Kratom is a natural substance from a tree that grows naturally in places like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea. When ingested, Kratom has opioid properties, leading to the controversy surrounding its legality, distribution, and safety over the years.
Here, we look to give an unbiased review of what we know about Kratom so far, including history, benefits, medical uses, and dangers.
What is Red Kratom?
The Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) evergreen tree is indigenous to Southeast Asia and is a member of the same family as the coffee plant. There are three color varieties of the tree: red, green, and white. Red Kratom is named after the red veins found in the leaves of the plant. The colors indicate the different properties of each.
Red Kratom is part of the Mitragyna speciosa family and contains around 25 alkaloids in its chemical makeup. These alkaloids are thought to be what gives Kratom its powerful effects. Traditional communities in Southeast Asia have used Kratom for centuries. In more recent years, interest has grown in the Western World.
As alluded to already, Red Kratom exists in various strains depending on the location it was harvested from, for example, Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo, or Thailand. Understanding key strains will be valuable in selecting the one best suited to the results you want.
Red Bali Kratom – associated with inducing state of euphoria and reliving pain as reported by users of this strain. In addition to being one of the most potent strains, it is the strain that many people are introduced to when first trying Kratom.
Red Thai Kratom – like Red Bali but less potent. Red Thai can have powerful sedative effects, making it a popular choice amongst those who have insomnia. These soothing properties mean that it can also be an intelligent choice for pain relief.
Red Vietnam Kratom – the most potent Kratom for euphoria, red Vietnam is also touted to offer a little of everything, making it a well-rounded strain for those who are perhaps not entirely sure which effect they want.
Red Maeng Da Kratom – famous for its analgesic effect, Red Maeng Da is another popular strain. Red Maeng Da is commonly used in the self-treatment of chronic pain. It has long-lasting and intense effects, which can include enhanced focus.
Red Indo Kratom – is a well-balanced strain that is more stimulating than others for a noticeable energy boost.
Red Borneo Kratom – Red Borneo Kratom strains possess the most active alkaloid content of the red kratoms. Two notable alkaloids are mitragynine and 7-Hydoxymitragynine, known for their painkilling effects. The strain is also rich in corynoxine A, dopamine mediators, and Corynoxine B, which might soothe anxiety. Take for focus, pain-relieving, and euphoric properties.
Red Riau Kratom – a new strain from evergreen Mitragyna speciosa, Red Riau is enjoyed for body relaxation and brain stimulation. It has been commented that the strain has a less unpleasant taste than others.
Red Sumatra Kratom – taken for the same reasons as Red Riau. Smooth and comforting, it can provide uplifting sedation and is often brewed into a tea.
Red Gold Kratom – intense kratom effects for a powerful experience of Kratom.
Red Dragon Kratom – can exhilarate the brain actively, ideal for long and mentally demanding workdays.
In summary, Red Bali Kratom and Red Borneo Kratom are considered the strongest of all the red varieties. Red Bali is also generally the most popular strain that you will find. That is because this type of Mitragyna speciosa grows in abundant quantities, is resilient, and has larger leaves than other strains. This also makes it more affordable than some different strains.
History of Kratom use
Kratom has likely been around for thousands of years and has been chewed by populations in South East Asia for centuries. Unfortunately, until it was ‘discovered by the western world, there is little history on when it first began being used. This may be because of the lack of stigma around it in other parts of the world.
Laborers such as people who work in agriculture would supposedly chew Kratom all day to help them get through strenuous days. During the day, it could improve focus, stamina, mood, and social interactions; on the night, it could aid sleep. Medicinally, it was chewed to relieve muscle and bone pain, increase energy, boost sexual desire, heal wounds, and provide a local anesthetic. A number of religions even have a spiritual connection with Kratom, using it in traditional worship ceremonies and other traditions.
In the 19th century, westerners found Kratom. It was considered a milder and cheaper alternative to opium. The first known mention of the substance is by Pieter Willem Korthals, who worked for the East India Company.
In 1907, British botanist L. Wray sent samples to the U.K. to be investigated for medical purposes such as treating diarrhea and other stomach issues, as those in southeast Asia had already been doing for centuries.
Now, over 100 years later, Kratom has still not been approved for any mainstream medical use. It has, however, picked up popularity for recreational usage and in self-treating specific issues.
Benefits of taking Red Kratom
Like many herbal and plant-based ingredients, the effects can vary quite significantly by the stain of the plant taken. For example, some are more soothing, whereas others can have a pretty stimulatory effect.
Some of the expected benefits users take red Kratom for include:
Red Kratom vs. Green or White
Most strains (75% to 85%) start as red vein Kratom. Individual strains of white and green Kratom exist but are difficult to find, so usually, the color is a result of drying processes. Green vein Kratom is dried outside like red vein Kratom, but it is brought inside, out of the U.V. rays, for some time.
White vein Kratom comes from the red vein by processing it inside for a few days and then taking it outside to dry in the sunlight.
Red Kratom is usually dried longer than Green or White strains and might be considered the most potent by some users, bringing about euphoric effects and being the most potent painkiller and sedative. The effects of red Kratom are long-lasting, rather than a quick ‘high and low’ effect.
This does not mean that white and green strains are not without their own benefits, which might even be preferred by some individuals. White and green strains are taken for the following reasons:
No one strain is better than the other, which often comes down to personal preference and response. Some brands will even sell blends to give a more well-rounded range of effects. A blend can prevent excessive sedation from using Red Vein powders while ensuring you do not become over-stimulated with White Vein leaves for a balanced result.
Potential medical uses
Outside of recreational use, Kratom might have potential in some medical scenarios. A survey of kratom users found that it was used primarily to relieve pain (endorsed by 48% of respondents), for anxiety, PTSD, or depression (22%), to increase energy or focus (10%), and to help cut down on opioid use and/or relieve withdrawal (10%). Over 90% of respondents who used it in place of opioids indicated that it was helpful to relieve pain, reduce opioid use, and relieve withdrawal (Coe et al., 2019).
Kratom has been suggested as a treatment for those trying to overcome addictions such as alcohol, although it is not currently prescribed in the western world for this reason. Results suggest that kratom extracts can decrease alcohol intake, although the potential risks of prolonged kratom use have raised concern. Similarly, Kratom might be helpful in ameliorating opioid withdrawal symptoms… but can induce its own withdrawal issues. The British Journal of Pharmacology has suggested a need for more selective opioids (Gutridge et al., 2020).
Other studies have investigated Kratom as a treatment for chronic pain. This is based on been demonstrated in mouse studies where extracts from the plant shown opioid-receptor mediated analgesic effects (Kruegel et al., 2019). Despite concerns about dependence, it has been suggested that kratoms have less abuse liability than classic opiates such as morphine.
Kratom could have some benefits to mental health, particularly on mood and anxiety. In mince, kratom use lowers corticosterone. High levels of corticosterone have been linked to depression. These benefits need to be considered versus the potential adverse mental health effects of withdrawal symptoms (Swogger and Walsh, 2018).
How to take Red Kratom and dose
Traditionally, Kratom was often chewed. In more recent times, we have more options to process Kratom so that it is still just as effective while masking the unpleasant taste it can have. Kratom can be brewed into tea, taken as a powder, or even consumed in capsules.
Ways Kratom can be taken:
As for dosage, this will be highly person dependant and does also depend on the potency of the strain taken. For Red Bali Kratom, for example, 1.5-2.5g is considered a low dose, while 2g has been suggested as the initial dose for Red Borneo Kratom. The dose can also influence your overall response. Stimulation occurs at low doses, and opioid-like depressant and euphoric effects occur at higher doses. To avoid any unwanted side effects, first-time users should always take the lowest possible effective dose. Only in advanced users who have been using Kratom for some time would a higher dose be taken.
Dangers and Side Effects
Like any drug, Kratom comes with the risk of side effects.
Milder effects may include:
These effects are temporary and will pass. Often, they are down to taking too high a dose. If these are experienced, it is recommended to take a break from using and allow your body to eliminate any kratom in your system and recover fully.
Of kratom exposure cases reported from health care facilities, clinical effects included altered mental status, agitation, central nervous system depression, seizures, and tachycardia.
Although it has medical uses, Kratom can also be considered recreational, depending on the situation. Kratom dependence has been known and observed for a long time and is well documented. In some cases, this dependence escalates to addiction.
In Malaysia’s study, physical withdrawal symptoms manifested as muscle spasms, diarrhea, lack of appetite, fever, pain, and runny eyes and nose. The psychological withdrawal was characterized by mood swings such as anger, nervousness, restlessness, disturbed sleep, tension, and sadness (Singh, Müller, and Vicknasingam, 2014).
Deaths attributed to the use of Kratom have been reported in Europe and the United States but not in Southeast Asia. Although Kratom was detected as the alkaloid mitragynine in the blood of the decedents, causality could not be established in almost all cases because of poly-drug exposures.
This is because mixing Kratom, other opioids, and different types of medication can be dangerous.
Even over-the-counter medications such as loperamide may carry the risk of severe side effects.
To conclude this section, Kratom might have interactions with medications and drugs taken in modern-day life which are not yet fully understood. If considering Kratom and on any prescriptions, please consult with a doctor.
Red Malay Kratom has a fluctuating legal status all around the world. Due to lack of research and political history, it is still in the regulated item list of many countries. This is because the sale of Kratom on the black-market could limit the sale of other approved drugs. If unsure, always check local laws.
In the U.S., for example, Kratom is not scheduled under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act; however, the DEA does not recognize any legitimate medical use for Kratom. The FDA warns that kratom “should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids” (FDA, 2018).
Due to the grey area of selling Kratom, the products sold are not always well regulated. If you are unsure about a seller, research their lab testing techniques. A reputable seller will not be offended if you enquire about this; if anything, they will respect you for taking the care to buy a quality product. Look for a brand that uses an outside laboratory and is transparent with the results of the lab tests.
Kratom is a drug with a long and exciting history. Its many various properties (such as increasing energy and promoting sleep) make it a genuinely fascinating substance.
Will we be seeing Kratom in western medicine in decades to come? Who knows? It certainly has potential when applied correctly. However, there are significant risks, including addiction. Future research should look to compare this against the risk of addiction from other drugs. Patients should also be assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine the risk to reward ratio.
As far as recreational use goes, sourcing can be an issue, as can unwanted side effects if too high a dose is taken (especially if using a longer-acting strain). If interested in using Kratom, we would highly advise looking into the legality in your area, then taking the time to understand what to expect. Always start with the lowest effective dose, and it may be beneficial to have a friend around who has used Kratom before.
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