For thousands of years, kratom users in Southeast Asia and beyond have prepared kratom as tea. And whether hot, cold, or flavoured with lemon, drinking kratom tea has remained a preferable alternative to swallowing the bitter plant in its powdered form.
But while kratom tea is convenient, the truth about it might not be. The latest science suggests that boiling kratom leaves or powder can destroy the plant's alkaloids. And because kratom alkaloids are responsible for the plant's effects, brewing kratom as a tea could decrease its beneficial properties.
Are you a kratom tea lover? If so, buckle up and read on, because the truth about kratom tea might shock you!
Kratom trees thrive within the hot tropical climates of Southeast Asia. Under the searing sun, they can grow up to sixteen metres tall and are supercharged by direct sunlight. (Cinosi et al., 2015; pg 1) But heat doesn't appear to benefit kratom alkaloids.
In 2020, one team of researchers examined how temperature affected alkaloids in kratom. Their study included mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, which are considered the plant's primary psychoactive alkaloids. In their testing, 7-hydroxymitragynine was the most unstable alkaloid and began to lose potency at 40° C (104° F) and above. (Basiliere & Kerrigan, 2020; pg 10) In contrast, mitragynine was stable at temperatures of up to 40° C (104° F) but degraded at higher temperatures (60-80° C or 140-176° F) in acidic environments. (Basiliere & Kerrigan, 2020; pg 2, 9)
Most people brew tea at temperatures up to 100° C (212° F). That's much higher than the heat tolerances of both mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. As a result, you might expect both alkaloids to lose potency after just minutes of exposure to hot water. But there's hope for you kratom tea lovers, because that's not necessarily the case!
According to the 2020 study, both mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine begin to degrade at temperatures as low as 60° C (140° F). But it can take hours for both alkaloids to lose significant potency, which you can see in the chart below. Also, note that acidic conditions (red) speed up the alkaloid breakdown. That might make it wise to skip adding that lemon juice to your tea (but we'll cover that in the next section)!
Puzzled? Here's the takeaway: If you brew your kratom tea at a lower temperature (60-80° C or 140-176° F), avoid adding acidic fruit juices, and drink it within thirty minutes, its alkaloid content should remain mostly intact (~80%).
As briefly mentioned in the last section, hot temperatures aren't the only threat to kratom alkaloids: Acids are, too. And while adding lemon juice to your kratom tea might please your tastebuds, it's like bathing in lava for kratom alkaloids.
According to researchers, major kratom alkaloids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine are "acid labile." (Basiliere & Kerrigan, 2020; pg 2) That means they're altered or destroyed when exposed to acids. Unfortunately, adding lemon juice — which is highly acidic — to kratom tea is a widespread tradition among users. Some kratom tea brewers even "steep" their kratom in lemon juice for up to an hour before brewing. Acidic juices like lemon can certainly improve the flavour of kratom tea. But when it comes to potency, they're probably doing more harm than good.
Researchers found that acidic environments and temperatures of 80° C (176° F) completely destroyed 7-hydroxymitragynine in three hours. (Basiliere & Kerrigan, 2020; Figure 2) Mitragynine lasted somewhat longer in similar conditions but broke down at the six-hour mark. (Basiliere & Kerrigan, 2020; pg 9)
That said, if you're a kratom tea lover, don't fret! After all, the real-world context of this chemistry is often quite different: Few people brew their kratom tea at low pH levels and high temperatures for hours on end. So while you might experience some alkaloid breakdown when preparing kratom tea with acidic juices, you probably won't experience a significant loss unless you insist on brewing for hours.
Brewing kratom tea generally involves high temperatures. And when ingredients like lemon juice are added, the process can also involve acidic pH levels. As science suggests, these conditions are highly unfriendly to kratom's primary alkaloids. With enough heat and acidity, kratom's major alkaloids mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine lose potency and are eventually destroyed.
But that alkaloid breakdown takes hours, and brewing kratom tea often takes just a few minutes. For that reason, you can probably continue to enjoy kratom tea guilt-free: Just know that you might be reducing the beneficial properties of your kratom ever so slightly.