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How Does Kratom Work?

By Triumph Botanicals   |   November 24, 2019

Using Kratom: A Beginner’s Guide to All Things Kratom

Kratom is a tropical tree in the coffee family with a wide variety of uses. In native cultures, people may chew kratom fresh or dry leaves straight from the tree after removing the fibrous veins. However, due to the toughness of the leaves and the unappetizing taste of kratom, the preferred methods are a little more complicated than that.

If you’re just getting started with kratom, the information out there can be overwhelming. The amount of negative claims out there, especially at first glance, can be overwhelming. This beginner’s guide is here to take at least some of the mystery out of how kratom works and how it’s taken. Whether you’re looking to buy maeng da kratom or just learn more about the different kratom types, you can use this mini-manual as a springboard to figuring out if kratom is right for you. 

However, while we do understand some parts of kratom, there are still many claims and theories out there that have yet to be verified. As you read through this guide, take note of the general chemical structure of kratom and what it’s reported to do for the people who use it. We’ll also give you some information as to how its historically been used for further context. This may give you a better understanding of the hows and whys of taking kratom.

Advocates for kratom claim that kratom not only works, but that it’s safe to use. Some people take it with sweeteners to mask the taste, others prefer swallowing it in capsule form. If you choose to use kratom, you may have to try a few versions before you find the right combination. We’ll tell you more about how kratom is thought to affect the body, what people have used it for both historically and in modern times, and which products are on the market today.

Traditional Uses of Kratom

Kratom grows in several countries and regions, including Australia and Africa, though it’s mainly associated with Southeast Asia. In countries like Thailand and Malaysia, kratom was likely first used by day laborers. In small doses, kratom was believed to give them the continuous energy needed to complete their work. This appears to be the original reason why it was taken, though it’s clear the native people began to experiment with kratom for other reasons as well.

In nearly every region you find kratom, you’ll find it has been used over the centuries in some way. Official documentation of the plant was first found in the 19th Century. Scientists noted that people used kratom if they were unable to afford opium. Kratom is also used in cultural and religious ceremonies. In fact, its genus mitragyna may have been named after the bishop’s mitre, because the leaves resemble its shape. The name may also refer to mithraic mysteries, a type of ancient Roman religion. In certain doses, kratom may have been thought to bring the spirit closer to a higher power or to help a person transcend the physical world into an ethereal realm.

What Does Kratom Do?

While the history of kratom stretches back much further than official reports, much of what we know is based on research from the last 200 years. Native people may have used it as a painkiller, and in certain regions, it was used as a way to counter the effects of withdrawal. So if someone in Thailand was addicted to opioids, they might have used kratom to fight the symptoms and help the person fully detox. The connection that kratom and opioids share is not exactly clear, however, there has been some acknowledgement that the two are likely interconnected.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated that kratom has similar effects on the brain as opioids. It’s thought to bond to the same receptors in the brain and produce similar sensations, with some claiming there is potential for it to help the body to adjust to a lack of certain pharmaceuticals. Some wonder if this is merely substituting one harmful drug for another, and others are adamant that this is not the case.

The native people who have taken kratom for hundreds of years have not seen the same rate of devastation as opioids have caused. In fact, the serious adverse effects that have been reported about kratom in the news and online do not involve natural kratom. Additives, adulteration, and unknown chemical cocktails are thought to be the culprits behind these tragic stories and anecdotes.

How Has Kratom Changed Over the Centuries?

In certain cultures, it seems that kratom is thought of as a kind of cure-all. From digesting food to dealing with discomfort and even for perception of wellness, it may be given or taken for a myriad of personal reasons. One of the most popular ways for people to take the plant over the years is to turn it into kratom tea, a traditional method of taking the botancial.

It was only when kratom began being used in other parts of the world where we started to see cultivation into specific kratom strains. For instance, maeng da kratom was developed as a consistent and relatively mild strain that would give the plant a universal appeal. As more people began to use kratom and noted its effects, more variations and specified uses have been discussed.

Kratom comes in several varieties. The color of the leaves and the precise species of the tree are believed to change its effects, seemingly making certain versions more appropriate than others for various uses. But kratom is still very much in its infancy when it comes to the available information. The reactions, dosages, and remedy information are still being tested and verified. In addition, there’s no regulation for the many kratom strains. People may buy kratom without realizing that it contains harmful chemicals or additives. Or they may purchase kratom that isn’t really kratom at all. This is why it is essential to know what you are being sold when it comes to kratom today. 

Phytochemicals Found In Kratom

Phytochemicals are biological compounds in plants, some of which help the species fend off predators and pathogens. They’re made through the metabolic processes of the plants and help it fully thrive in its environment. The phytochemicals of kratom have been theorized to be both helpful and harmful to humans, though they remain largely unstudied. While kratom phytochemicals are still being studied, the evidence suggests that these chemicals have the potential for medical use. A phytochemist works to isolate the compounds before testing their properties and potential uses.

In kratom, there have been over 40 types of alkaloids in the plant, as well as glycosides, terpenoid saponins, and polyphenols. The two key alkaloids (AKA the compounds that lead to physiological effects on humans) are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. These may contribute to the reported effects of kratom, which include alertness, sharper focus, and sexual stimulation in small doses. It is believed that in smaller doses, kratom acts to stimulate, but it larger doses, it may act in a more calming way.

As chemists test the phytochemicals, it may lead to further data on which compounds are causing which effects. For example, kratom contains ajmalicine, which may improve brain circulation. Because phytochemicals are so important for a plant’s health, they are thought to be good for humans as well. While some isolated forms of phytochemicals are known to be toxic, eating a diet that’s rich in plants is thought to reduce the odds of coronary disease, cancer and other chronics conditions.

It’s worth noting that phytochemical supplements have not been recommended by health authorities or approved by regulatory agencies. Again, this is likely because the research is still being developed. And it’s just another reason why we still don’t know as much as we’d like about kratom. We’ll take you into just a few of the many phytochemicals in kratom, and how they’re thought to affect the human body. 

Mitragynine Properties 

Mitragynine is one of the two major phytochemicals in kratom, accounting for up to 66% purity in certain types of leaves. It acts primarily as an analgesic, though its effects appear to change if the product has been aged or stored for quite some time. In this case, mitragynine seems to lose its affinity for the receptors, meaning it may not be as effective if the kratom isn’t fresh.

How mitragynine functions in kratom is not well documented or studied. It is structurally different from opioids and may have a broader binding mechanism, meaning it affects more receptors than just the opioid ones. Chemists have been unable to fully isolate which mechanisms are affected by which phytochemicals. However, mitragynine is likely the reason behind many of the effects of kratom, especially considering it’s by far the most active ingredient. 

Some of the uses for mitragynine may be for bursts of energy, similar to that of taking a shot of espresso. Some may report feeling a state of euphoria if taking a certain kratom type at high doses. Others may claim they use it as a way to help deal with cravings and long term use of substances like heroin or morphine. For regular users, kratom risks are said to include loss of motor coordination, weight loss, and constipation. It seems clear that dosage plays a major impact on how the human body processes mitragynine. Again though, it’s still unclear exactly how mitragynine affects the human body when taken in kratom form.

Properties of 7-Hydroxymitragynine

The alkaloid 7-hydroxymitragynine isn’t the predominant phytochemical in kratom. In fact, it’s not even really close. But despite its relative infrequency, it may be a more potent analgesic than mitragynine is. So when it comes to relaxing the body, this phytochemical may bond to the receptors in the brain better than mitragynine. 

In animal studies, it was found that this phytochemical could be used as an effective analgesic. And when compared to morphine, it produced milder side effects. Animals were less likely to experience withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing use or to develop tolerance to 7-mitragynine over time. In mice, this compound also caused fewer respiratory issues when compared to other opioid agonists. 

Some recent studies suggest that this compound is derived from mitragynine as a metabolic process in the brain. This research affirms that we still don’t understand these compounds very well, nor are we asking the right questions about it. As such the risks of this compound are unclear as well. However, considering the promise behind this strong phytochemical, hopefully we’ll see additional research into what it can do. What does seem clear about it is that you need very little to produce strong effects.

Speciogynine, Paynantheine, and Speciociliatine

These phytochemicals are known as the lesser ingredients in kratom, but they’re still worth noting and discussing. 

  • Speciogynine: Composing up to 7% of all alkaloids in the plant, speciogynine may aid in muscle relaxation that could reduce pain or spasms.
  • Paynantheine: Composing up to 9% of the alkaloids found in kratom, this is the second most common alkaloid in the plant. It is also thought to be a muscle relaxer, though again, it’s not clear what the effect is in kratom form or if this hold true.
  • Speciociliantine: Composing less than 1% of the alkaloids, speciophylline is also found in Chinese Cat’s Claw. Cat’s Claw is used to improve the immune system, may reduce muscle and joint inflammation, could provide arthritis relief, and lower blood pressure. It is unclear if kratom would work in the same ways. 

The benefits and risks for these alkaloids are largely undocumented. Because speciocilinantine may lower blood pressure, it may not be suitable for those on blood thinning medications. However, the effects of speciociliantine, especially in such small quantities found in kratom, may not even affect the body, let alone threaten a person’s ability to clot. It is highly recommended to seek routine medical advice if you have a serious medical condition, including before considering if botancials like kratom are safe for use.

How To Take Kratom

If you’re looking for information on how to take kratom, you have several options. Choices include: 

  • Kratom powder
  • Kratom capsules
  • Kratom pellets
  • Kratom paste
  • Kratom leaves (dry or fresh)

The amount you take depends on everything from the concentration of the kratom extract to your body type to your medical history. The standard advice is for people to start with a gram (or even less depending on the strain and potency) and wait a half hour to observe the effects. Being on the cautious side with kratom is always the right thing to do. This substance is legal at the federal level. As long as you’re taking note of its effects, you should be able to determine the dose that’s right for you. Please note that it may take several attempts before you reach the correct level and we advocate for safe, responsible use that includes the adage to start low and go slow.

If you’re not a patient person, you may be wondering if smoking is better for you. And it’s not an illogical conclusion because smoking produces a more immediate effect. With many of the above methods, you’ll need to wait for your body to process the kratom. If you haven’t taken enough, it means you’ll need to take more kratom to feel anything. By the time the new dosage kicks in, some of the old dosage may have worn off. It can make it frustrating if you’re trying to experiment with the right dosage for you. 

However, smoking isn’t recommended for kratom, and not just because of potential damage to the lungs. Kratom doesn’t seem to be as powerful when smoked, meaning you’ll end up using a lot more to feel anything. It can end up eating away at your wallet over time, or cause people to think they have a tolerance to the plant that can’t be overcome. So while some people will smoke kratom, it’s not a popular or recommended form.

Unlike smoking, kratom tea is reported to cause powerful sensations, so people are warned to use with caution. This is a popular ingestion method that includes boiling the leaves and then drinking the infused water. Some people will allow part of the tea concoction to dry into pellets that can be taken at a later time. These portable pellets can either be swallowed or dissolved again into hot water.

If you’re wondering the best kratom for energy, some people would have you believe that you should take maeng da. However, there is no standard in the kratom industry because everyone will have their own reactions to kratom and kratom extract. You may want to test several kratom strains before finding the appropriate type for you. 

Using Kratom Powder

Kratom powder is made from crumbling up the leaves of the kratom tree. It can be taken in several ways:

  • Mixed with drinks: The powder is easily absorbed into liquids.
  • Mixed with food: Sauces like honey and foods like yogurt can make a good vehicle for kratom powder.
  • Ingested directly: Some people will swallow the powder.

The precise effects of kratom powder depend on the chemical composition of the strain and the method in which the powder was dried. If you’re combining with liquids, it’s recommended you use powerful ingredients, like chocolate syrup or flavorful smoothies. These ingredients mask the bitter taste of kratom powder and make it easier to ingest. The same advice is given if you’re mixing it with foods. Mix the powder into honey or yogurt, or bake it into flavorful baked goods e.g., cakes, muffins, etc. for eating.

If you’re looking to buy kratom powder, you’re likely to come across maeng da. The popular kratom leaf was originally developed by cross-breeding several wild plants to be the ideal combination of energy and comfort aid. This exceptionally popular strain would have some people believing that it’s the best kratom for energy, though it may just be the most widely used.

Maeng da powder comes in several vein colors:

  • Red: Red vein kratom has historically been used to promote focus, relieve pain, and boost mood. It’s said to be long-lasting, due to its more involved drying process. However, its effects are purported to be relatively mild on the body.
  • White: White vein kratom has been used for mood lift and burst of energy in the past, though some have said it produces unpleasant jittery side effects. This version of kratom may contain more alkaloids, which is why it may produce stronger effects.
  • Green: Much like white vein, green vein kratom has been said to give people a strong surge energy while being thought to aid in comfort. It’s also been said to skip the energy crash that coffee drinkers are likely used to. 

Kratom Capsules

Kratom capsules are popular and convenient because they provide a ready-made dose. There’s no measuring or mixing involved, and kratom pills aren’t as unpleasant in taste as kratom powder. Kratom capsules give you the same powder in a portable form.

As with the powder, it’s important to note the type of kratom pills you’re buying, and its general reputation. For example, if you’re purchasing from Indonesia (currently the largest exporter), keep in mind that indo kratom is some of the most varied in the world. The weather there supports so many varieties of kratom, so doing a bit of research can help determine if you’re buying the right kratom capsules for you.

As long as people source from a reputable seller, they’ll be able to gauge just how much kratom they’re ingesting so they can work out how much kratom they need to feel the effects. Capsules take between 30 minutes to an hour to work. It’s also relatively tasteless, which can be especially nice for those who don’t enjoy the taste of kratom powder.

Summing It All Up

If you’re still interested in what kratom leaf can do for you, it may be time to take the next step. If you’re not ready to try it just yet, there is some reputable research out there that takes an objective approach to the plant. Considering its history and diversity, it seems clear that there are several reasons people take kratom.

As we tease out which phytochemicals control which processes, it’s possible that the plant will become even more suited to particular needs. The potential for breeding and blending is wide open, making it an exciting time to stand at the precipice of what kratom can really do. And considering just how much has already been done with the plant in terms of cultivation, we’ll continue to collect data to understand more about how it impacts the body and mind.

Advocates for kratom support responsible use and proper regulation of kratom. Like all substances, it has the potential to cause harm if there’s no oversight. Considering the federal government has declared it legal, the hope is that we’ll see more interest paid in kratom so we can speed up everything from laws to research. 


 *These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Adminstration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.










*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Adminstration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


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