What is kratom? All you need to know

What is kratom?

Mitragyna speciosa (commonly known as kratom, an herbaceous leaf from a tree in the Rubiaceae family) is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family native to Southeast Asia. It is native to Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea, where it has been used in herbal medicine since at least the 19th century. In the past it was also consumed by chewing, smoking and as a tea. Kratom has opioid-like properties and some stimulant effects.

As of 2018, kratom's efficacy and safety are unclear. Although it has been a federally legal dietary supplement, it has not been approved as a treatment in the United States due to poor quality research. In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that there is no evidence that kratom is safe or effective in treating any disease. Some people use it to manage chronic pain, to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms, or for recreational purposes. the onset of effects usually begins within five to ten minutes and lasts two to five hours. In the Czech Republic, kratom is still sold as a collector's item and there are no regulations or restrictions on its sale. In the USA, on the other hand, kratom is sold as a food in various places and its sale is free and restricted to adults only. Regulation is expected in the coming year, with precise rules on the sale of kratom.

The kratom tree

Kratom, scientifically known as *Mitragyna speciosa*, is a tropical evergreen tree in the coffee family that can grow up to 25 metres tall. Its trunk can reach up to 0.9 metres in diameter, and is usually straight with smooth and grey outer bark. Its leaves are ovate-rounded, arranged opposite each other and are dark green with a glossy upper surface. They can grow over 14-20 cm long and 7-12 cm wide and have 12-17 pairs of veins.

The tree also produces globose, deep yellow inflorescences that grow in clusters of three at the ends of the branches. The calyx tube is about 2 millimetres long and has five lobes, while the corolla tube measures 2.5 to 3 millimetres.

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa) is native to several Southeast Asian countries including Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Papua New Guinea. It was first officially described by Dutch colonial botanist Pieter Korthals in 1839 under the name Stephegyne speciosa. The plant went through several renamings and reclassifications until it was finally named and classified by George Darby Haviland in 1859.

Harvesting is based on the variety we want to grow. If a farmer decides to grow white kratom, he harvests the leaves early in the tree. If he then wants to harvest green kratom, that's already the middle stage of the tree when the leaves are pleasantly green and in the last stage we have red kratom, which is harvested when the leaves are brown to red.

(Mitragyna Speciosa, Source: Wikipedia)

Chemical formula of kratom and its active ingredients

Mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, the two alkaloids mainly responsible for the effects of kratom, are selective and full agonists of the μ-subtype opioid receptor (MOR). The receptor agonist effect of kratom alkaloids is antagonized by the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone. In addition, 5-HT2a and postsynaptic α2-adrenergic receptors and neuronal Ca2+ channels are also involved in the unique pharmacological and behavioural activity of mitragynine. Simply put, these two alkaloids are responsible for the effect one gets after taking kratom.

Regular use of kratom can cause addiction. Withdrawal symptoms in humans are relatively mild and usually subside within a week. Craving, weakness and lethargy, anxiety, restlessness, rhinorrhea, myalgia, nausea, sweating, muscle aches, jerky movements of the limbs, tremors, as well as sleep disturbances and hallucinations may occur. Treatment may include a combination of dihydrocodeine-lofexidine, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, antidepressants and/or anxiolytics if necessary.

Metabolism of mitragynine in humans occurs via hydrolysis of the side chain ester, O-demethylation of methoxy groups, oxidative and/or reductive transformations, and formation of glucuronide and sulphate conjugates. It can be said that kratom degrades well in the short term. Some withdrawal symptoms may occur after a longer period of time (1-4 weeks).

Co-consumption of kratom with other drugs can cause serious side effects. In fact, adverse drug interactions involving kratom tea taken with carisoprodol, modafinil, propylhexedrine or Datura stramonium have been reported. A fatal case in the United States involved a mixture of kratom, fentanyl, diphenhydramine, caffeine and morphine sold as a herbal drug. Care should be taken to consult kratom with a responsible person (doctor) who can realistically tell you if kratom is for you.


The first active alkaloid in Kratom is Mitragynine.

Molecular structure of Mitragynine

(Chemical formula of Mitragynine, Source: EMCDDA)

The other active alkaloid in Kratom is 7-hydroxymitragynine)


Molecular structure of 7-hydroxymitragynine

(Chemical formula of 7-hydroxymitragynine, Source:  EMCDDA)

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