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Kratom, Mitragyna speciosa, is an evergreen tree in the coffee family. It’s a stimulant.  But it’s also an opioid.

Red vein kratom leaves with a flower, photo courtesy of Thehealingeast (I have no affiliation with this site or their products.)

The commercial marketplace for plants from all over the world has been booming in the last decade. Every possible ethno(and entheo-)botanical you can imagine is available at your fingertips. There are a few psychoactive plants that have found incredibly widespread popularity amongst this multitude of phytodiversity. One of which is Kratom.

Kratom is an evergreen plant in the coffee family that originates in Southeast Asia. It is a stimulant at lower doses and a sedative at higher doses. It’s popularity is on the rise due to its incredible ability to positively impact mood and relieve pain. However, kratom’s main alkaloids–mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine–are opioid agonists. Kratom is an opioid plant.

Yet, unlike pharmaceutical opioids, there is something incredibly unique about kratom in that it seems to provide the positive opioid effects of boosting mood, relieving pain, and relaxing the mind and body, yet does not suppress the respiratory system and is far less addictive than pharmaceuticals. It’s easy to buy, easy to use, and provides (mostly) positive benefits for most people. Because of this, there is a subculture of people who are using it as a replacement to get off of pharmaceutical opiates. But it goes beyond this. There are also cultures of people who use it as a health supplement, others who use it as a nootropic, and others who use it just for a damn good time. Some data suggests there are 5 million people who use kratom regularly in the United States alone!

Kratom is widely used and, typically, positive for those who use it. However, it is still an opioid that we know very little about scientifically. It still poses a risk of addiction (and physical dependence), potential liver toxicity, and has potentially dangerous interactions with other drugs. It is this risk potential that led the DEA in 2018 to attempt to schedule Kratom (so far unsuccessfully due to grassroots activism.) But, is the prohibition really the best way to curb its potential harmfulness? Likely not. Education and quality control is.

In an effort to spread education on this widely used, but generally not well-understood plant, Adventures Through The Mind is happy to feature Dr. Oliver Grundmann.

attmind oliver grundmann kratomOliver Grundmann, PhD, is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the College of Pharmacy, University of Florida. From an early age, he was interested in plants and their ethnobotanical uses which motivated him to study pharmacy in his native of Germany. He then continued his studies on the neuropharmacology and specifically antidepressant and anxiolytic effects of plant extracts during his graduate work. He has been an author on 17 different research papers about Kratom since 2016.

Dr. Grundmann is on the show to talk all about Kratom. We discuss its traditional cultural use, legal history, pharmacology, modern cultural use, preparation best practices, its benefits and its risks, and how to safely start using kratom.

Enjoy!

[edited Friday, May 8th to correct for confusing opiate with opioid]

 


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Episode Breakdown

  • What is kratom?
  • Kratom’s cultural traditions and history of use
  • Is its prohibition being lobbied by the drug trade?
  • Traditional preparations of kratom
  •  Pharmacology and effects in the brain
  • G proteins, opioid receptors, and the beta-arrestin 2 pathway
  • How kratom gives you an opioid high without suppressing breathing
  • The differing addictive potentials of Kratom’s alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine
  • What opioid receptor is being activated with kratom?
  • Is kratom addictive? What are the symptoms of withdrawal?
  • Doctors might give you methadone for kratom withdrawal
  • The difference between addiction and dependence
  • How good therapy might mean nothing for addiction if there are no social supports to help people into healthier social-economic circumstances
  • Why people use kratom and how effective it is according to the research
  • Adverse effects | kratom side effects
  • Is kratom toxic for the liver? Yes, but it’s not that simple.
  • How to know if you have an addiction to kratom
  • What to watch out for when first starting with kratom
  • How to get the most out of your kratom (skip the OJ!)
  • Do different strains make a difference?
  • Is the DEA trying to suppress kratom to protect the profits of big pharma?
  • The importance of more research
  • Further links and resources

Related Links

Dr. Oliver Grundmann’s university website

This page has more info on Dr. Oliver Grundmann’s kratom research but also his larger body of work as well.

The American Kratom Association

This website is an excellent source on current kratom information, politics, and community activism. They also have a reliable list of “approved vendors”.

r/Kratom – a subreddit (discussion forum) dedicated to discussing kratom use

 


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7 Comments

  1. Kratom isn’t an opiate plant. It isn’t related to the poppy. It’s an opioid which just means it acts on those receptors.

    • Thanks for clarifying that! I’ll make some edits to represent more accraute info.

  2. Misty Brown

    In 2008. I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease(L4-L5) and epilepsy. That began a whole slew of different kinds of pain pills, injections, doctors’ appointments and pharmacies. I noticed I started becoming addicted to pain pills after I lost my house and my job in 2009 due to my health issues. That and issues going on in my home life slammed me into a deep depression. From then on I couldn’t function without a pill. I’d be so out of it for 2 weeks out of the month because my 30 day supply would only last me a couple of weeks. When I wasn’t pilled up, I stayed in bed and only did the bare minimum in life until my next doctor’s appointment. My pill cocktail was Oxycontin, MS Contin, Soma, Klonopin and fioricet.

    I was fired from my pain management clinic in April 2019 because I didn’t show up for a per contract pill count. I knew I was 11 pills short so I just didn’t show up! From May to June my kid’s father came out here for my second daughter’s graduation. I had already gone through detox and I think he helped occupy my mind. My plan was once we dropped him off at the airport, I was going to start looking for another doctor. Instead I watched Leaf of Faith, a movie about kratom, on Netflix on June 25th 2019. I learned that kratom is a Southeast Asian herb that many are using for pain relief and to treat addiction.

    The very next day I went to the local smoke shop and bought some Urban Ice Kratom. And here I am today, sober and staying sober because of kratom and weed! Kratom not only brings my pain level from a 10 to a 3, it also stops the opioid cravings and elevates my mood along with the marijuana. I am a brand-new version of the old me. I am a thriving and functioning mother and member of society again. Kratom and marijuana are the tools I need for sobriety. In all honesty, I am still amazed that I’m alive today. If you think Kratom doesn’t work, then by all means ask me how I am sober, sitting here typing this out. I and millions of others are living, breathing proof that kratom works! Kratom is FREEDOM, kratom is LIFE!
    #KRATOMSAVESLIVES

    • Wow. I’m so moved by your story. That’s amazing and I’m really happy you found this incredible plant and worked with it to transform your life for the better?!

  3. Deardra Hall

    Yes, a person who is trying to stop taking a opioid (oxycodone) and putting them on (methadone) another opioid is contraindication. Methadone is a long acting drug, it does completely help with withdrawal and the cravings in my opinion. That’s where it makes a person dependent on because not wanting to have depression for months and cravings for other opioids. That’s my issue. But I have been able to completely clean out my body of methadone, by taking kratom. 34 days it took till stopped sweating and freezing, which lasted the longest. The cravings are obnoxious. Kratom helps them, but if I don’t take after certain amount of hrs, I immediately know it’s time to redose kratom because I start craving. I don’t know how long this will last but really not wanting to b depending on anything anymore. So need to figure out how to get cravings under control. Thank you for this. It is a great source of information that is not just a personal opinion or guess of what the plant is and how it works. Thank you again.

    • Glad it landed well. Ya, it was odd for me to hear that doctors would prescribe opioid replacement therapy for kratom dependence. But Dr Grundmann’s point about those docs follow the standard of care in face of an unregulated opioid makes sense. Its’s still horrendously backwards, though, so We need more kratom research to help doctors have verified sources of info on the plant. (Of course this assumes the doctor reads research and not just emails from drug companies. In my experience, most GPs are too overwhelmed by their workload with patients to do any actual research about things that aren’t already being funnel to them through he heavily pharm-funded healthcare system.

  4. Paulo Sosa

    Great episode! There is definitely a lack of conversation surrounding this plant ally and this came in very handy. Super informative from the scientific point of view too! Would love to hear more on kratom moving forward, keep it up!