Kratom, also known as mitragyna speciosa, is a tropical evergreen tree found in Southeast Asia in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand. It has been used traditionally by the local people for centuries, but now has millions of consumers worldwide.
This plant has an array of benefits to the human body. Due to FDA regulations that restrict how herbal supplements can be marketed, we cannot talk about these specific effects. However, it’s important for kratom consumers to know the science behind how this plant produces these unique effects.
Plants contain various phytochemicals, or biologically active compounds. One of the main categories of phytochemicals are alkaloids. Not all plants contain alkaloids, but most alkaloids are plant-derived.
Alkaloids in kratom vary from batch to batch depending on the geographical location of the plant, stage of maturity when the plant is harvested, and numerous factors that are uncontrolled in the natural environment.
Alkaloids are “any of a class of nitrogenous organic compounds of plant origin which have pronounced physiological actions on humans,” according to the Oxford Dictionary.
There are nearly 30 alkaloids discovered in this super leaf, and possibly many that are not known yet. Scientific studies are still being conducted on how these alkaloids work and interact with the human body. The most commonly known alkaloids in kratom are mitragynine and 7-Hydroxymitragynine (7-OH).
Mitragynine is the most abundant kratom alkaloid. There is more research done for 7-OH and mitragynine compared to other alkaloids, making it the most well-known in the kratom community.
Although the percentages of 7-OH are very low in kratom, it is still a significant alkaloid. 7-OH is 10-fold more potent than mitragynine, and plays a major role when it comes to the effects of kratom.
Both mitragynine and 7-OH are G protein-biased partial agonists of the mu-opioid receptor (MOR). Agonists are substances that bind to certain receptors that activate a biological or physiological response. It’s very important to understand that these alkaloids are partial agonists at the receptors, instead of full agonists. You can think of this as the alkaloids turning up the volume on the receptors to halfway instead of full blast. Scientists believe this is a very distinct characteristic of kratom’s alkaloids that make kratom behave very differently in the body compared to alternatives.
Although mitragynine and 7-OH are MOR agonists, they work very differently than classical opioids. Studies on mice have shown that when these alkaloids activate the G proteins, they fail to recruit the beta-arrestin pathway. The beta-arrestin pathway is what causes unwanted side effects according to some research . Therefore, it’s potentially promising to learn that kratom actually reduced these harmful effects.
Scientific studies also show that mitragynine converts to 7-OH in the human body. These scientific findings demonstrated that when studying human and mice liver with mitragynine, it showed the levels of mitragynine reducing and the level of 7-OH increasing. This means that even though our lab results show what seems like an insignificant level of 7-OH, it’s possible there is more to the story.
In conclusion, more scientific research needs to be done on the different alkaloids in kratom to better identify what effects we can expect from different batches. With the information that the general public already has, we know how beneficial kratom can be. These scientific studies are important in setting the record straight about kratom now and discovering how kratom might be able to help more people in the future.