.
It’s important to remember that while kratom is safe, the plant’s health benefits are still being tested. As more studies confirm the benefits of kratom, it may become easier to understand the plant’s true impact on our health.
By following proper dosage advice, clarifying personal health concerns with a doctor, and purchasing supplies from a reputable vendor, kratom can be a safe and beneficial addition to anyone’s daily routine. Potential users should self-evaluate what they want from their kratom experience to choose the right strains for their needs.