Kratom is a psychoactive tree that has many different uses. In recent years Kratom has gained popularity worldwide as a recreational drug for its narcotic-like effects, but traditionally, it was only used in Thailand, and in some parts of Malaysia. Besides kratom (or krathom), it also goes by the names ithang, kakuam, and in southern regions, thom. In Malaysia it is known as ketum or biak. Use dates far enough back that its beginning can’t be determined.
How Kratom works
First let’s take a quick look at how kratom works. Kratom contains a number of active components, so-called alkaloids, of which mitragynine is believed to be responsible for most of its effects. Mitragynine is an opioid agonist, meaning that it has an affinity for the opioid receptors in your brain. These receptors influence one’s mood and anxiety. Mitragynine binds to these receptors and improves your mood and gives a euphoric-like feeling, just like opiates such as heroin and opium. The big difference between kratom and opiates is that mitragynine prefers so-called delta opioid receptors, while opiates bind to mu opioid receptors. At higher doses, mitragynine increasingly stimulates mu receptors. This is believed to be the reason that kratom has a stimulating effect at lower doses and narcotic effects at higher doses, and that it is not (strongly) addictive.
If you are interested in reading more about the pharmacology of kratom, you can find more articles on the Erowid site.
In traditional medicine, the Thai people use kratom to treat diarrhea. A small minority of users take it to prolong or intensify sexual intercourse.
In East Asia it is also often used as a substitute for opium when opium is unavailable, or to moderate opium addiction. Mitragynine is used to gradual wean the user off narcotics. Within a few days, the addict would stop use of the narcotic they are addicted to, and the cravings and withdrawal will be moderated by the binding of mitragynine to the delta receptors. Mitragynine could also perhaps be used as a maintenance drug for addicts not wishing to quit but trying to moderate an out of hand addiction. In more recent times, mitragynine has been used in New Zealand for methadone addiction detox. Kratom was smoked whenever the patient experienced withdrawal symptoms, over a 6 week treatment period. Patients reported a visualization effect taking place at night in the form of vivid dreams.
In 1999, Pennapa Sapcharoen, director of the National Institute of Thai Traditional Medicine in Bangkok said that kratom could be prescribed both to opiate addicts and to patients suffering from depression, but stressed that further research is needed.
Mood and anxiety
According to several sources mitragynine also affects your mood and level of anxiety. In the brain a number of chemicals affect your mood. The most widely known is serotonin. Most anti-depressants affect the levels of this chemical, but the effects of serotonin are relatively mild compared to other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and opiates, which have a very strong positive effect on your mood. The reason that most chemical drugs act on the levels of serotonin is because this is non-addictive. However, evidence suggests that opiate deficiency has a bigger influence on depression and anxiety than serotonin. Mitragynine could play a role here. It is widely known that kratom can have a positive effect on your mood, but there have been no studies on the long-term use.
WARNING: depression and anxiety are chronic illnesses and if you suffer from them, you should visit a medical specialist. Do not give to children!
Kratom and Adult Attention Deficit Disorder
It has been reported that kratom can also be used to treat the symptoms of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, but very little is known about this. It is believed that kratom’s mood-lifting and stimulating effects are an effective tool against ADD. Once again: Do not give to children!
A short article about the possible medical use of kratom can be found here.
Traditional use as stimulant
Kratom, and more specifically mitragynine, is known for its positive effects on your mood. It stimulates your body and thus increases activity.
Traditionally, kratom is mostly used as a stimulant by Thai peasants, laborers, and farmers who use the plant to overcome the burdens of their hard work and meager existences. These people use kratom on a daily basis. Some studies have found no addiction problems in villagers using kratom, while others apparently have. Heavy users may chew kratom between 3 and 10 times a day. While new users may only need a few leaves to obtain the desired effects, some users find with time they need to increase doses to 10-30 leaves or even more per day.
In some parts of the country, it was said that parents would choose to give their daughters in marriage to men who used kratom rather than men who used marijuana. The belief is that kratom users are hard working, while marijuana users are lazy. This belief is also maintained by many of the users themselves, who report beginning use because of a desire to work more efficiently, and who say using the drug gives them a strong desire to do work. However, the Thai government has banned the use of kratom and classed the plant as a drug in the same category as cocaine and heroin. Consequently, kratom has the dubious honor of being banned in the country it originated from and has been used traditionally for centuries.
Read more about kratom use in Thailand in “A study of kratom eaters in Thailand” on the Lyceaum site.
In recent years Kratom has gained popularity as recreational drug, due to its narcotic-like effects, producing feelings of euphoria similar to heroin – but not as strong, of course. It is a good alternative for real narcotics, because it is legal to possess in most countries (for exceptions, see legality) and it is not strongly addictive. There are different methods of using kratom.
Most users describe the effects as stimulating and euphoric, for some it also has a relaxing and analgesic effect. People report feeling euphoric, but still energetic enough to function normally. Most sources say that it is a stimulant in lower doses, becoming sedative in higher doses.
Some people report head aches and nausea after using the plant, which usually go away after a little while. There are some known possible negative effects to kratom use, especially after a longer period of regular consumption.