March 5, 2021

Taking Kratom for the First Time: A Beginner's Guide

Whether it's riding a bike or driving a car, doing anything for the first time can be exciting or equally nerve-wracking.

The same is true for kratom. Although the plant has a long history of traditional use in Southeast Asia (Cinosi et al., 2015, pg 4), kratom is relatively new to the western world. Unlike mainstream drugs such as caffeine and nicotine, you can't buy kratom on most store shelves. Media headlines often wrongly portray kratom as inherently harmful. And you, your friends, or family members might not understand what kratom is.

For these reasons — and many more — taking kratom for the first time can be daunting.

Fortunately, we're here to help! Consider this post "kratom 101:" a comprehensive guide on everything you should know before taking kratom, and what to expect.

 

Is Kratom Safe?

Safety is one of the most common concerns of first-time kratom users — and rightfully so.

Many drugs like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine are legal around the world. But some US states and countries have illegalized kratom and kratom products. Naturally, if a substance is prohibited, it begs the question — is that substance safe?

Although scientists are still studying kratom, current evidence suggests that raw, natural kratom powder is well-tolerated. In a 2016 review of kratom's effects and safety, one team of researchers wrote that "at low to moderate doses, the adverse effects [of kratom] vary markedly from one person to another, but they generally appear to be mild." The same researchers also noted that "several scientists who have studied kratom indicate that in its pure herbal form, it appears to be relatively benign."

However, the safety of unnatural and enhanced kratom products is less assured. These highly-potent products are often adulterated with kratom concentrates or other substances, which enhances their effects far beyond the limitations of natural kratom leaves. Although "enhanced" kratom might seem like an exciting prospect, studies suggest that these products can put consumers at risk.

In a 2016 study, researchers evaluated the potency of several enhanced kratom products purchased online. Their results were staggering: some of the enhanced products contained up to 500% times the amount of 7-hydroxymitragynine, a psychoactive compound that's naturally present in kratom leaves. The researchers concluded that the "adulteration of commercial Kratom products with 7-hydroxymitragynine ... increases [their] abuse liability and addictive potential."

So, if you're looking to start your kratom journey on the right foot, consider starting with natural, unenhanced kratom powder. Enhanced products, while potent, are generally better suited for experienced kratom users and carry a higher risk of abuse and addiction.

 

Who Shouldn't Use Kratom

Although kratom appears to be well-tolerated by most users, the plant isn't suitable for everyone. You may want to avoid kratom use if you have certain existing health conditions.

Those with a History of Drug Abuse & Addiction

Because kratom interacts with select receptors in the brain, it can provide pleasurable effects, such as sedation, euphoria, and pain relief. However, the same interactions also make kratom addicting for some users.

One team of researchers noted that kratom interacts with mu-opioid receptors, and therefore has "negative side effects and addictive properties not unlike, but less intense than morphine." (Brown et al., 2017) As a result, those prone to drug abuse and addiction may want to avoid or severely restrict their kratom use.

Pregnant Individuals

Like most psychoactive drugs, kratom has addictive potential and can cause withdrawal symptoms when repeat users suddenly stop using the plant. There have been cases of pregnant kratom users giving birth to children who then suffer from withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, and because the interactions between kratom use and infant development are unknown, pregnant individuals should not use kratom.

Those with Histories of Drug-Induced Liver Injuries

Kratom can cause liver injury in some users. However, these injuries may be caused by highly-specific genetic factors. In a review of kratom-related liver injury cases, researchers found that one patient had a gene variant associated with an increased risk of drug-induced liver injury.

Another explanation for kratom-related liver injury could be contaminated kratom products. These products often contain elevated levels of heavy metal levels like lead that can cause liver damage.

Scientists have yet to determine which genetic factors predispose kratom users to liver injury. But for safety's sake, those with a personal or family history of drug-induced liver injury should not use kratom.

 

Where Can I Buy Kratom? — Choosing a Vendor

Unless you're growing your own kratom, finding a supplier or a kratom vendor will likely be the first step of your kratom journey. And although it might be tempting to purchase your kratom from the most convenient source, it's worth exploring your options. Product quality and overall customer experience can vary from vendor to vendor, and in that sense, you often get what you pay for.

Product Quality

Like coffee and tea, kratom's quality is determined by many factors. Growing expertise and harvesting, drying, and storage techniques can all affect the potency and properties of kratom leaves — for better or for worse.

That said, most kratom vendors in the western world don't grow their own products. Instead, they import their kratom directly from Indonesia. As a result, a vendor's product quality is largely dependent on where they source their kratom — but that's not all. A vendor can take other steps to increase the quality and safety of their products.

Generally, it's a good sign if a kratom vendor:

  • Offers all-natural and organic kratom (no additives, filler ingredients, or adulterants)

  • Processes their kratom products in a professional manufacturing environment 

  • Tests their kratom products in a laboratory and publishes their test results online (bonus points if the lab test results are available for all products and product batches)

  • Labels their kratom products with expiry and best-before dates

  • Sells their kratom products in sealed, airtight bags (can prevent spoilage and contamination)

Returns and Refunds

As a botanical product, kratom's quality and effects can be fickle. A kratom product might work well for you once but poorly the second time. In other cases, a batch of kratom might be "bad" due to weak alkaloid concentrations.

Some kratom vendors address these concerns by allowing their customers to return kratom products for a full refund, even if the product in question has been opened.

If you're trying kratom for the first time, you might be unsure of how your body will react to the products you've ordered and if your purchase will be worthwhile. Thankfully, by choosing a vendor with a full refund policy, you can protect yourself from these uncertainties.

Site Security

Choosing a kratom vendor means entrusting a third party with your health and wellbeing. But it also typically involves the exchange of personal information, such as your address and financial details.

For this reason, it's crucial to take precautions when shopping for kratom online. Some kratom vendor websites and/or payment gateways may not be secure, which can put sensitive information — such as your credit card details and shipping address — at risk.

Aside from checking a vendor's page on Kratomaton, one way to confirm the security of a vendor's website is to check your web browser. If you're visiting a vendor's site that transmits data securely, your web browser may display a "lock" icon next to the vendor's URL in your address bar.

A screenshot of Google Chrome detecting a valid HTTPS connection

You can also protect your sensitive information by shopping with kratom vendors that:

  • Support at least one third-party e-payment service that doesn't exchange payment details directly with the seller (such as PayPal or CoinPayments.net)

  • Offer cash-on-delivery payment options

 

Which Kratom Strain is Best? — Choosing a Strain

If you've already been shopping around, you may have noticed that most kratom vendors sell different kinds of kratom. From Red Bali to Green Maeng Da, there many kratom varieties on the market. Rarely are they one-size-fits-all. This is because, like green tea, kratom's colour and properties can vary from leaf to leaf.

Generally, the kratom community refers to these kratom variants as "strains." Each kratom strain is the product of selection, cultivation, and post-harvest processing techniques. For instance, Maeng Da strains are known for their potency, while strains like Red Bentuangie are supposedly fermented.

Given the differences between kratom strains, some users prefer certain strains or colours over others. Users desiring an energy boost tend to gravitate towards white strains, while those looking to relax and unwind favour red kratom strains instead.

Some kratom enthusiasts insist that the effects of kratom strains are unpredictable and purely subjective. However, upon collecting and examining user reports, we noticed some patterns:

A chart indicating the properties of different kratom strain colors

Ultimately, these descriptions aren't definitive, and you'll probably have to experiment to discover which kratom strains work best for you. But, if you're looking for a little more guidance, our other blog posts might be able to steer you in the right direction!

 

How Much Kratom is Too Much? — Choosing a Dosage

Like caffeine or nicotine, kratom's effects can become unpleasant at higher amounts. According to a scientific review published in 2015, the short-term side effects of kratom use can include "nausea, constipation, sleep problems, temporary erectile dysfunction, itching, and sweating."

However, unlike other substances, kratom's effects can also be paradoxical: at low doses, its effects are often energizing, while higher doses can be more relaxing (Cinosi et al., 2015, pg 6).

For these reasons — and the sake of your wellbeing— it's essential to find a dosage that works for you.

A dosage meter depicting the paradoxical effects of smaller and larger kratom doses

At Kratomaton, we categorize kratom doses as follows:

  • Low dose: 0-2.5 grams

  • Moderate dose: 2.5-5 grams

  • High dose: 5+ grams

If it's your first time taking kratom, start with a low dose of 1-2 grams (roughly ½ or ⅔ of a teaspoon). By using a low dose, you'll be able to identify how your body reacts without risking the unpleasant side effects associated with higher doses. From here, you can get comfortable with kratom's properties and gradually experiment with raising your dosage.

 

What Does Kratom Feel Like?

Kratom's properties are versatile, and users often describe their experiences with kratom differently.

In a 2015 review, researchers wrote that at low doses, kratom users reported an increase in physical energy, empathy, and euphoria. At higher doses, users described the plant's effects as "more sedative and analgesic ... a general feeling of comfortable pleasure."

Kratom's pain-relieving effects are also frequently compared to opioids and opiates by users and researchers alike. One team of researchers concluded that kratom "possesses both opioid- and psychostimulant-like drug effects." In another study, a different group of researchers found that kratom's effects were similar to opioids, but that the plant was structurally different from morphine.

While these comparisons to opiates and opioids might seem alarming or exaggerated, current science supports them. Scientists have found that kratom leaves contain two compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine, that interact with the brain's mu-opioid receptors — the same receptors targeted by opiates like morphine.

As a result, you'll probably experience some relaxation, stimulation, euphoria, and/or pain relief after trying kratom for the first time. While words can often fail us when we try to describe sensations, users and researchers often use those four adjectives to describe what kratom feels like.

Note: Kratom use isn't side-effect free, especially at higher doses. However, if your kratom experience is overwhelmingly unpleasant, be sure to assess your dosage amount and the product's quality.

 

Conclusion

Kratom can be a fickle plant, and your experiences with it could vary. However, by purchasing your kratom products from a trusted vendor, finding an ideal kratom strain, and choosing an appropriate dosage, you can increase your chances of enjoying your first steps into the exciting and wide world of kratom.

To learn more about kratom, be sure to check out our other blog posts!

 

Works Cited

Cirulli, E. T., Nicoletti, P., Abramson, K., Andrade, R. J., Bjornsson, E. S., Chalasani, N., Fontana, R. J., Hallberg, P., Li, Y. J., Lucena, M. I., Long, N., Molokhia, M., Nelson, M. R., Odin, J. A., Pirmohamed, M., Rafnar, T., Serrano, J., Stefansson, K., Stolz, A., … Watkins, P. B. (2019). A Missense Variant in PTPN22 is a Risk Factor for Drug-induced Liver Injury. Gastroenterology, 156(6), 1707-1716.e2. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2019.01.034
Ahmad, J., Odin, J. A., Hayashi, P. H., Fontana, R. J., Conjeevaram, H., Avula, B., Khan, I. A., Barnhart, H., Vuppalanchi, R., Navarro, V. J., & Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network. (2021). Liver injury associated with kratom, a popular opioid-like product: Experience from the U.S. drug induced liver injury network and a review of the literature. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 218, 108426. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108426
Mackay, L., & Abrahams, R. (2018). Novel case of maternal and neonatal kratom dependence and withdrawal. Canadian Family Physician, 64(2), 121–122. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5964386/
Brown, P. N., Lund, J. A., & Murch, S. J. (2017). A botanical, phytochemical and ethnomedicinal review of the genus Mitragyna korth: Implications for products sold as kratom. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 202, 302–325. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2017.03.020
Thongpradichote, S., Matsumoto, K., Tohda, M., Takayama, H., Aimi, N., Sakai, S., & Watanabe, H. (1998). Identification of opioid receptor subtypes in antinociceptive actions of supraspinally-administered mitragynine in mice. Life Sciences, 62(16), 1371–1378. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0024-3205(98)00075-7
Harun, N., Hassan, Z., Navaratnam, V., Mansor, S., & Shoaib, M. (2015). Discriminative stimulus properties of mitragynine (kratom) in rats. Psychopharmacology, 232. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-015-3866-5
Lydecker, A. G., Sharma, A., McCurdy, C. R., Avery, B. A., Babu, K. M., & Boyer, E. W. (2016). Suspected Adulteration of Commercial Kratom Products with 7-Hydroxymitragynine. Journal of Medical Toxicology, 12(4), 341–349. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13181-016-0588-y
Cinosi, E., Martinotti, G., Simonato, P., Singh, D., Demetrovics, Z., Roman-Urrestarazu, A., Bersani, F. S., Vicknasingam, B., Piazzon, G., Li, J.-H., Yu, W.-J., Kapitány-Fövény, M., Farkas, J., Di Giannantonio, M., & Corazza, O. (2015). Following “the Roots” of Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa): The Evolution of an Enhancer from a Traditional Use to Increase Work and Productivity in Southeast Asia to a Recreational Psychoactive Drug in Western Countries [Research Article]. BioMed Research International. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/968786

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